Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What to Do With Expensive Unsold Seats

I don't have a ticket to SF Opera's Otello, as I'd been intending to stand. It seems possible that the long-range cause of last week's back pain was standing through Daughter of the Regiment, and I'm under orders not to stand for a while, so that's out.

I'm not going tonight and next Wednesday is effectively sold out, with only a few box seats and one seat somewhere else in the house available.

But Sunday's matinee has around 170 seats available, all $190 and up. That's over my limit for anything short of Bayreuth or the reincarnation of Conchita Supervia or, more appropriately for this work, Giovanni Martinelli.

It's a nice chunk of change at full price, more than $32,000. When does it make sense for an arts organization to decide to make them available to all comers at a steep discount, or on a rush basis for seniors, students, and military personnel? Is there a point where it makes sense to auction off the tickets? I would happily participate in an auction.

Is there an economist in the house?


pjwv said...

Interesting question. I've paid full price at the last minute (and I've also had the experience of feeling burned by buying a seat at full price early on and then having similar seats sold at big discounts). I think the problem is that if people know you discount steeply, they will just wait. People who are less OCD than I am, that is.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Ticket buys fall into multiple categories:

1. Like security/guarantees; buy ahead on subscription.

2. Impulse buyers, who wait until near or on the day of the performance

3. People willing to gamble. These people wait for sales and would participate in an auction if they thought they might beat the subscription or full price.

I've moved from category 1 to categories 2 and 3, but ticketing models are still targeted toward 1 and 2.

pjwv said...

The thing about auctions, as anyone who has used eBay has learned, is that you will often end up spending more. So maybe more arts organizations will give that model a try.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I use sniping software for eBay, so I set my maximum and never spend more than I'm planning.

pjwv said...

Not everyone has your reality-based sense of financial limits, he said, looking into a mirror. . . .

Lisa Hirsch said...

I think I am going to check into the economics literature and see if there's anything about this problem.

sfmike said...

Sunday's matinee probably will have $30 rush seats for those $190+ tickets, but you have to be a senior, student with ID, or military (I'm not sure about the latter). Since you don't look like a senior to me, your best bet is probably going to be student. Are you enrolled in any schools presently that give out laminated student body cards?

Confidentially, if you miss this production, you're not missing a whole lot.

Miss Mussel said...

I can think of two times in my life that I've bought seats prior to a concert or opera. Usually I just turn up and get rush seats, loiter in the box office looking for returns or buy a cheap seat and then move up either before the first piece or at the interval. Over the years I've become an usher-avoiding ninja.

At the COC here in Toronto, they discount 50% all remaining seats on the day of the performance. Seeing as they are generally 95% sold out, there's not a lot on offer.

My best snare was 40€ for a prime 160€ seat at the Paris Opera for Lohengrin with Gergiev and Heppner. (He actually sang the whole thing)

That doesn't answer your economics question as such but to me it seems that on the day, getting butts in seats makes economic sense. Most people need to plan ahead more, so most will buy ahead of time.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Mike, I don't have a student ID and I'm under senior age, but I do have an 88-year-old mother. It's just a matter of coordinating things and (gah) driving to SF, because she can't walk far enough to make it from BART to the opera house.

Hi, Miss Mussel!!

Sadly, the opera's rushes are restricted, though there are rush seats for SF Symphony.

I heard Heppner sing Lohengrin, with Mattila, in 1996, before he had problems. My best snare was a half-price orchestra seat to Die tote Stadt last season, in the Decker production. I also had a half-price seat to a pretty wondering Abduction from the Seraglio this year, but it was in the Balcony Circle, not the orchestra.

John Marcher said...

I'll be happy to sell you the two balcony rear seats I have for the Wednesday 12/02 performance, seats K122 & K124. for $32.00 for the pair.

Patrick can vouch for the validity of the offer.

Paul Muller said...

What I have done when it is possible - and these are mostly local productions - is to attend the rehearsal instead of the performance. I always learn a lot more because the troublesome parts are right there being worked out.

Lisa Hirsch said...

John, belated thanks for the ticket offer. I have another that I have accepted.

To get into rehearsals at SF Opera, you generally have to have given a lot of money and get invited, or be reviewing, or be one of the many kids invited as part of the opera's outreach program, and...well, I am none of those.