Re-Examining the Issue of Ticket Prices to Orchestra Concerts
An interesting development seems to me to be bubbling up in the world of symphony orchestras over the past five years or so. It may even have begun earlier - movements of this nature start quietly in one place, and then spread and suddenly come onto one's radar. The development is a re-examination of the issue of ticket prices to symphony concerts, a change in attitude about price elasticity...
When I hear the cliché that "there is too much product out there," it really annoys me. It is given by those who believe they are responding to a decline in ticket sales to concerts. First, we don't know that there is a decline. Although we don't have complete enough statistics over a long period of time, in my gut I feel that there was a decline in the late 1990s through perhaps 2003 or 2004, after many many years of increases in attendance. And, anecdotally at least, I am seeing a reversal into a positive direction now. Even if it were true that there has been a decline in ticket sales, it does not necessarily demonstrate that "there is too much product out there." The full sentence would have to be "there is too much product out there at the price being asked for it." I have no doubt that if a major orchestra offered every ticket in the hall for $5 or $10, there would be lines around the block. (Yes, I am well aware that those prices are an economic impossibility).
Ticket prices have escalated over the past thirty or forty years at rates well beyond inflation. The cost of doing business in the orchestra world has forced the increases, and through much of the 1990s it seemed to work (although it may have kept some people away). Recently, I have seen a growing attention being paid to pricing, specifically to reducing ticket costs, not raising them. Different orchestras have tried different approaches. None as dramatic as the recent Baltimore Symphony Orchestra announcement of a $1 million grant from PNC Foundation specifically aimed at pricing every single subscription ticket to their main series of concerts in Meyerhoff Hall no higher than $25. While we may all be wondering what they'll do next year (it wouldn't surprise me if they were wondering that too), this is a bold, daring move.
Here are just a few other examples of new pricing strategies, a list not meant to be exhaustive - but rather meant to point out a trend.
• The Dallas Symphony Orchestra offers a subscription based on the model of a gym membership. Patrons purchase a card to enroll for $25, and then pay a fee of $55 every month of the season, which allows them to attend nearly any concert on the season calendar without reservations.
• The Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra was one of the first to offer new subscribers a subscription at half-price for one year, much in the spirit of introductory magazine subscription offers. Not only did they sell a lot of them, but more impressively, those subscribers renewed at almost the normal rate of renewal for first-year subscribers. At least ten other orchestras have tried that same approach, most with similar success.
• The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra lowered all ticket prices for the Neighborhood Concert series, creating only two prices - $10 and $25 (they were as high as $47 prior to this decision). They experienced a 100% increase in attendance in the first two years, and increased ticket sales and contributions in support of the initiative have resulted in a 20% increase in revenue.
• During a recent 72-hour sale, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic sold all tickets for remaining concerts in their season for $20, and the sale was promoted at two local malls, where ensembles from the Orchestra performed. Ticket sales also took place online and via the box office. They had hoped to sell 600 tickets, and instead sold 1,534!
These are only some of the indications that more and more orchestras are examining ticket pricing and using reductions to attract new people into the concert hall. There are many more. I point all of this out because I see it as a change in direction in the field - a growing number of orchestras examining pricing strategies and finding imaginative ways to lower ticket prices to increase attendance. We're probably early in this trend to draw meaningful conclusions from it, but it is definitely a trend worth watching.
**Visit the League's Innovations Forum for more information on these ticket pricing strategies and other new, creative ideas that orchestras are implementing!**
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