Mahler Meets Moneyball? Probably Not.

There’s an interesting article by Tom Jacobs in the 5/21/2013 edition of which reports on a recent study designed to determine which works have more gravitas when it comes to selling tickets. Overall, it’s a good read but along with the good is some not-so-good that should be more than enough to take everything with a grain of salt.

I haven’t read the report but having crossed paths with similar studies and based on what’s available in the abstract, I’ll go out on a limb and offer up the following.


  • someone outside the field is paying attention to the field
  • when taken in the right context, there’s likely some good reference material
  • copious amount of five dollar words


  • the report is stuck behind a paywall (update: an eagle-eyed reader found a free version, check the comments for the link)
  • data used is nearly 10 years old
  • lack of practical, real world application
  • copious amount of five dollar words

Adaptistration Guy BaseballThe article brought to mind a case where an orchestra received some outside consulting from a prestigious business school that studied existing ticket sales data and local metrics with an eye toward improving earned income.

The final report suggested the orchestra was undervaluing its product and the authors recommended sharp price increases.

Anyone care to guess what that course of action actually produced?

In short, price hikes were applied but the forecasted bump in earned income revenue never materialized. The real kick in the pants is everyone in the office below the highest pay grade knew that wasn’t the right answer and didn’t want to go in that direction but decisions were made otherwise.

That doesn’t mean the report wasn’t useful but at the same time, it doesn’t mean it was something that should be adopted out of hand. Consequently, you’re probably in a good place if you adopt a similar approach to this recent effort.

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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11 thoughts on “Mahler Meets Moneyball? Probably Not.”

  1. So far, I haven’t found anything about ticket prices. A few interesting points: the study specifically examines single ticket buyers and does not analyze subscriber habits. The researchers aren’t really endorsing new music programming; they just say it has the same mild appeal as a less popular work from the romantic era. The pre-recession data becomes out of date especially because they don’t consider ticket price.

    • That’s interesting, thanks for that Justin. Although there’s some benefit with analyzing the data from single tix, it does create a very lopsided value for the overall report since you’re only analyzing a portion of the overall audience and have a giant data hole for the other percentage. Specificity, how does their analysis impact the subscribers?

      And then there’s the lack of ticket prices in the overall equation…

  2. I had similar thoughts when reading it. We know how different the orchestra world is today even from 10 years ago, so data from 2004-05 isn’t very relevant to today. And it seems like they discounted subscribers by just saying subscriptions are dying. I think many orchestras would agree that while subscriptions are not as robust as they were 10 years ago, they’re still a huge part of our revenue stream and are our core audience. We really can’t rule out their opinions.

  3. Precisely, then there are related discussions as to what qualifies as a subscriber today compared to 04/05. Is a single tix buyer who purchases the same number of single tix as a flex-package or lower number traditional subscription a subscriber within the context of the study? then there are differences in artistic budgets following the economic downturn that impact artistic planning as well.

    I am curious to see if there are any good nuggets that do translate into value for today’s marketing environment but it seems that the overarching claim that it is fully applicable seems unlikely.

    So my advice to marketing directors out there is be prepared to discuss the pros and cons of the report with members of your board’s marketing committee who may not have the same breadth of field understanding.

    Does anyone know if this study is getting any airtime at the League conference next month (I haven’t looked at the proposed schedule in more than a month)?

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