Right now I’m sitting in the San Francisco Airport outside Gate 54A coping with a three hour fog delay before heading back to the East Coast. With the twenty minutes of free wireless access I’ve received from watching a three minute Charmin paper towels ad, I wanted to pass along a great post from a favorite blog of mine, The Producer’s Perspective, by Ken Davenport. Ken is a New York-based producer who’s had great success in the Broadway and 0ff-Broadway markets. He’s also been one of the leaders in leveraging new, social, and 2.0 media into the arts administration and marketing model. I applaud him for that.
Ken has done a lot of research, crunching the numbers on whether the discount culture for the “perishable performance” is actually hurting the industry more than helping it. For almost any show playing in a Broadway or off-Broadway house, discount codes can be found through a quick Google search. Some sites, like BroadwayBox, even aggregate these codes from different mailing lists, newsletters, email blasts, and direct mail flyers (try it for yourself right now). With the price of live theatre so high ($500+ for a family of four), not doing this bit of legwork is foolish. With a few clicks you can often cut prices in half and save hundreds of dollars. While these discount codes generally mean fuller houses, are they mutually beneficial to the audience and the producer? While list price for tickets can range from $120-180 (with premium seats sky high at over $400 each), the average price paid by an audience member is often only $60-80 after all discounts have been accounted for — check this week’s published grosses to see.
The fact of the matter is that now, full price tickets, not full houses, lead to a production’s success (recoupment). It is only through paying this MSRP (of sorts), that a production will be able to turn a profit. Unfortunately, today’s information age makes this more difficult than ever. People desire, nay expect, discounts on everything, and now with these aggregated services, finding these valuable codes is easier than ever. It’s become the first step in the process. Patrons who have paid full price in the past are shifting as well. But then, why shouldn’t they?
What’s Davenport’s suggestion? Increase the value of a full-price ticket. Producers should play their chips and use all the bargaining tools they have to drum up this business. Among his initial recommendations, he suggests creating an exchange policy to swap performance dates if something comes up. It costs nothing, but provides great service and added-value benefit to the customer. He suggests giving consumers something they can’t buy to sweeten the pot. Right now, Ken gives away a backstage tour after every performance of Godspell. It’s low-key and fifteen minutes of someone’s time, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a fan. People pay hundreds for this at auctions and raffles and he’s giving one away every day. How about bundling in a t-shirt or a mug? These items have large markups at souvenir stands and cost nickels to produce — the customer will feel like they’re getting a deal. When they wear the shirt or bring the mug to work, you’ve got word-of-mouth marketing, a personal endorsement. Read the rest of Ken’s post on how to encourage more full-price ticket sales here. The obvious goal of any business model is to have customers paying full-price, but right now arts administrators have the fear of discount deals running away from them. To succeed, we keep the balance of paid and discounted in check, or face the fact that soon people will expect, nay demand, ticket prices well below our break even cutoff.
Now to those of you who’ve used discount codes, put yourself in the administrator’s shoes. What do you think? What other sort of services or benefits would make you willing to pony up a bit more?