The Creative Approach to Selling Tickets
Type in "empty seats 2008" into an Internet search and watch the results rack up quickly. The results indicate an alarming amount of evidence ranging from professional sporting events to music concerts to small theatre productions that the economy has caused a dramatic decrease in ticket sales leaving seats empty all across the nation.
When the Green Bay Packers took the field against their division rival the Minnesota Vikings on the weekend of November 7, they were not playing in front of a sold-out crowd. The slow economy has affected ticket sales. Earlier in the season the game was sold out, but many tickets were returned by both teams. There were circa 500 seats available at the Metro Dome and tickets going for as low as $45. Many ticket brokers are seeing at least a 30 percent drop in sales compared to past years, and NFL games are no different. Fans are watching their budget, and it shows at the ticket counter.
"We do think we are seeing some of the economy affecting our sales, especially the higher end things like skyboxes and things like that," says Eran Roth with Event USA. While the demand for the tickets is lower than expected, it's good news for some who decided to make the trip. With gas prices down it doesn't cost as much to drive, and it's a deal some Packers fans just couldn't pass up. But it still wasn't enough to sell the Metro Dome out.
So if those die-hard cheeseheads aren't buying and filling seats, can you imagine how smaller productions and theatres have been adversely affected by the downturn in ticket sales. In a recent report on NPR KCRW, it was reported that only the top-tier music artists in the Industry such as Madonna were selling out. CNN reported the same resuluts in another report. All other mid to lower range artists were not even close to selling out, some leaving venues only at 50% capacity. Now back to the smaller theatre company. In a recent conversation with the marketing person for a successful, theatre company based in Hollywood off "Theatre Row", she stated that the average capacity for the run of their recent production was at around 40% capacity. 40%! This is despite rave reviews in the LA Times and LA Weekly. This has caused the theatre to extend the run through January in attempt to meet their quota. This decrease in sales is causing some theatres to shut their doors. Others have to be more conservative in their selection of shows for 2009 choosing productions that require less actors or are more popular. More popular meaning more notable productions. Taking the chance on more adventurous, creative productions is a luxury some theatres cannot afford in the coming year.
So what can be done in the attempt to fill the houses? Let's be very honest, empty seats breed empty seats. Bartering large blocks of seats in exchange for products or services is one sure way to ensure seats are filled. A successful fight promoter of 30 years based in Southern California says, "While the exchange itself is valuable, there is also value in his attendees' perception of a full house. It's like verification that they are doing the popular thing. If you went into a restaurant at lunch hour and the place was empty, how confident would you be in the quality of the meal? In a more generic business sense, find out how much of your product you can afford to give away in order to establish a sense of presence in the market."
Another way to ensure ticket sales in a time of economic woes, is to place your tickets in as many seller/marketing channels as possible. Let these companies do the work of promoting your events for you. Even if it means discounting your tickets at 50% off and offering them to such companies as StubDog.com, an online third-party reseller geared at helping venues to leverage empty seats. This company is free to use and a great way for events to gain additional exposure. Granted if your ticket seller binds you in an exclusive contract, it can create limited flexibility. However, most of the contracts allow carve-outs. Carve-outs are a percentage of tickets, which are allowed to be used in any way the promoter sees fit (e.g., promotions, press, etc). Also, some of these contracts stipulate that if X amount of tickets are not sold by a specified date, the venue/promoter has the ability to do what they like with these tickets. It's important for the promoter to know the conditions of their contract, to allow flexibility in moving tickets and to be creative with promoting the events. And last but not least, try some crazy ideas and have fun in doing so.