Value Is Not Price

The Drucker Exchange recently noted that the Cincinnati Reds and Michigan Wolverines teams have started using dynamic pricing, scaling prices based on popularity.

The Reds don’t provide much information about their structure, though they promise the price will never fall below whatever the season ticket holder pays. They set their base pricing at the start of the season per anticipated demand and start implementing the dynamic pricing two weeks out so it probably pays to buy early.

The Wolverines basically set their anticipated pricing from the start ranging from $65 for the Akron game, $10 less than last year, to $195 for the Notre Dame game, $100 more than last year. (And by the way, that is the lowest price tickets. Their top tier tickets for Notre Dame are $500.)

The piece on The Drucker Exchange says the mistake companies often make is to ask what customers value. This is aptly illustrated by the secondary market for those Wolverines games. You can get those $65 Akron tickets for $35 on the secondary market, but those $195 Notre Dame tickets seem to be going for about $319 already. (Single tickets go on sale tomorrow, 8/1)

Peter Drucker lamented how few companies recognize the importance of simply asking themselves what their customers value. “It may be the most important question,” Drucker noted in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. “Yet is the one least often asked.”

One reason for this is that companies think they already know. “Value is what they, in their business, define as quality,” Drucker wrote. “But this is almost always the wrong definition.” For example, for a teenage girl, “value in a shoe is high fashion,” while durability and price matter little.

“Another reason why the question ‘What is value to the customer?’ is rarely asked is that the economists think they know the answer: Value is price,” Drucker added. “This is misleading, if not actually the wrong answer.”

For instance, electrical contractors, while famously price-conscious, may prefer one of the most expensive fuse boxes on the market. “To the contractor this line is actually low-priced because it is engineered to be installed fast and by relatively unskilled labor,” he explained.

The ultimate lesson is simple but not easy: “The customer never buys a product,” Drucker wrote. “The customer buys value.”

(My emphasis on that last sentence on the Drucker citation)

There are many intangibles that factor into what people value. Will the Notre Dame game be three times better than Akron? Possibly. By game day in September, there is a fair chance the primary market tickets to the Notre Dame game will be four or five times more expensive than Akron, if not more.

There will be a point where the quality of the actual Notre Dame gameplay can’t be better than that of Akron in proportion to the difference in ticket price.

What people are willing to pay so much more for is the experience of tailgating and attending a potentially great game steeping in the palpable excitement surrounding the long rivalry between the two teams with thousands of others.

I have resistance to dynamic pricing for a number of reasons, many of which have to do with the relationship I feel we are trying to cultivate with our audiences.

The question is, do people really recognize and value that we are making the effort? Is it all pretty much one-sided? Many people don’t really discern between profit and non-profits organizations when making their entertainment decisions.

Are non-profits basically putting themselves at a disadvantage by not using dynamic pricing for shows that clearly will sell out months before the performance date based on a devotion to an audience that has no idea the organization has decided to suffer for their benefit?

There is a need to keep prices low to provide affordable access. If 900 people clearly value attending a performance that they will commit at $25 a ticket between one and three months before the show, do you really owe it to the last 100 people to maintain the $25 rate until they get around to buying tickets?

Or do you owe it to your long suffering staff to try to increase the revenue stream so you can pay them $12/hour instead of $8 by using dynamic pricing?

We aren’t sure about the investment of the community in your organization, but we can be more certain about the investment of your staff.

I am still a little uncertain about dynamic pricing. The issues aren’t as clear as I present them here. However, one issue I don’t generally see people mention in the dynamic pricing conversation is that by not using it you are potentially punishing your staff in the service of an ideal the community may not be aware of much less value.

If customers show they willing to place a higher value on a product, should non-profits acknowledge that by placing a commensurately higher price on it?

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.


2 thoughts on “Value Is Not Price”

  1. Great thoughts here. I appreciate the openness to pricing options. When working with smaller venues, we have enjoyed very simple pricing schemes, largely based off pricing each individual event based on what we are going to supply that night. For example, if the venue wants to charge $5 at the door, we make sure to bring a few more game consoles and perhaps another music group to accommodate the difference.


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