What really took the advance out of advance ticket sales?

One of the most common complaints amongst anyone hawking tickets to anything these days is that people rarely buy in advance anymore.  If you’re a vacation resort, a football team, or a Broadway show, you’re white-knuckling it a lot of the time, because so many customers take so long to click “buy now.”

Why don’t people buy in advance?

Some people point to 9/11 as the turning point in purchasing habits.  Because of the fear of something else “happening,” people started being afraid to travel or make any similar plans.

Some people point to our customers getting wise to the discount game.  They know if they wait, they can get a good deal–probably sent right to their inbox.

These are all true, but I also think it’s something simpler than that.

We’re busier than we were a decade before.

The advent of technology has allowed us to become more accessible, and it is also allowed us to multi-task.  Being the ambitious Americans that we are, we’ve used technology not to make our lives easier, but instead we’ve jam packed our days with more stuff to do, more stuff for our kids to do, etc. . . . which leaves less time to plan stuff to do.

So we don’t plan as much as we used to because we don’t have the time.  And, since theatergoing is not primarily an experience that is done by oneself, a buyer not only has to coordinate a time that he can go see a show, he also has find out when his theater-going partner can also attend.

And in the “Decade of Busyness,” that ain’t easy.

What can we do to battle the “busys”?

It’s our job to make the purchasing process as easy as possible, and as fast as possible (now do you know why Amazon came up with 1-Click purchasing?).

Our ticketing services need to have e-services with profiles so you don’t ever have to input info twice.  We need tools on our websites that allow people to invite their friends to the same event.  We need methods that allow me to pay for my ticket, and a friend to pay for theirs (like paying a restaurant tab with separate credit cards), but still let us sit together.

Even people who aren’t busy think they’re busy.  If we don’t come up with ways to allow even the busiest of folks to purhase their tickets quickly and easily, you know what won’t be busy?

Our box office.

 

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Comments
  • Anthony says:

    I think there are several factors going on here. First, I believe (and this may be connected to the 9/11 theory) that people are less likely to buy advanced tickets for travel (and its accessories, like theater tickets) because of the hefty penalties associated with changing tickets. This is also true of theater tickets specifically: what is the main purpose of “no refunds / no exchanges”? I may get the former, but why can’t I exchange my ticket (for another seat or another date?) Doesn’t this make me less likely to purchase a ticket early? As a compromise, why can’t there be, say, a $5 exchange fee?
    Secondly, as someone who routinely purchases tickets well in advance for Broadway (usually 3 – 4 months or more) I have found that Ticketmaster / Telecharge will not always show the best seats (e.g. in February all that is available is row N on the side but by April suddenly row G center is available – even for shows without premium seating). If seats are being released slowly, then it may be a disadvantage for me to purchase early.

  • Emma K. Harr says:

    I can completely get behind the idea of ‘inviting friends’ to get seats with yours, because that’s been the biggest issue my friends and I have faced: as poor college grads who love going to shows, it is generally financially difficult for one of us to spend money on a group of tickets all at once; having the option to reserve more than one seat, you paying for one, your friend paying for the one next to it, would be great. I’ve wondered why this hasn’t been in effect already anyway.

  • Michelle Farabaugh says:

    As a college student who frequently attends shows with one or two other friends, your mention of a method that would allow customers to purchase multiple tickets online and pay for them separately made me jump. While we obtain our tickets by means of rush or lotto policies 95% of the time, purchasing tickets for a “special occasion” online would be made 100% easier if Telecharge and Ticketmaster had an option like that!

  • Nevsky says:

    Ticket exchanges should be possible, subject to availability and reasonable advance notice. Perhaps a convenience charge would be appropriate here. In fact, such would be much more appropriate at that point than the high convenience and other charges when first purchasing the ticket.

