Why Are We Still Calling It Will Call?

Traditions die hard in this field but one of the more baffling practices is the continued use of the term “will call” as the preferred name for the option of picking prepaid tickets up at the box office upon arriving at venue’s box office. Most newbies don’t know what “will call” means and when I talk to box office folks about this, most have noticed an increase in confusion over the term with patrons assuming it has something to do with calling for tickets.

question markFor anyone used to buying event tickets on their smartphone, the entire notion of waiting in a line to pick up printed tickets seems bothersome and archaic to begin with; toss a throwback piece of nomenclature like “will call” into the mix and it is no wonder why new and infrequent ticket buyers find the live orchestra concert experience fraught with inconvenience. “What do you mean you don’t offer smartphone tickets?”

Consequently, why does the field as a whole still use the term?

I’m curious to know if anyone out there has adopted an alternative and if so, did you do anything special with the transition. Please send in a comment and share your experiences.

I’m also curious to know what other observations readers have about practices, such as will call, you think could benefit from updating. In fact, it would be fascinating if there’s enough commonality to compile a list of Top 10 Traditions That Need To Go Away In 2013.

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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24 thoughts on “Why Are We Still Calling It Will Call?”

  1. Oh heck, Drew, why do we still call it a “box office?” And, that term is not only used to refer to the place one goes to/calls for tickets, but to the results of sales – “boffo box office.” (Parenthetically, has anyone ever heard “boffo” applied to anything OTHER than “box office?”)

    “Orchestra Level” seats for orchestra concerts are another head-scratcher. And where else, other than a theatre, would one find a “loge?” Or a “mezzanine?” Here’s a question for the Met: does one have to dress differently to sit in the “Dress Circle?”

    Well, one thing I’ll say, working in a town with a big military presence – we have our archaic words no one else uses, but at least we’re not into acronyms.

    • I was hoping someone would bring up the “box office” observation. I was going to mention that too but then the post just seemed like one long angry street corner style rant.

      However, I had not thought about the seating level names but I entirely agree. I’ve also wondered why some halls use “left” and “right” sub labels since in the end, it really depends on perspective.

      So, we have our second and third items here as far as I’m concerned: seating section names should be intuitive and “box office” should be something akin to “ticket window” or something similarly obvious.

  2. Top 10 Traditions That Need To Go Away In 2013? Perhaps that would make a good slideshow for Huffington Post. 🙂

    Regarding the expression “will call,” I guess I don’t think about it very much because I know what it means. I suppose this is exactly your point. We don’t find it weird, but anybody outside of our admittedly insular performing arts subculture probably would.

    The last time I went to an orchestra performance was a few weeks ago at the New World Symphony in Miami. I ordered them on the web and they didn’t use the expression “will call” either on the site or in my email confirmation. They just said “hold at box office.” I think the box office had a sign that said “pre-orders” or something similar. No “will call” in sight.

    I would have LOVED to just just have my tickets on my phone, though.

    • HufPo, why did it have to be HufPo? 🙂 That’s a very good observation about the digital communication and given the consistency, my bet would be that it’s the same way online.

      And don’t get me started about the state of ticketing programs used by most nonprofit performing arts groups.

  3. We simply direct people to purchase or pick-up pre-purchased tickets at any of our windows. Patrons can print tickets at home and will soon be able to scan smart phone tickets. Some archaic souls actually order in advance and have physical tickets mailed to them (the real rebels thwart the system and purchase a subscription). While a few in our ticket office still toss around “will call”, the term we definitely moved away from is “box” office.

  4. I feel like Will Call is a much more widely used term than you seem to think it is, Drew. In my city, pretty much every theater, music hall, and professional sports franchise uses it. It’s just a way of differentiating the box office line for picking up pre-purchased tickets from the line of people who still need to buy tickets. I’ve never heard of anyone being terribly confused by it.

  5. Oh, US venues should definitely start calling orchestra seats the “stalls,” the way the ROH does. That confused the hell out of me for a very long time.

    I’m reasonably sure we have terms such as Grand Tier and Dress Circle to keep people from thinking they’re in a balcony, even though they are.

  6. Additional fees on top of the ticket price. For Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center concerts, the fee is $6 per ticket online, $2 if you purchase in person, and free in person if the ticket is $10 or less. Just say that the ticket is $12, $16, $100, whatever. But the names of the fees are confusing — “building fee,” “service fee” — and I don’t understand why they vary depending on where you buy the ticket. When I worked ticketing at The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, which holds its concerts at the Kimmel Center, I found that if I told patrons the total price, rather than trying to explain the various fees, that transactions went much more smoothly.

  7. Anybody here been to an NBA game recently… few people seem to have a problem finding “Will Call” at our local arena (Go Blazers!).

    So I’m not convinced the nomenclature is the problem… perhaps it is a signage issue (ie. big signs at entrances with arrows to “Tickets/Will Call”). Is there a true correlation between user age (ie. younger) and confusion about where to pick up tickets?

    Re: section naming – Really? I’ve never heard of this being confusing. Again… sporting events use analogous nomenclature (ie. upper deck, lower deck, club level, field level) with little confusion.

    Are patrons getting denser?

    • Funny you mention the big signs/pointers angle. I had a conversation with one of my Venture users this summer. We were talking about the will call/box office nomenclature issue. This group is a big family attraction theatre so they get a large number of newbies.

      My client mentioned they put a BIG sign up at the parking lot pointing people to the “box office.” At several points in the summer, my client said he would be standing right in front of the sign that read “this way to the box office” and folks would still regularly walk up to him and ask where they could buy tickets.

      Now, let’s assume some of those folks were just clueless and no amount of signage would have made a difference. But that doesn’t account for what my client reported as an issue with ticket buyer frustration over the issue of finding the place they could buy tickets.

      So I don’t think it’s age based so much as it is related to live event experience.

      But now that you’ve brought up the sports venue angle, I’m going to see about crossing paths with more folks from that field to see what sort of experience they have.

  8. Theatres, of all varieties, use the term ‘Box Office’ all over Canada. Maybe this isn’t the case in the U.S.? I definitely understand confusion when using the term ‘will call’ when ‘box office’ will do, but I see no need for the latter to be changed just because its tradition. Where’s the beef? Or, to be more festive, rather, the mincemeat?

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