Upgrade Your Theatre Seat For More Legroom?

I caught a story on NPR’s Marketplace yesterday that discussed the way airlines use premium seating.  One of the people interviewed mentioned that airlines craftily use the separation of time to get people to upgrade. Because the flyer is offered the opportunity to change to premium economy around the time they check in, months or weeks after they purchased the ticket, consumers view the upgrade payment as a different transaction from the initial seat purchase rather than thinking about the total amount they have spent.

Of course, that got me thinking about how this could be applied in the arts realm. While there are performing arts venues that employ dynamic pricing to extract additional revenue from ticket sales, by and large most organizations don’t have the interest or the computing infrastructure to implement that sort of ticketing.

However, many venues have ticketing systems that are capable of providing the view of the stage from a particular seat or notes about which seats have more leg room.  There may be other characteristics about the performance space people value that can be integrated into seating choice as well.

An email can be sent out a week before the event with information about how to prepare for the visit, including parking, restaurants, etc., and offering an opportunity for an upgrade in terms of sight lines, leg room, or whatever.

The offer of the upgrade doesn’t have to wholly be driven by a profit motive. It can be offered as a loyalty incentive to help fill houses now and in the future. Because you have been a loyal attendee or purchased well in advance, you can upgrade from the $35 seat to a $60 seat for an additional $10 rather than $25.

If you know that part of your audience base are price sensitive, last minute purchasers, you have just freed up a cheaper seat that can be sold and incentivized loyal patrons who plan in advance to continue to do so.

While I was thinking about all this, I recalled an instance where a person on my staff suggested that a renter do something of an inversion of the usual seat pricing approach and price seats up close less than those further back. I was a little conflicted about this because while we as insiders felt that seats in rows G-L are among the best seats, pricing should be based more on what seats the buyer thinks are the best.

But I also wondered if people have been trained by the way things are priced to think the highest priced, closest seats are the best? Given their choice in a general admission setting at a live, non-festival experience, people rarely head immediately to the front and fill in as close as they can possibly get.  More often than not, the front 2-3 rows are virtually empty by the time the show starts unless the event is close to sold out.

Is there a psychological element inherent to reserve seating events that changes the calculus for people? If the front few rows are priced less than those behind, do people think the venue management are fools and they are getting away with something by paying less?  And is that necessarily a bad thing if it has people watching closely for when tickets will go on sale so they can grab those great seats at a cut rate? Will they relent and buy slightly higher tickets if the cheaper ones sell out before they get there?

Of course they need to be confident those seats did sell and weren’t held back to manipulate sales or weren’t grabbed by resellers. This approach wouldn’t work well in places that are subject to scalpers with an automated purchase process.

Cheaper By The Dozen, But I Only Have One Set of Eyes And Ears To Experience It

Seth Godin made a post about leveraging the power of word of mouth by incentivizing sharing with friends.

Krispy Kreme grew to become a doughnut behemoth in the US. The formula was simple: Scarce supply, high short-term taste satisfaction, and a dozen priced almost the same as just four.

As a result, most people bought a dozen. But few could eat a dozen, and you can’t really save them, so you realized that sharing a warm doughnut was the way to go.

Carmine’s restaurant in New York was the hot ticket for decades. One reason was that the only way to get a reservation was to come with five other people. So you needed to talk about it.

He goes on to talk about how a book he worked on about climate change, The Carbon Almanac, has priced pre-orders to make it cost effective to share copies with others.

The general concept is a springboard for ideas for arts organizations, which much like Krispy Kreme, offers a product with an ephemeral lifespan. Offering tickets/entry fees and memberships at prices which incentivize sharing the experience with friends–and intentionally promoting it within that framework provides exposure to a broader range of people.

While providing free admission to an event can also serve to expose your work to a broader range of people. One – surveys show that people who attend free admission events are ones who would have attended anyway. Even if they bring a friend, the friend may not be incentivized to return and pay for admission in the future.

Second – charging some form of admission creates an associated value with the experience. If tickets are $15 but five person pass costs $50, two people may technically be getting in for free, but the group is more likely to think of the tickets being $10 each.  The pass created a situation where two people who might not have attended now have.  If they have a good time, any of the five may not balk at paying $15 in the future when the pass or four friends aren’t available. (Or they may work to invite some new friends along.)

The venue I am at does something along these lines with movie passes which are good in any combination – an individual to 10 movies, five friends to two movies, two friends to five movies. Tickets are $5 regularly and with the larger passes I think you end up only paying $3/ticket. We end up selling quite a few of the passes and have a lot of them redeemed at each screening. It has been relatively easy to administer and worthwhile overall.

