For many choruses, a trend toward last-minute ticket-buying seems to have accelerated in recent months. Pre-pandemic, Christopher Eanes, executive director of Cathedral Choral Society (CCS), had been watching season subscriptions decline steadily, and now, he says, “it's also showing itself in the single ticket sales. People really are waiting until the week of or even the day before to decide.” He reports that ticket sales in the two days before the CCS Christmas concert accounted for 10 percent of event revenue. Justin Fyala describes comparable experience with the Gay Men's Choir of Washington, DC audiences, and he can live with that “as long as they buy their tickets at some point. But it does it does cause some heart attacks here and there.”
To lessen the anxiety, some choruses have adopted new strategies. Here’s a sampling of their approaches:
Spread the word that this is the new normal.
Fyala has found the “heart attacks” can happen if chorus or board members go online a month ahead of a concert and discover it’s well short of a sellout. His remedy is “a lot of communication to reassure them that we've seen this before, and it's still likely that we will meet our goal or even exceed it.”
Do you usually perform for a full house? Promote that.
Classical Uprising’s holiday concerts have a history of selling out, according to Emily Isaacson, artistic director of Classical Uprising, which becomes an incentive for people to get their tickets well ahead of time. "Los Angeles Children's Choir concerts were close to selling out last year," says Andrew Bradford. In the fall he used that data and this season’s 30 percent enrollment spike to promote early ticket-buying. The chorus’s winter concerts were sold out in two weeks, he says.
Charge more at the door.
“We have a slightly higher price at the door than online,”Emily Isaacson says. “Between that and the fact that we do typically run out of space, we're able to use that to motivate people.”
Adjust your marketing timeline.
If you have a small marketing budget, start your concert advertising later, advises Eanes. “You can condense your marketing budget into a three-week buy or a four-week buy,” he says. “There's an advantage to keeping it really compact. People's attention moves very quickly. What's hot this week is not necessarily what's hot next week.” A day or two ahead of concerts, CCS has shifted ad messaging to emphasize walk-up ticket purchases “to make it really easy for people who are looking for something to do on the weekend to just see our event.” At its fall performance “we did about 10 percent of our traffic on the day before,” Eanes says.
It's still important for patrons to learn about concerts well in advance, so no one plans to abandon longer-term advertising. But at CCS, Eanes expects it will consist mostly of “soft selling” and social media. Because Daniel Hughes sees the late-buying trend as just one aspect of the current audience engagement picture, The Choral Project is adjusting its marketing approach across the board “to keep the audience excited to see our shows and feel like, ‘Hey, you don't want to miss out.’”
Cater to last-minute ticket buyers.
The consulting firm Wolf/Brown’s November survey revealed that audiences are thinking about this issue too. When asked “What about the audience experience might be changed?” respondents most commonly expressed interest in an “opportunity for excellent tickets at last minute (at non-discounted prices).” The response prompted Alan Brown to make this suggestion to the performing arts leaders attending his December webinar: “Perhaps we should be offering a Late Buyers Club or some sort of affiliation relationship that would help people who can't plan in advance to get access to good tickets.”