Discounted Tickets Don’t Necessarily Convert Younger Audience Members into Future Patrons

Today’s guest blog post is written by John Phelan, Senior Client Cultivation Specialist here at Patron Technology.

There is a belief in the theatre world that offering college and young adult audience members discount tickets to your shows will not only encourage them to see more performances, but also prompt them to become members. The logic is simple: Once they see how wonderful your sets and performers are, they will undoubtedly want to join as full-fledged members or subscribers.

For some people, a ticket discount in a brochure or on a postcard may be enough to encourage a long-term relationship. However, this is not always the case and some young audience members, myself included, continue to purchase one-off single tickets. Why is that?

When you consider the mountain of debt that college students face when graduating into the “real world,” a discount code to see a show is very attractive. But does this translate into the longer term?

According to Kara Larson, founder and principal of Arts Knowledge LLC, a marketing consulting firm specializing in the arts, the answer is no. In 2011, she wrote an article for the National Arts Marketing Project claiming that only a few venues were successful in the long term as a result of offering discounted tickets.

She argues that everyone’s preferences are different, especially when it comes to the price they’re willing to pay for their tickets. Some people are bargain-hunters while others are willing to pay top dollar based on various criteria such as seat location. She goes on to cite an example of a theatre that had a limited selection in pricing versus a theatre that offered a wide range of ticket prices, pointing out that variety in pricing allows the various types of ticket buyers the opportunity to choose what prices they’re willing to pay.

I agree. As a young professional with an interest in theatre, I tend to lean toward the discounted spectrum when it comes to buying tickets. But plenty of people my age are the opposite. For example, my friend Sam doesn’t really care about the price of admission as long as he gets a great view of the stage and a “feel” for the show.

Then there’s the other question: How do you entice these young audience members to come to your venue in the first place? And after they’ve come, how do you encourage them to keep coming back? Are you segmenting your messages to various audiences and messaging them where they are listening? For younger audience members, social media and text messaging are the best way to let them know about your upcoming events. For instance, I get regular texts from a bar in New York City that lets me know about special events it has planned and how I can take advantage of them. I don’t mind this practice because I find text messages far less intrusive than receiving emails.

As you continue to grow as an organization and reach out to as many patrons — both young and old, affluent and lower-income — it’s imperative to cast a wide net and see which pricing options your younger audience members prefer. Because no matter how hard young audience members struggle with their finances, with luck they will advance in their careers and so, too, will their ability to pay more. And then the discounted ticket will become an option for the next generation of young audience members.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to comment below.

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