Michael Kaiser Couldn’t Be More Right

I have to fess up and admit that I haven’t been keeping up with Michael Kaiser’s blog at Huffington Post even though I know it would be for the best. But that’s been turning around as I’ve been wading through Michael’s archives and one item that caught my attention was a post from 1/4/2010 titled Why Ticket Prices Must Change. Regular readers are already aware that this has been an ongoing topic at Adaptistration for years now and Michael’s outlook mirrors nearly everything covered here in all that time…

Artificially inflated ticket prices: the drug of choice for arts administrators?

Although I’m far from alone in my outlook on the long term damage artificially inflated average ticket prices are inflicting on the field, most validation comes from sources that aren’t focused squarely in the orchestra business. Consequently, Michael’s attention to this matter by purporting the only viable solution at this point in time, i.e. dedicated fundraising activity, adds a refreshing voice to the discussion.

“And we need to work actively and aggressively to increase fund raising revenue (by producing exciting work and marketing that work well) and use a portion of this revenue to lower ticket prices.”

This is precisely the action I’ve been espousing here for years and although the current economic downturn makes this option even less palpable, the simple truth is the longer we wait, the harder it gets. To add insult to injury, Michael points out that the rate of ticket price increases has reached a threshold where short term gains are being offset by structural losses in overall attendance. Again, this is parallels what we’ve been discussing for years, most recently here and here.

It’s worth pointing out that Michael’s article mentions some of the fundamental consistencies of ticket pricing that are immune to this syndrome, such as premium price tickets. In fact, most experienced managers are already well aware that it isn’t unusual for premium ticket buyers to look at the ticket purchase as their donation and raising those prices has had little, if any, impact on demand.

There is little doubt in my mind that this topic will fail to get the attention it deserves over the next few years until the economy stabilizes. But even then, if the past is any indication of what will come, getting the field to acknowledge this slow, yet undeniably, catastrophic problem will be an uphill battle.

Michael concludes his post with an eloquent observation of self fulfilling prophecy:

“If we don’t [reverse ticket pricing trends], we will find ourselves with fewer and fewer people in our audiences, and an ever-smaller donor base. The arts will, at best, become the exclusive province of the elite, and to the vast majority of people, live arts will become irrelevant.”

Let’s just hope things don’t have to get that bad before they get better.

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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3 thoughts on “Michael Kaiser Couldn’t Be More Right”

  1. Remember that Armold Schoenberg said–in the ’40s!–that one of the main reasons younger people don’t attend concerts, or know much about classical music, is that ticket prices were so absurdly high! Heavens, what would he think of it now?

  2. There was/is a good discussion going on about ticket prices (going into public funding later as well) at the Orchestra R/Evolution blog. I think it shows that perception and value play a big role in feelings about ticket prices. But I think Kaiser’s suggestion of lowering the ticket price for the lower-end price conscious patrons makes very much sense.

    http://orchestrarevolution.org/?p=299

  3. I’ll go one more step and add that it’s the average ticket price that needs to come down (excluding the premium ticket prices). Nonetheless, you hit the nail right on the head with the value perception argument Marc. although certainly not mutually exclusive, it tends to inhibit meaningful discussion on this topic.

    Moreover, a closely related issue is the increasing practice of overscaling of houses. Much like the overall ticket price issue, it isn’t a matter of “good or bad” but to what extent does it become counterproductive and which borderline strategies should be employed in limited use.

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