In the 1970’s, the idea of a “season ticket” in the arts really took off. Arts organizations were able to bring ticketing revenue and cash in ahead of the performance (which is when they actually are incurring the cost of the production), encourage loyalty and reduce risk. Ticket buyers were incented by discounted tickets and the promise of the best seats in the house. It seemed like a win/win.

That is, until the economic downturn in the early 21st century. Many arts organizations have seen ticket buyers less and less willing to commit to a season package and pay up front. Whether it’s the uncertainty of the economy or a desire to be more selective with their time (and only see the productions that appeal to them, vs experiment with the entire season), the loss of season ticket revenue has exposed arts organizations to additional risk and vulnerability. You create a season, you pay for the sets, designs, performers and marketing…and you have no way of knowing until opening night if anyone is going to come. Further, this creates a cash issue as the organization has to pay most of the bills for the production before they see much of the ticketing revenue.

So is it the end of season tickets? Hmmm, maybe not.

Adjust Your Expectations:

It’s scary when season ticket sales come in lower and lower, year after year. However, the worst thing you can do is panic and fire-sell your season packages to get the tickets sold. If your patrons don’t want to commit a year in advance, even a dramatically discounted package may not incent them to buy. More importantly, you have sent a signal to the market that your tickets are only worth the lower price. This is going to impact your single ticket sales and your season ticket prices next year. Your loyal season ticket buyers feel wronged, and may wait for the “bargain” next year. Adjust your expectations: if you’ve been seeing a trend of declining season ticket sales, plan ahead. Get creative about how to drive ticket revenue in a way other than massive discounts.

Think outside of the Box:

What’s preventing season ticket purchases among your subscriber base? Talk to your lapsed subscribers and try to identify the drivers. Then look at alternative packages that will address their concerns:

  • Interest based series: I love musicals. I have no interest in ‘speaking series’ type of events. Many of your ticket buyers like a specific genre of your productions, but not every single production (I know, the truth hurts). Let those people commit up-front to the shows they want to see: a Broadway Series, a theatre “classics” series, etc. The genres may not be immediately identifiable to you; look at your ticketing history and look for trends of what single ticket buyers tend to return for.
  • “Pick” Packages: If your organization doesn’t have enough productions to form interest based series packages, then the “pick package” is a great bet. Let the individual self-identify by picking 3, 4 or 5 performances that they want to attend. They’re still committing up front and your organization is getting the ticketing revenue before opening night.
  • Build Your Own Subscription: Slightly different than a “pick” package, a build your own subscription model doesn’t mandate the number of performance that an individual selects. Pick as many as you want in one transaction! With this type of model, a good way to go is a Buy More, Save More promo. The more performances the individual chooses for their package, the larger the discount on the package.

Consider a membership approach:

For some people, the hesitation with season tickets isn’t about the productions. They love your season and want to see everything…but they don’t want to commit up-front. What if they’re traveling? What if their kid gets sick? Paying a big chunk of cash up front doesn’t sit well for some people when they don’t know their schedule 9 months from now. The Seattle-based ACT Theatre responded to that by creating a membership program. Patrons who purchase the ACTPass pay $30 a month. With that pass, they can attend as many or as few performances as they would like. Really like a show? Come back and see it again! Members also get discounts on tickets for friends they bring with them. There’s no large and daunting up-front purchase that can scare the commitment-phobe among us, but your organization still gets a consistent, reliable revenue stream and establishes loyalty with the ticket buyer.

I don’t believe the Season Ticket is gone for good, and the reliable up-front revenue that comes with it. Talk to your patrons, find out what makes a season pass attractive to them, and get creative in your offerings.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura joined Blackbaud in 2013 as the Senior Product Marketing Manager for Arts & Cultural Solutions. Previously, Laura spent two years at Dell, most recently as the Lead Pricing Manager for North American Consumer Desktops. Before receiving her Master’s of Business Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Laura worked for 5 years in non-profit arts. During that time, Laura worked as the Associate Director of Finance at Austin Lyric Opera and in Finance/Accounting at the Dallas Theater Center. Laura is also a proud graduate of Texas A&M, where she received her Bachelor’s of Business Administration, Magna Cum Laude and with honors.

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