The Time To Reset Fees Is Now

Ticket fees are always a sensitive topic but if there were ever a better time for organizations to revisit how setting fees and communicating those decisions to ticket buyers, it’s now.

Following up on yesterday’s post about how orchestras should be reconsidering their ticket fee structure, it’s something I wasn’t actively thinking about until Lisa Hirsch starting writing about her encounters with post-pandemic ticket fees. In one tweet she points out that the fee for a subscription is $20 but for for a single ticket is $12, all from the same organization.

In all but a few specific circumstances, I’m for wrapping fees up into the ticket price. Yes, it makes the price seem higher, but I have yet to see a meaningful study that demonstrates this will hurt overall revenue or cumulative ticket sales.

Having said all of that, this assumes an organization has complete control over their fee structure and that assumption is anything but accurate.

The only time an organization has complete control over fees is when they also control the end-to-end ticketing process. And while you may think that larger budget organizations do, even they are sometimes at the mercy of a venue they don’t own or operate. In those situations, the ticketing provider (i.e., the venue owner) can tack on whatever fee they want to the ticket price.

There are no two ways about it, being at the mercy of a third-party provider is a sucky situation. Depending on the ticketing system, an orchestra may have options for how to present and label those fees within the checkout process, but that’s never a guarantee.

Everything past that is the orchestra’s choice on whether they want to add any additional fees, and this is where messaging kicks in.

  • Communicating to ticket buyers which fees are and aren’t within the organization’s control is a good place to begin. If the ticketing provider doesn’t allow the organization to label fees clearly, then turn that into a communications opportunity and begin educating ticket buyers about it. Transactional receipts are an often overlooked, but valuable point of contact.
  • While they are known for having some of the most egregious fees in the business, the basic concept behind the way Ticketmaster explains fees is a good template in that it explains the difference between taxes, delivery fees, and a venue fee (facility charge). Where things go sideways is the Service Fee and Order Processing Fee. Those are the “because we want to charge you this fee” fee. Avoid trying to burry that fact in a bunch of misleading language.
  • Some organizations have opted to increase fees to help offset the cost of PPE and health and safety equipment. That’s a good example of something to break out as a line-item fee so ticket buyers know exactly where it’s going and that it will (hopefully) be temporary in nature. This makes it less of a barrier and even adds piece of mind.
  • Survey your ticket buyers. Communication is a two-way street and the more you find you about how fees impact buying habits, the better equipped you’ll be to find the sweet spot fee amounts.

Lastly, if you’re trying to find ways to reward patrons who supported the organization during the pandemic by giving donations, consider offering fee waiver vouchers or discount codes. Even a one-and-done gesture is better than nothing and since we all know fees are already a pain point, you’ll get their attention in the best possible way by waiving them as much as possible.

Did a regular donor increase their gift by 50% over the pandemic? Then give them a 50% discount on fees. Of course, this assumes an organization can create flexible discounts within their ticketing platform to begin with, but that’s a rabbit hole for another day. For now, this is a great way to show patrons that you noticed their support and appreciate it.

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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