Ticket Prices Yet Again

There’s a timely article in today’s St. Louis Post Dispatch by Michael Sorkin about the 50% increase in the SLSO’s lowest price concert ticket that’s worth your time…

My favorite part of the article is the quote from SLSO president, Randy Adams, about the price hike,

"Fifteen dollars is only slightly more than the price of a good movie,"

According to statistics compiled and provided by the National Association of Theatre Owners, the average cost of a movie ticket in 2004 was $6.21. According to those same statistics, movie tickets go up about 3.5% every year so you can expect 2005 to be in the neighborhood of $6.42.

If Randy Adams was talking about the old $10.00 ticket price I think that would be a fair statement, but the new price is now more than double the average movie ticket price. Michael’s article also factors in the costs of ticket surcharges and parking in his article and determined that the cost of two lowest price seats in St. Louis came to $43.00.

The article also points out that the SLSO gives away 50 free tickets to each of their concerts (with a limit of six free tickets per subscriber on a first come, first serve basis).

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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6 thoughts on “Ticket Prices Yet Again”

  1. “Michael’s article also factors in the costs of ticket surcharges and parking in his article and determined that the cost of two lowest price seats in St. Louis came to $43.00.” ….

    I wonder whether these $43.00 “evening (afternoon) cultural packages for two” in Saint Louis sell out as quickly as the National Symphony Orchestras ca. $54 “evening (afternoon) cultural packages for two”. In Washington, once those $54 packages are quickly gone the next step up (granted with full view) is usually $107 — virtually twice the lowest, obstructed view price.

    And it appears that the free tickets in Saint Louis apparently go to subscribers, usually those with already very high levels of earned or inherited wealth and income; rather than to those struggling financially to participate in live classical musical culture in America.

  2. Actually our lowest price went from $12 to $15, which equals a 25% increase not 50%. From 1999 until 2004 our lowest price was $10.

    I’m aware of the pricing problem and made the recommendations for this season that included:
    — a new $25 section on the rear of the main floor (these seats were $69 last year).
    — a balcony section lowered from $46 to $35
    — 56% of our seats went down in price
    — 65% of our seats are now $45 or under.

    We now have 9 price points of $15, $18, $25, $30, $35, $45, $70, $85 & $105. Last season it only ranged from $12, $32, $46, $69, $81, $99. >From talking with the box office, it seemed many people stopped buying after hitting the $46 and up price (or $92 and up for 2 tix). We hope that having something like $50 for 2 tix overcomes their price resistance.

    And a note on service fees. We charge $2.50 a ticket and do it without the technology of a major company like ticketmaster.com or tickets.com. The $99 tickets I just bought from ticketmaster set me back $23.50 in service fees – or $11.75 per ticket. Who’s zooming who?

    [Addendum regarding facts appearing inthe SLTD artile]:The cheapest ticket was $10 from 99/00 until 03/04. Last season it was raised to $12. This season it went to $15. So over 2 years the price did increase from $10 to $15, or 50%. If my math is correct for this last season, a $3 increase on a $12 ticket would be 25%. I’m not sure how that was confused, but it’s still an increase.

    Dale Fisher
    Associate Director of Marketing
    Saint Louis Symphony

  3. Also, on the 50 Free Ticket program. It’s not limited to subscribers by any means. We ask that patrons only attend 6 free concerts a year (they have a card that is stamped each time). This is to make sure no one abuses the system so more people can take advantage of the program.

  4. Mr Fisher, thank you for your points of clarification.
    On my first analysis, your new pricing structure looks excellent; and I hope that the National Symphony Orchestra will consider it (especially as it moves toward its new, possibly more egalitarian and audience-friendly, era under Hungarian Ivan Fischer as Principal Guest Conductor, and possibly new Principal Conductor).

    I think your nine price points are a very good idea. I think the $25 rear orchestra seats are an excellent idea (something the NSO only toys with, often in a somewhat bait and switch, or hard to find or obtain, manner). How many $25 seats are there? And I think the lower prices overall (while increasing the top price category) also seems the right way to go to begin to maximize revenues by filling empty seats.

    I still don’t quite understand your 50 Free Concerts program, but I understand now that it is not only for subscribers. If you see this, are there 50 Cards (300 concerts), or 50 Free Concerts, total? (I hope the answer is 50 Cards! And maybe you could experiment with 100 Cards of three free concerts each? Or 250 Cards of two free concerts each?)

    [The Kennedy Center/NSO charges a 9 or 9.5% service fee per ticket (I can’t recall exactly), which does indeed seem high and does boost costs to about $96 for two non-obstructed view NSO seats.]

    Good luck filling your hall! You, unlike many, appear to be trying!

  5. There are 253 Orchestra Rear seats at $25 – again these were $69 last season so hopefully that’s a comfortable price point for more patrons.

    We give away 50 free tickets to every Orchestral concert (65 total) on a first come first served basis night of show. To prevent the same 50 people from getting the tickets, we require they have a card stamped that allows 6 admissions each year. So for the season, we would offer 65 concerts x 50 free = 3250 potentially free tickets.

    Thanks – Dale

  6. Thank you!… With upwards toward 400 Free,
    $15, $18, and $25 tickets available for each and every Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra performance, the audience in the Saint Louis Hall might just begin to look more like America as a whole!

    With the Kennedy Center and the NSO, the ca. 96 obstructed view $20 seats and ca. 70 chorister (behind the orchestra) $20 seats virtually always sell out; and always appear largely to be occupied by students (including school groups), young professionals, the non-rich elderly, and Americans of color. At the same time, the Kennedy Center/NSO orchestra level is virtually always dominated by the affluent (very) elderly, some professionals, and a handful of children of the wealthy.

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