  • Bryan David says:

    I wish I had time to respond to this but I am just to busy w/12 Two-Act musicals of which 2 are in re-writes:
    http://www.myspace.com/jacktheripperwhitechapel1888
    and
    http://www.myspace.com/wildaboutme05
    As always – yours truly,
    Bryan David
    Playwright & Lyricist

  • Jason says:

    Ken — good post today. It is one that I talk about often. You might call it too busy — some might call it too many options. Others might call it distractions while the same people might call it marketing.
    Could write more on it, but the non-important IM just popped up that I must reply to. I was doing something before I read your post too — what was it — oh yeah, need to buy that ticket to the show. Oops — it timed out. Oh well.

  • enoch10@yahoo.com says:

    I used to buy advance tickets all the time until I wised up to the fact that you are punished with the worst seats. If producers want us to start buying advanced tickets again they need to learn to reward us rather than punish us.

  • Chris says:

    It’s been said before and I’ll echo the sentiment: it’s the no exchanges policy. No one wants to buy a ticket (or several tickets) in advance if they feel locked into the tickets in case of emergency (or maybe in case of “Hey let’s go down to the bar”.) They want to be able to use the tickets when THEY want to use them.
    Also, as someone mentioned, there’s no profit in booking early, as the best seats are not always released – they’re held for premium buyers, etc. If a Joe Average Customer like me tries to buy online, all I get are side seats. Seriously. I’ve NEVER been offered a good center seat buying in advance, and I’ve almost ALWAYS gotten one when I just walked up to the box office. I got fifth row center at Millie at 7:59 on the Saturday of Columbus Day weekend, fer Pete’s sake! I got about the same for Catch Me If You Can at 4:30 on a Tuesday last month.

  • Shephard says:

    As a ticket buyer, my main complaint is when theatres hold blocks of the best seats for corporate accounts, only releasing unused seats at the last minute.
    If you add these seats to the block of producer or house seats, often times there aren’t that many premo seats left, even tho I’m willing to pay handsomely for them.
    Getting good seats became so difficult, I eventually found in-roads, and created connections, by making donations to wonderful charities like bcefa, etc. It seems the only sure way to get good seats in advance.

  • Dom Alcocer says:

    Make Godspell Tickets available on Amazon, right next to the demographically efficient searches for Musical CDs and DVDs

  • Rick Lester says:

    Ken,
    Thanks for your insightful post. We definitely agree that too many presenters and producers are incentivizing buyers to buy later in the sales cycle. The common assumption that patrons are, in fact, buying later is generally accepted conventional wisdom in the field. Conventional wisdom is no substitute for fact. In a study of late-buying trends of 1.5 million arts patrons in Los Angeles, we found that buying later it is not an inevitable fact of consumer behavior. Check out a summary of our findings at: http://bit.ly/q4uGf9
    In our consulting practice we do see late-buying trends, but more often than not, we’ve found that late-buying is a direct result of late-selling—not making the offer to the market early enough. This is typically a strategy based on the assumption that all patrons want to buy late. An empty house a week out then spurs a slew of panicked late-minute discounting. When this happens often enough, as you pointed out, patrons are trained to wait for this “management panic” discount. The bottom line is that giving up on advance ticketing only perpetuates the cycle of late buying—and lead to less per-capita revenue (as well as total revenue!) on an ongoing basis.
    Finally, the data is unambiguous. If the patron wants “it” badly enough, they will always buy well in advance of the performance date. Just check out the available inventory of tickets for Wicked, The Lion King or The Book of Mormon. Given a compelling reason to buy early, patrons will respond.
    Rick Lester,
    TRG Arts

  • Steve says:

    Once upon a time if you bought far in advance you got better seats than if you waited. Now, it often seems that better seats become available only a week or so before a performance. Except for a sell-out show, its foolish to buy far in advance.

  • mabesny says:

    Perhaps early purchase discounts a la airline tickets would provide incentive for more sales. I do agree with the poster that said that No Exchanges is a big deterrent to committing to purchases for people who travel for work and for those who need to coordinate with family members/friends.

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

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