Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pricing and Audience Resentment

Drew McManus had an article at Adaptistration the other day called Placebo Pricing and the Ticket Price Quandry; he points to Joe Patti's Butts in the Seats article Info You Can Use: Forget Dynamic Pricing, Use Placebo Pricing. Both articles are well worth a read, followed by some contemplation as to how events are priced and why.

Ticket discounting is rampant in various ways. Some presenters just plain have inexpensive tickets, from amateur choruses to the wonderful Old First Concerts. Others have rush ticket programs, such as the senior rush and standing room tickets at San Francisco Opera or the $20 rushes at SF Symphony. I showed up for that Susan Graham recital expecting to pay full price, but got a very nice rush seat instead; probably if I'd gone to the Eco Ensemble program Saturday night, I would have gotten the same deal.

For the last several years, San Francisco Symphony has had a big more-or-less half-off sale around the end of January. I know people who buy short subscriptions for the fall and gamble that they'll be able to get discount tickets for the spring. I've taken advantage of that sale myself a few times, but this year I bought most of my tickets up front at subscriber prices. There have been some exceptions; for instance, I don't have tickets to any of the chamber music programs coming up, and I bought a rush to see Shostakovich's 14th Symphony.

I know why presenters offer these discounts: it's better to sell a seat at a discount than to have it empty, for all sorts of reasons.

But I heard about a particular San Francisco Symphony offer today that I have to admit fries me just a teeny little bit, hence the "audience resentment" part of my blog title. Among the many tickets I bought last fall, after quite a bit of hassle, are tickets to three programs in the American Mavericks series. They're orchestra seats that I bought at the subscriber price which gets something like $10 or $15 off per seat.

As of this week, SFS is offering a $100 pass to all of the American Mavericks programs. You buy the pass in person or over the phone, then redeem the pass for tickets anywhere in the house other than Loge and Side Box, subject to ticket availability.

You also get a CD and a DVD.

Now, the fact that this pass is available at all means that very likely I can get rush seats for any concerts I don't already have tickets to. But it is an unusually blatant discount; for a third of what I paid for three seats, a gambler who waited can get into nine concerts.

Of course, nothing is keeping me from buying the pass and going to a few additional concerts. It's just....maybe rewarding the wrong behavior, when a subscriber starts kicking herself for having bothered to buy tickets in advance.


Henry Holland said...

As you probably know Lisa, LA Opera announced a new pricing scheme last week. Lower prices, more choices about pricing levels in different parts of the Dot etc. They'll announce the details with the new season (next week? Oh please please please Gloriana and Die Tote Stadt, I might even buy a partial subscription!).

The Philharmonic, of course, have no need for such fancy pricing stuff, as long as The Dude is on the podium or it's Top 40 stuff, they'll sell tickets. They do have a scheme where if there's no chorus for that concert, the benches behind the orchestra are sold two weeks in advance for $15. I sat there for a great Cleveland Orchestra concert, the sound was terrific.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Plus the pass-holder gets a CD and DVD -- yeah, I'd be fried if I paid full price up front and received less, even without the hassle you went through!

Lisa Hirsch said...

Henry, I'm looking forward to reading the details of the new LAO pricing scheme, as well as the season announcement. (This reminds me that I need to make plans to see "Albert Herring.")

Patrick, yeah. In the interests of journalism, I'm thinking of making some inquiries. But I am pretty sure that the key to all of this is audience segmentation. There are people like me who are repertory-oriented and make plans in advance; there are people who spontaneously decide on what they will do. There are people who have the money to commit in advance, like me; there are people waiting for the discounts. One of the keys to maximizing revenue is having a good idea of how many people are in each segment and targeting your prices and marketing correctly.

Drew said...

I'm curious Lisa, did SFS send you any messages about migrating your tickets to the new promotion? Likewise, if you did contact them, did they have any sort of "make-up" offer ready to go (meaning they thought about it in advance and put this together but only for folks who bothered to call)?

I'm with you 100% when it comes to offering added discounts for new buyers only or some other mid-stream adjustment. I had recent spat with a plugin provider over that very issue and ultimately got the discount applied (that was supposedly for new customers only). Fortunately, this person is someone I've known a long time so the conversation was genuine and neither of us got ugly and I do think he saw my points by the end but the last thing any performing arts group would want to do in this climate is aggravate existing ticket buyers.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Drew, not a word about this offer or about migration. Still debating what to do. I could:

- Phone as a curious ticketholder
- Phone as an outraged ticketholder
- Email the press office for comments as a curious/outraged blogger

- Email Patron Services for comments as a curious/outraged ticketholder

Patron Services got three printed letters from me last year about the outrageously bad user experience of trying to buy tickets over the web, to the point that they must cringe at the mention of my name.