The Rise and Fall of the Season Ticket Buyer [and what to do about it] | npENGAGE

The Rise and Fall of the Season Ticket Buyer [and what to do about it]

By on Jan 14, 2015


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.


Laura Beussman is passionate about marketing and building sustainable communities, and is able to combine the two as Director of Product Marketing, Fundraising & CRM Solutions, at Blackbaud. In her current role, Laura leads the go-to-market strategy for Blackbaud’s portfolio of best in class fundraising solutions, which includes the development of positioning, value propositions, packaging, and pricing. Laura has an affinity for the arts, coming from spending five years early in her career working in nonprofit arts organizations, in roles ranging from finance to development and marketing at organizations including Austin Opera, Madison Opera, AT&T Performing Arts Center and the Dallas Theater Center. After completing her MBA at the University of Wisconsin’s Bolz Center for Arts Administration, Laura spent two years as the lead pricing manager for consumer desktops at Dell. Laura joined the Blackbaud team in 2013, and spent her first four years there leading the marketing efforts for the arts & cultural vertical. Still involved in the arts, she continues to serve on nonprofit boards, previously at the Austin Chamber Music Center (2011 – 2014) and currently on the Advisory Board at her alma mater, the Bolz Center for Arts Administration. In her personal time, Laura and her husband David, a choir director, spend their time chasing after their three year old daughter and two teenagers.

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