A case in point for advanced ticket sales in the dance community

by Steven Weisz for The Dance Journal

One of the things I continue to marvel at is how a consumer in Philadelphia can simply show up thirty minutes before most dance performances, pay cash and get a good seat to just about any show.  In other major metropolitan markets that I frequent, such as New York City and Washington, D.C., one would not conceive of arriving at a theater without a ticket in hand or an advanced reservation. Even for the last minute impulse buyer, calling the theater box office to check availability and trying to reserve a seat would be the very minimum requirement.

So what is the basic message being put out to potential audiences about dance in Philadelphia? That performances in this region are not well attended?  That dance is not that popular or successful, with what seems like an unlimited availability of seats?

In the Philadelphia dance world, it appears that we fly in the face of some very basic marketing principles used by the majority of event producers and other arts related genres. Advance sale tickets are like gold for most event producers.  Who wouldn’t want to cover their costs prior to an event?  And who would not want to avoid the uncertainty of knowing if your show will have an audience?

Again, ignoring basic marketing principles, for those few who do offer advance sales tickets, the price points tend to be the same as cash on the day of show. In fact, given that most online sales systems have a service fee of two to three dollars, the cash at the door ticket winds up being the better buy. In essence, this strategy actually works against the promotion of the advance ticket purchase.  At the very least, the advance ticket sale should be significantly discounted to provide additional incentive. Perceived value is crucial in motivating audiences to purchase advance sale tickets.  One leverage point for purchasing tickets in advance is the discount ticket.

So why are so many event organizers hesitant to discount ticket prices to their event?

For one thing, many of the ticket prices are low to begin with. The average rate seems to be in the $10 range. (This devaluing of the incredible work being put out in the Philadelphia market will be another topic at some point.) Discounting an already low price structures becomes at best, difficult for the event producer.  However, by raising the price point and with it the perceived value of the offering, then discounting becomes a non-issue.

For performances where ticket revenue is not the sole source of income (eg// grants, ad sales, donations, sponsorship), discounting as a way to fill seats should not even come into question. Where ticket revenue is the sole source of income, dance companies will need to look beyond just the ticket price if they wish to grow in the market.

These are admittedly difficult economic times and getting people to purchase tickets to your event in advance can be a struggle. Unless there is some big incentive to buy early, most people tend to wait to make a purchase.  In fact, most sales on our own online ticket system, DanceBoxOffice.com, occur predominantly in the 2-3 day period leading up to a performance.  Sometimes an extra push is needed.  Some of the more creative techniques that I have seen have been the offering of an after performance reception or an opportunity to meet the cast for advanced ticket holders only. Others have used the scarcity principal or “Limited Number of Tickets Available” to push sales.

Another key advantage of advance online sales is the development of a mailing list and database. At the very least, your online system should be capturing names, addresses, phone numbers and emails for future mailings and promotions. Cash at the door does not tell you who your audience is or how they heard about you. Sign in books for cash buyers tend to be ineffective due to their voluntary nature.

One last argument for effective advanced ticket sales –

In this digital age, it is all too easy for individuals to simple stay at home and be entertained.  For the cash at the door buyer, changing plans or deciding to nest at home with the television or computer is becoming all too easy. With a ticket in hand in advance, there is greater incentive to venture forth for a great evening of dance on the town.

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4 Comments

  1. I think it is a combination of many things, including interests of Philadelphians but also poor marketing strategies and a under-valuation of the great dance that is being offered. Sort of a Catch 22 – when you can not otherwise attract a more diverse audience, you drop price and take cash at the door, but then in devaluing the performance you are less likely to attract a wider audience.

    There is also an undercurrent that only fellow dancers can really appreciate the work being generated vs going the extra distance to draw in and educate new audiences and expose them to dance.

    Case in point, we have more dance schools/studios than the average metropolitan city but almost none of them teach dance appreciation. The average student does not attend professional dance performances on a regular basis and according to recent polls, when they do, they have trouble sitting through it.

    It is a complicated issue at best and most likely a comprehensive set of strategies vs a single answer is what will be required to alter this.

  2. Is this a problem unique to the dance community in Philadelphia? Live music performances don’t have the same problem. Is this a result of the interests of the average Philadelphian or to differences in marketing/publicity strategies?

  3. With regards to the performance of Giselle in 3D – This is a Fathom Event. It’s not a normal theatrical release…more like a special event…the way the ballet might come to town for one night only. As to the locations – There are very few 3D theaters within Philadelphia. This event would be a natural fit for say a Landmark (Ritz) theater, however, none of them have 3D capabilities. Theaters were chosen that could accommodate the 3D format.

  4. Agree with all of your “Advance Ticket Sales” points, but here’s some other issues unique to Philadelphia:

    For center city events, it is hard, and expensive to park, and stormy weather presents even more challenges to that. NYC has a much bigger, faster, cheaper, mostly underground transit system, while DC has a nicer/newer one, and underground parking too.

    Big names, and overseas dance companies, are steady fare elsewhere; rare to Philadelphia. The last Pennsylvania Ballet I went to a month ago, was $60 for a Family Circle ticket, which I couldn’t afford. (Instead I waited for a half-price “Fun Savers” ticket that was still pricey for me.) I understand that small local dance companies have to under charge for their tickets, just to garner an audience, but then Philadelphia is more of a sports town, and less culturally diverse, as a result.

    Finally, “Giselle in 3 D” is being promoted for a single day’s showing (on a Tuesday at Noon?? and 7:30 pm in July) and the closest theatre is in Warrington – none in the city nor the Main Line area. Even our PBS channel 12, more often than not, doesn’t carry the very very rare nationally televised dance productions. Not helpful in building future dance devotees.

    In Philly’s favor: over the summer months there are sponsored festivals, usually free, but then they do favor music acts, over dance. The burden remains on the smaller dance companies to self-produce, and self-promote, and at least be thankful that PhiladelphiaDance.org exists, to lend some support to their otherwise solitary efforts.

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