Study: How to entice new single-ticket buyers to symphony concerts

Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard magazine, 5/21/13

These are very tough times for America's orchestras. Symphonies in some cities are facing bankruptcy, nasty labor disputes and [declining] subscriptions. Given those realities, a new analysis of what types of pieces lure people to a concert is of keen interest. In the June issue of the International Journal of Research in Marketing, Wagner Kamakura of Duke University and Carl Schimmel of Illinois State University analyzed [2004-05 season data] on 47 orchestras, all of which had a budget of more than $1.7 million. While some conclusions are expected, others are most decidedly not. Arguably the most striking: Contemporary music is not the turnoff to ticket-buyers that many conductors and administrators apparently believe. The researchers found a modern work on the program has roughly the same impact on ticket sales as a lesser-known piece from the romantic era. On the other side of the ledger, having a guest conductor in place of the music director "has a significant negative impact on occupancy." Other conclusions were counterintuitive: Less-popular works by famous composers do not necessarily translate into higher attendance. (Mozart is the exception here.) Perhaps most surprisingly, contemporary music is "the only category of less-popular works that does not have a significant negative effect on single-ticket occupancy." Schimmel cautions that "Subscription ticket sales might show a very different pattern, and indeed there is reason to believe that subscribers have a different opinion of what is 'popular,' and also a different attitude toward contemporary music." But the subscription model is slowly eroding, meaning the tastes of single-ticket buyers are increasingly important. Results will undoubtedly vary from city to city. But given the financial situation so many orchestras find themselves in, this sort of information, gleaned from crunching numbers, could give struggling institutions a needed edge. Think of it as Mahler meets Moneyball.


Reply: 'Mahler meets Moneyball?' Probably not.

Drew McManus,, 5/22/13

Jacobs' interesting article is a good read, but should be [taken] with a grain of salt. I haven't read the report but having crossed paths with similar studies and, based on what's available in the abstract, I'll go out on a limb and offer up the following.

GOOD: someone outside the field is paying attention to the field; when taken in the right context, there's likely some good reference material

NOT-SO-GOOD: the report is stuck behind a paywall; the data used is nearly 10 years old

The article brought to mind a case where an orchestra received consulting from a prestigious business school that studied existing ticket sales data and local metrics with an eye toward improving earned income. The final report suggested the orchestra was undervaluing its product and recommended sharp price increases. Increases were applied but the earned income increase forecast never materialized. The real kick in the pants is everyone in the office below the highest pay grade knew that wasn't the right answer and didn't want to go in that direction but decisions were made otherwise. That doesn't mean the report wasn't useful but at the same time, it doesn't mean it was something that should be adopted out of hand.


Conference report: How to attract new single-ticket buyers to the opera

Marsha Lederman, The Globe and Mail, 5/12/13

[An] out-of-the-opera-box experience may be key to growing new audiences for strained companies up against a bad economy, a funding crisis, a population growing up in large part without exposure to opera, and a shrinking list of sure-fire hits at the box office. [Earlier this month, at the annual Opera America conference, companies shared] ideas for both getting new people into the opera house, and more and more, getting opera out into the community. A number of companies have created programs around this idea, which function almost as companies within the company, producing contemporary, collaborative, off-site or site-specific events, always with community engagement in mind. Some of these events have the potential to translate into ticket sales. While it may be free to take in [a San Francisco Opera HD screening at Giants Stadium], participants register ahead of time by e-mail, giving the opera access to thousands of potential new operagoers. [SFO Associate General Director Matthew] Shilvock says the baseball events have ultimately resulted in more than $1.8-million (U.S.) in ticket revenue from first-time patrons. Contemporary opera, while more of a box-office risk, can also attract a whole new audience: younger and potentially more ethnically diverse. For example, Tea: A Mirror of Soul, Vancouver Opera's current production, may appeal to the city's vast Asian population. "Everybody's doing some version of Tea," says James Wright, general director of Vancouver Opera. "The challenge is building long-term audiences over a period of time and gaining the trust of the new audiences we want for the right reasons; not as lifesavers or quick fixes; that whatever's done is authentic and genuine."


How to develop a new, larger audience for a city's visual arts

Dianne Greig, Arts Professional magazine, 5/22/13

[Glasgow's] WhiteNOISE project is a 'sector first' that provides the most detailed and extensive overview to date of audiences and attendance for the city's visual arts. The project began with a comprehensive mapping and profiling of the city's visual arts communities, with support from a roll call of participants that reads like a virtual Who's Who of Glasgow's visual arts world. We then wove together findings from over 1,500 visitor interviews, conducted at 11 key city venues, with detailed demographic profiles driven by visitor postcode. That research was supplemented by detailed analysis of social media activity from over 75 of the city's visual arts venues and organisations, including analysis of activity surrounding the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art 2012. Senior figures from Glasgow's visual arts communities were generous with their expertise, taking part in a series of confidential, in-depth discussions which provided invaluable insight and expertise. As a result, we have been able to identify key challenges associated with increasing audiences, and to provide for the first time an overview of the characteristics, distribution and behaviour of the city's audience for visual arts. The research phase of the project has been followed by a series of workshops, offered free of charge to Glasgow's visual arts organisations, designed to provide practical insights and inspiration from fellow practitioners and networking opportunities for the visual arts community.


China has hundreds of new museums, but where's the audience?

Frank Langfitt, NPR's All Things Considered, 5/21/13

Shanghai did something last fall that few other cities could have considered. It opened two massive museums right across the river from one another on the same day. The grand openings put an exclamation point on China's staggering building boom. In recent years, about 100 museums have opened annually here, peaking at nearly 400 in 2011. [Shanghai's new] China Art Palace, free to the public, provides access to foreign art most people here would otherwise never get to see. This is part of the Shanghai government's master plan to turn this mega-city into a cultural capital and magnet for global talent. The city's other new museum, the Power Station of Art, features contemporary work. A major exhibition opened here last month. In the first week or so, the museum sold about 6,000 tickets. That's not many in a city of 23 million. One reason is the obscure location. A second reason is a lack of publicity. Li Xu, deputy director of planning at the museum, thinks a third reason is, when it comes to contemporary art, most Chinese don't know where to begin, because cultural education has lagged far behind China's economic boom. "Chinese graduate students' understanding of art only reaches the level of middle school students in the U.S." To try to change that, museums are starting young. The China Art Palace runs workshops for elementary school students on subjects like naturalist painting, but getting them in the door is tough. "The sole purpose for parents to send kids to school is that they can get into college," says Li. "Anything that's not related to the college entrance exam will not get parents' and teachers' attention."

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