Non profits can do it. Why can’t we?

I’m not talking about not paying taxes.  I’m talking about subscriptions.

Could a commercial theater subscription exist?

One of the principal elements of a strong financial foundation for a not-for-profit theater is selling a season of shows through a “subscription”.  Buy 6 shows for 1 low price, but you have to do it now!  Touring “road houses” do the same.  You get cash in the bank, before you need to spend it (unless your ticketing company holds on to it), and a reassurance that a good chunk of your seats will be sold.

Broadway theaters don’t cycle several shows through its theaters per year (hopefully), so the subscription model doesn’t make sense.

But could it?

Most tri-state area musical buyers are multi-musical buyers, meaning that they see more than one show a year.  Could we sell them on three shows in advance IF the shows were happening at different times of the year?  (Subscriptions work because the time commitment is spread out – it’s not three shows in a 6 week period.)  Could the Producer of Addams Family get together with the Producer of Catch Me If You Can and the Producer of Ever After and do a mailing over the summer with an offer for all three (the customers would need a great incentive to purchase all three – great seats is one)?

Is splitting the cost of the mailer the only upside for the Producers?  What about connecting with other brands?  “See The New Shows On Broadway!”  Is it a League sponsored initiative for all the new plays or all the new musicals?  Could there be a League subscription?  “Pick 5 shows a year for $250!”

To tell you the truth, I don’t know if it would be worth it.  It would be a heck of a lot of work and more importantly it would depend on a lot of cooperation, which might as well be a four letter word in this industry.

But in this economy, that’s a word we all need to get comfortable with, or we’re all going to be four-letter-word-ed.

Do you think there is a way to make this work?

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Speaking of subscribing, my feedburner account is being transitioned.  The best way to insure that you’re getting the latest PP (yes, I said “latest pee-pee”), is to subscribe via email.  Look for the box to the left.)

  • (1) When the RSS feed changes, can you please let me know (faigin -at, so I can update the syndication of this blog on LiveJournal?
    (2) As a season subscriber to three theatres in Los Angeles (Cabrillo Music Theatre, Pasadena Playhouse, and Repertory East Playhouse… and to the Ahmanson in the past), seats are only one aspect of the subscription. There’s also guaranteed dates so attendance can be scheduled (or the ability to pick my dates, at RepEast). There’s the discount in price, especially for shows so much in demand that I would be unlikely or unable to get 1/2 price tickets through services such as Goldstar or LA Stage Tix. The last factor is the ability to support the theatre, although this is the smallest factor overall, and might not play on the commercial side. Still, for shows likely to be in high demand, and early in their run, it might work.

  • RLewis says:

    Based on your previous post with stat’s that Bway’s audience is 65% tourists, i would wonder who’d want to do all this work just to grow the remaining 35%. Aren’t there more undiscounted dollars to be made by working to get the 65% to 70%?
    Seems like this works better with Off Bway resident theaters cuz they know well out which theater they’ll be playing in – cuz it’s their theater. With Bway shows getting bumped by date or space due to availability or readiness, there are just too many moving parts. And Off Bway shows run to limit no matter the reviews, but Bway shows can close after opening night or week. What do you do with those subscription holders who put in for the following month’s seats? Refund Hell.
    Also, if your show is 4th or 5th out of five and the first 3 get trashed in reviews, you’ve saddled your show with an unnecessary ball & chain (“ya lay down with dogs,…”). Imagine marketing a package right now that included Vanities, you’d be selling a show that isn’t even coming to Bway. Maybe Disney could pull off something like this – they have the product and controls that are targeted to taste.
    It’s a nice try, but if my show is gonna take a hit, I want it to be cuz I screwed up, not cuz the other producers I teamed up with did.

  • WildBird says:

    Hmm…Ken, this might be a great idea for New World Stages shows. There are two shows coming in and of course there’s Altar Boys and My First Time and Naked Boys there already…it might be an interesting way to test the plan in a more controlled market. It’s definitely possible that audiences would go see Altar Boys or even Toxic Avenger….
    Wonder if all of those producers would go for it?

  • Miriam Gardin says:

    On the other hand, many not-for-profit performing arts organizations are having trouble with subscription sales. Subscription sales are down, perhaps as a result of people being so over-scheduled and less willing to commit. Some social-profits have actually gotten rid of subscriptions entirely (one might say it’s a bit premature) but that’s where the trend seems to be pointing. So the timing for an initiative like this may have passed….

  • gray matters says:

    All the posts above bring up excellent points. I was General Manager of Seattle’s Paramount Theatre in a town where everything was on subscription including four major not-for-profits. Even though we had our own Best of B’way series, as an independent commercial theatre, we observed that once many patrons subscribed to other theatres, that “commitment” represented their total theatre entertainment for the year. In some cases, no matter how good the word of mouth was, it could not shake subscribers from their “loyalty” to their subscription theatre. I would venture to say that the Broadway offerings of Manhattan Theatre Club and Roundabout face this very challenge.

  • ron says:

    Why not do this? But instead of one theater make it theaters with common ownership. Tickets to all the Nederlander, Jujamacyn, Schubert, Disney etc. shows. Independents can form their own loop. Theatergoers get access, seat guarantees, first shot. Producers/Theater owners get money up front. I’d do it.

  • Aaron says:

    View from up north:
    In Toronto, commercial theatres DO offer subscriptions – most notably Mirvish.
    Granted, there’s a heckuva lot more competition on Broadway…

  • Kate says:

    Incorrect use of “you’re” in the third paragraph.

  • Ian says:

    Why don’t do it… because the non-profits are bleeding subscribers and have let the sway of subscriber money control creative choices while also requiring those theaters on the most part to rely equally on contributed income as they do on ticket sales.
    Which is to say, it’s a failing model… so if you wanted to fail… sure why not?

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