Stuff To Ponder: Subscriber Rush Tickets

Since I have started a new job I am in the process of evaluating every document, process and interaction my organization undertakes. One of those areas is customer service, of course.

For that reason, an article I came across via The Drucker Exchange is really resonating with me. In a blog post titled, The Dark Side of Customer Experience, Monique Reece opens with a joke we can probably all relate to.

The longer version is in the post, but basically a guy dies and is shown heaven and hell and given a choice between the two. On his visit to heaven, everything is sedate and lovely. Hell is a veritable Mardi Gras party. After the doors close on Hell, the guy tells St. Peter he chooses Hell. The doors open and it the scene is the stereotypical hellish landscape.

Upon wondering what happened to the party scene, the man receives the response “Well,” said St. Peter as the doors closed. “The first time you came to visit you were a prospect. Now you’re a customer.”

Reece cites some of my biggest pet peeves– the introductory rate that rewards new customers and makes the person who has been loyal for 10 years, enduring price increases, feel like an idiot for sticking around so long for no recognition or reward. As Reece notes, there is actually more of an incentive to separate your relationship and then renew it.

The performing arts version of this is giving cut rate discount tickets to last minute purchasers, suggesting a certain amount of foolishness on the part of those who planned and purchased ahead of time. Some arts organizations sell large amounts of rush tickets at rates lower than those of subscribers who have committed to many shows in advance.

It just occurred to me moments ago, why don’t performing arts organization offer Rush tickets exclusively to those who have already purchased two or more tickets?

This would have multiple benefits 1- It rewards people who committed in advance; 2- It turns those people into recruiters for your show when they invite their friends along; 3- It gets people you already have a relationship with paying closer attention to your emails or social media account that you are using to communicate this discount, providing an opportunity to get them excited and mention other shows.

My suspicion is that attending a show on a half price ticket thanks to two people who purchased weeks in advance is a better model of behavior than attending alongside two other people who also decided to attend because tickets were half price.

It probably also reinforces many elements of the advance purchasers’ self-image if they know their friends were only able to attend because they were stalwart supporters of the arts organization.

The only real problem I can see with this idea is reserved seating. Offering rush tickets in this way appeals heavily to a social element which is compromised if everyone can’t sit together.

Granted, it illustrates the appropriate outcome associated with paying half price on the day of a performance versus full price in advance. Still the emotional disappointment of not being able to sit next to ones guests could supplant the acknowledgement of this logical consequence.

General admission events are good to go though.

This is not the direction I intended to go in when I started this entry. I like this result better.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


4 thoughts on “Stuff To Ponder: Subscriber Rush Tickets”

  1. Hey Joe,

    I think you’ve hit on some interesting topics here, but it’s far too complicated to think of subscription tickets and rush tickets in the same category. There is a reason rush tickets are half-price. You often don’t get to select your seats, and those seats are often in less desirable areas. Rush tickets are offering an affordable option for the last-minute purchaser with the unspoken caveat that the best has already been reserved by those who planned.

    Subscriptions reward the behavior you want to see because it’s more than just seeing the season for a increasingly higher price. It’s often the exchanges, the benefits, the access, the security, the “my seats,” the experience that subscribers are paying for, and not just the show. Think of how many organizations do blind renewals and their loyal customers continue to sign up.

    Remember that your price is setting the value of the experience and so different prices and different methods are tied to different values. Remind your subscribers why they are important through the added benefits. Rush purchasers are completely different from subscribers and I venture it would be like pulling teeth to expect one behave like the other. Finally, if price really is your contributing factor to declining subscriptions it’s probably time to do some right-sizing to figure out how to offer best package at the best price.

    Timmy Metzner

    • Timmy-

      Yeah, I was mainly trying to think of a way in which rush tickets could be used in a more productive way. My focus was more on ways to cultivate relationships with existing loyal customers than about price.

      Where I am coming from is a general resistance to the current practice of rush tickets and trying to find a way to turn it around. It used to be a way to let a limited number of people (or often specifically students) who might not be able to afford to attend to take a chance on gaining admission. I have no real problem with that. More recently it has been used as a way to essentially paper the house if the show isn’t selling way. I feel that basically teaches people to wait.

      My feeling is that if you were willing to accept an average ticket price for the event that was 60% of what you initially budgeted, you might as well start selling closer to that level. If you are basically saying, let’s set the price at $65 and hope we can get it, but we will settle for $40, then you haven’t really given pricing due consideration and research. You are essentially just throwing something out and hoping it will stick.

  2. I totally agree that if your yield is way below your price, there is a problem and adjustments need to be made. It’s not helping anyone, customer or organization, to add such heavy discounts to face value tickets.

    Rush is tricky though. If it’s helping get price (or schedule) sensitive people in the door, I’m all for it. It becomes a problem when it overtakes standard sales. Although I’m curious as to if that is actually happening or just a perception via Box Office staff. And I say that has having previously worked in several box offices.

  3. Timmy you make a good point about rush tickets often being for the ‘cheap seats’. What if the usual ‘rush’ ticket pricing was begun earlier, selling right from the start of sales until, say, a day or two before the show. They’d be at the bargain price, but they would be held at will call and you couldn’t choose the seat. The house could continue to sell the standard-price tickets and let patrons choose their seats, and the rush tickets would get assigned to particular seats right before the show. True last-minute purchasers (what we now think of as rush) would pay full price.

    So, the incentive pricing, at the cost of getting the cheap seats, but open to all with full disclosure and not punishing the subscribers. (That sounds too simple. Surely I’ve overlooked something here……)


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