Monday, January 11, 2010

NYC Theatre Companies: How NOT to Discount Tickets

Because Catherine and I go to see so many plays and concerts, we have to plan our schedules pretty carefully. This month, there's a lot for us to juggle with the Under the Radar, Coil and Culturemart festivals, in addition to seeing productions by or featuring our friends. Since the performance times for many of these festival shows are irregular, it's made advance planning even more critical. So, last week, we sat down with our calendars and tried to figure out which shows we'd see on which nights. Once we'd gotten it all worked out, we went ahead and bought tickets online for many of them.

Imagine our consternation when we received e-mails a few days later offering discounted tickets to two of those productions.

Now, I don't have any problem with a company offering discounted tickets: I use discount codes all the time that I get from my friends and I'm a member of Goldstar which offers a lot of excellent deals for theatre, dance, comedy and music performances. But most often, the discount offers I get are to encourage early purchases: the pitch is usually, "buy your ticket by X date and it's only $10" or something. New Georges is especially good at rewarding their regular patrons this way, as is Flux Theatre Ensemble. The e-mails I received last week, however, made me feel like a chump: I could have waited until the last minute to commit to seeing these shows and saved a fairly significant amount of money. I mean, neither show was sold out, so it's not like I wouldn't have gotten a seat: after all, that's why the discounts were offered.

As a producer, I know the value of a full house. Sure, we need the money from admissions to help cover our costs but as important to me is that I'm making the art to be seen: empty seats are missed opportunities. I'd rather have someone pay even a percentage of the full price than have them stay at home. But I also don't want my loyal patrons to be penalized: in fact, I'd like to reward them for being loyal. This is what New Georges and several other NYC companies do with their e-mail discounts and pay-what-you-can nights throughout the run.

Am I done buying my tickets in advance? No, because for every instance that I get burned like this there'll be another when I would not have gotten to see the show otherwise. But there are a few companies that may not know I'm coming until the last possible minute... maybe even when I show up unexpectedly at the box office.


Anonymous said...

But aren't late-breaking discount blasts usually due to flagging ticket sales? My sense is that a pre-performance discount is a sales tactic...and after that point, it signals desperation and empty seats.

I agree with you that this system takes advantage of the early, timely supporter. But faced with declining audiences, increased competition among companies...I'm not sure what the alternative is.

(Unless you have a big hit, of course. Then this is all moot.)

Barry said...

I certainly understand, when the tickets aren't selling, why the producers want to get the butts in the seats: I've been there! But what both New Georges and Flux do is make that part of their plan: offer the less expensive tickets for the early part of the run right up front to their loyal audience members. If I can't take advantage of their offers (and I often can't), I don't feel bad when I pay full price because I was given the opportunity to get a cheaper ticket first; I had more control and could play a part in how much I was going to pay for my tickets. It's a small thing, really—we're talking around $5 a ticket, usually—but it makes a big difference in terms of my perception of those companies and how important my business is to them.