Seating Single Ticket Buyers: Delight them or punish them?

I just came across the notes I took from a webinar I attended last year, which was presented by a well-known and highly respected ticket pricing specialist. This speaker advised arts marketers to give single ticket buyers the worst seats at the most expensive price since, she said, this will encourage them to subscribe and get better seats at better prices. Quite honestly, I cringed when I heard this!

We arts marketers need to value our single ticket buyers. It is our primary task to delight them and give them the best experience possible, according to their own definition of a great experience.

One of the biggest issues in our industry is the huge churn rate: the fact that 70-80 percent of people who attend our performances one time do not return. Maybe they didn’t like the particular show they attended and didn’t want to risk trying another. There are many reasons why people choose not to subscribe to a series. The ticket price is just one factor for for people who face other costs like parking, travel time, the need for babysitters, frequent travel, and more.  I am an avid arts attender, but living in the Chicago area, I have wonderfully boundless options and only subscribe to a few of the many organizations I attend.  Single ticket purchase is not just for the occasional attender!

Subscribers may be the “lifeblood” of many performing arts organizations, but many people like being single ticket buyers, even if it costs them more per ticket, and their ranks are growing every season. TCG (Theater Communications Group) reports that from 2003-2012, subscriber attendance declined steadily, totaling a 22 percent decline. During the 5 years period 2008-2012, average single ticket attendance grew 6 percent.

It is increasingly crucial for arts marketers to develop messages and offers that meet the needs, wants, interests, and concerns of occasional ticket buyers. This means treating single ticket buyers as valued patrons and also means that marketers must redefine what they consider to be a loyal attender–even when more and more people want to select exactly which shows to attend and make their ticket purchase decisions close to the performance date.

For more information on how to attract and retain single ticket buyers, see pages 337-343, Standing Room Only: Marketing Insights for Engaging Performing Arts Audiences. (Joanne Bernstein, pub Palgrave/Macmillan, 2014).

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3 thoughts on “Seating Single Ticket Buyers: Delight them or punish them?

  1. I completely agree that subscribers be given the best seats first. But I suggest that single ticket buyers be given the best of the remaining seats. And, if a subscriber needs to exchange tickets, the box office should not wait for another subscriber to be given those seats. Rather, a single ticket buyer should get the very best available seats to create as fabulous an experience as possible. Consider that a subscriber is already a loyal attender and deserves to be treated well, but, when making an exchange, the subscriber does not need to know that excellent seats have just been given to a single ticket buyer who phoned first.

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  2. I think it is very important to make everyone feel welcome. Part of the single ticket buyers will later on become subscribers, but only if they feel they are treated respectfully.
    Then you can add on a lot of benefits that will be unique to subscriptions, which will single ticket buyers give incentive to commit. And when you have a full hall, the subscribers will of course get the best seats first.

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