Well, hold your horses. It's more complicated than that.
As the biggest game in town, San Francisco Symphony has many constituencies, or market segments, or niches that it's trying to fill. People attend for social reasons; because they want to hear the old classics and not much more; because they want to hear the latest and greatest; because they want to hear particular soloists; because their husband/wife/spouse/partner/companion likes that stuff; because they're professionally interested; because they're music students; etc, etc.
SFS wants to both sell the maximum number of tickets and make the maximum possible revenue. The two needs are somewhat in conflict. The perfect price for selling out the house every time might be under the price that maximizes revenue, and there's major risk in pricing seats too low. That is, if you start with a high price, it's easier to offer discounts than to say "Ooops! We advertised this seat last June for $75, but now it's $95."
Only the airlines can get away with that kind of pricing. It's easy to understand why an orchestra might not want to get into airline-style pricing.
Here are some of the segments SFS has to take into account in deciding on prices:
- People who plan ahead
- People who make decisions spontaneously
- People who have the money to pay full or full subscriber prices
- People who are bargain hunting
- New listeners the orchestra wants to get hooked
- People who are risk averse
So the question is, what's too high? If people buy at a particular price point, it wasn't too high for them. If every seat does not sell, you then look for the next price at which tickets will sell. SFS does this with their apparently-annual January sale, which is going on right now, with rush tickets, with dumps to Goldstar, and with passes like the Mavericks pass. SF Opera typically does the same thing: some seats turn up on Goldstar, and they've been known to do half-off sales. That's how I got a $225 seat to Die tote Stadt for $100 or so.
As I said, it's complicated. I'm fine with SFS's January sale because 1) it is now predictable and 2) I understand the reasons for their needing to find buyers for unsold inventory. But the Mavericks pass is an enormous discount. And there is certainly some risk of audience resentment, when someone like me slaps her forehead and wonders why she didn't save a few hundred bucks by waiting to buy tickets. Or save even more by not buying tickets at all.
Slightly updated at 12:15 p.m.