Audience development is a big issue in this industry. Attendance is down, younger patrons are harder to attract, and subscription series are getting increasingly difficult to sell. In addition to all of the cultural, social, and marketing issues involved with this problem, I think a widely overlooked area is the cost of single tickets…
Kennedy Center Director, Michael Kaiser coined the phrase “rich white guy” when describing today’s stereotypical orchestra patron, and he’s pretty much right on target. But I think that one of the reasons why you mainly see this demographic attending concerts is not because that segment of society are the only ones educated enough to appreciate culture, but because they are the only ones able to afford it.
Community outreach and participation in public school music education programs are all the rage in the industry. I constantly hear orchestras shouting out the mantra “We have to start building our future audience”. And in general, I would agree with that. But don’t you think it’s counterproductive to put so much money into outreach programs aimed at a segment of society that can’t really afford to patronize the orchestra on a regular basis? I do.
I did a little informal survey this morning of single ticket prices. I selected four orchestras at random (I actually have a program that does that for me), two big, two medium: Baltimore Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Grand Rapids Symphony, and the Dayton Philharmonic. Here are the average single ticket prices for classical series concerts on
either Friday or Saturday evening performances:
- Minnesota: $51.00
- Baltimore: $44.28
- Dayton: $33.50
- Grand Rapids: $28.72
For someone that earns under $30,000 annually, those ticket prices frequently keep concerts out of reach. And if you have a family, forget about it. Personally, I believe that you should be able to afford attending one concert per month. And not just the kids or pops stuff, but the programs that speak to your soul.
Fact: Orchestras need to increase ticket revenue in the midst of falling attendance.
Fiction: That means orchestras must raise ticket prices.
That scenario only excludes an increasingly larger segment of the community which orchestras are attempting to “reach out”. Can you see where I’m heading with this? Orchestras are inadvertently pricing themselves out of an audience. At this rate we’re going to return to the days where only the aristocratic elite will be able to afford the joy of live orchestral performances. Good for Bill Gates, bad for Average Joe.
I honestly believe that traditional subscription ticket sales are a thing of the past. Although it’s cheaper to sell subscriptions than individual tickets, the result is higher single ticket prices, and that’s where we start that nasty cycle mentioned earlier. Orchestras need to abandon traditional subscription series in lieu of something more along the lines of frequent buyer discounts. Stop the multi-layered ticket pricing and simply make two ticket prices: the expensive box seats for those that can afford to enjoy them, and then everything else.
Write in with your opinions, tell me what you think. Are orchestra’s pricing themselves into extinction?