Reading Godin’s post has me thinking about how we might structure pricing and experiences for other events to encourage people to share then with friends.

Hassle-Free Refunds And Disney Pays Ticketing Fees? We Could Get Used To This

So it appears Howard Sherman gets first mention a second day in a row on my blog (not that he doesn’t deserve it). He called attention to the fact the production The Lion King on Broadway was not only offering free refunds and exchanges on ticket purchases, but Disney would be picking up the dreaded Ticketmaster service fees. Apparently Disney is doing the same for Aladdin through August 7, 2022

I actually went online to price tickets to see what they were charging and at the end of September I found third row orchestra seats for The Lion King at $125 which didn’t seem too bad. Though I don’t know what they were selling for in February 2020.

I was so amazed at this, I wondered to my co-workers if this might not turn into an industry trend that the public came to expect. I hadn’t thought to check if other shows were doing the same thing until I saw a tweet by journalist/critic Jonathan Mandell linking to the refund/exchange policy which applies to all Broadway theaters owned by the Nederlander Organization., including the Minskoff Theatre where Lion King is showing. I didn’t see any expiration date on this offer.

The Shubert Organization which owns the Telecharge ticketing service as well as some Broadway houses is offering free refunds and exchanges through January 17, 2022.

I didn’t see anything about refunds and exchanges on the Jujamcyn Theaters website, the company that owns a number of other Broadway Theaters. But it should be noted they also didn’t have tickets for any of their shows on sale either.

Getting back to the question of whether waiving ticket service fees might become a thing, this is something my staff and I have been discussing for a few years now. (Truth be told, the staffs of different theaters at which I have worked have been talking about it for about 10-15 years now.)

We have been trending toward including the fees in the advertised price of the tickets, however many of those who rent our venue have wanted it added on top at check out. Because it is different from the usual experience it occasionally elicits a “hey wait a minute…” response from some of our more frequent attendees.

You have to wonder if people come to see this as a normal experience based on their Broadway experience, will there be pressure to continue the practice indefinitely?

Of course, this doesn’t even mention the free, no questions asked exchange policy. There are restrictions as to number of times you can request an exchange and people who buy tickets from resale market or 3rd parties are probably going to have issues if their name and contact information aren’t associated with the tickets. But expectations may shift in toward hassle-free refunds, especially if the threat of Covid continues to loom in the background generally for some years to come.

Flippin’ Piece of Art

While I am not really plugged into the visual arts gallery/museum world, one topic I have seen come up repeatedly is the sense that the creator of a piece should realize some benefit when the price of their work skyrockets during resale. Apparently there has been some specific concern about buyers targeting the work of contemporary black artists with an intent to quickly flip works for significantly higher prices.

According to Artnet, Christie’s  Auction House worked with curator Destinee Ross-Sutton to create a type of covenant placing conditions on the resale of art works in their “Say It Loud (I’m Black and Proud)” show.

Each artist will receive 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of their work. All buyers must also sign a contract with extensive conditions. They must agree not to resell the work at auction for at least five years; if they do want to sell, they must give the artist right of first refusal; and, if they sell to someone else, they have to give 15 percent of the upside back to the artists.

I was initially skeptical about how effectively this type of agreement could be enforced. Though if Christie’s had the will to enforce it, they certainly have the clout and capacity to penalize bad faith purchasers. According to the article, the conditions didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of buyers and most of the pieces have already sold.

According to the specialist at Christie’s coordinating the show with Ross-Sutton, the buyer covenant will benefit the auction house by providing them with insight into sincere collectors of works by artists of color.

The project also has the benefit of giving Christie’s access to collectors it might not have met otherwise, and insight into their preferences and holdings. “We’re excited to cater to this emerging clientele as well as develop programs that specifically cater to collectors of color,” Cunha adds.

Curator Ross-Sutton sees the success of a purchase agreement backed by an organization like Christie’s as an important message to artists not to underestimate their ability to insist on similar conditions.

Ross-Sutton hopes the experience will empower artists to take charge of their careers, including by pushing their gallery representatives to implement similar sales restrictions. “Many artists do not realize the power they have,” she says. “We cannot only put the blame on these so-called ‘flippers’—artists have to be more discerning and so do galleries.

I was trying to think of a parallel situation in the performing arts. Even though the value of a performance is more variable and transitory, I am sure there is some corresponding situation, perhaps with playwrights, choreographers, designers, etc, with which this situation might have relevance, (other than the lack of representation of people of color in many of these roles), but I feel like I am suffering from a momentary lack of imagination.