Arts & Entertainment Marketing

High Notes to Low Sales: Navigating Declining Sales and New Audience Demands

Theatre subscription sales, most notably tied to Broadway & Classical Music/Orchestras have experienced a huge decline over the last decade, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some key trends and statistics:

  1. Overall Decline: Subscription sales for theatre have been decreasing steadily. For instance, the 2021-22 season saw a 32% drop in subscription sales compared to pre-pandemic levels.
  2. Impact of COVID-19: The pandemic significantly impacted theatre attendance and subscription sales. During the 2021-22 reopening season, there was a 14% decline in seats sold, a 17% reduction in paid capacity, and an 8% drop in revenue per performance compared to pre-pandemic seasons​​.
  3. Changing Audience Preferences: Audiences have become more selective, often gravitating towards familiar and high-profile productions. Holiday shows and well-known titles have performed well, but lesser-known or new productions have struggled to attract large audiences​.
  4. Financial Challenges: Many theatres are facing financial difficulties due to the combined effects of declining subscription sales, changing audience behavior, and the end of government relief funds that were available during the height of the pandemic. This has led some theatres to close, reduce their programming, or initiate emergency fundraising campaigns​.
  5. Strategic Adjustments: In response to these challenges, theatres are adjusting their strategies by focusing on audience acquisition and retention, exploring different pricing models, and diversifying their programming to include a mix of traditional theatre, readings, and one-night events​​.

Strategic Adjustments and Programming Diversification

To address these challenges, it is crucial that venues are making strategic adjustments to appeal to a younger demographic in order to remain in a great spot financially, including:

  1. Diversifying Programming: To attract a broader audience, theatres are expanding their programming beyond traditional theatre/classical. In terms of market share classical music holds only 1% of the overall market. Position 12 of 12 This includes incorporating a mix of music genres, plays, comedy, live podcasts, one-off events, and performances by popular touring artists. By offering a variety of entertainment options, theatres aim to attract both loyal ticket holders and new audience members who may be more interested in contemporary or non-traditional performances​​.
  2. Incorporating Popular Music and Artists: Integrating performances by top touring artists, including country, pop/rock, rap-hip hop, or hard rock musicians, comedians, and other popular acts, can draw in a diverse crowd. This shift can help theatres tap into the current cultural zeitgeist and appeal to younger or more varied demographic groups, who might not typically attend classical music or traditional theatre productions​. They also spend money at the bar & on merch.
  3. Emphasizing Community and Inclusivity: Many theatres are also focusing on more inclusive and diverse programming that reflects the community’s demographics. This can include plays and performances that highlight different cultural narratives and social issues, aiming to engage a broader audience and create a more inclusive theatre environment​​.
  4. Flexible Pricing Models: Adjusting pricing models to make performances more accessible can also help boost attendance. While standard ticket sales have remained consistent, there has been a decline in discount and comp ticket sales. Theatres are exploring reasonable price increases and offering a range of ticket options to attract various audience segments​​.
  5. Focusing on Audience Engagement: Developing robust audience acquisition and retention strategies is crucial. Theatres are encouraged to create buzz around performances through early showings and word-of-mouth marketing. Engaging with the community and leveraging social media and other digital platforms can help in reaching and retaining a larger audience​​.

Classical Music vs. Popular Music in the Live Industry

  1. Classical Music:
    • Classical music concerts constitute a smaller portion of the live music market. The audience for classical music tends to be more niche and older, which can limit growth potential compared to popular music genres.
    • Classical concerts are often supported by subscription sales, which have declined significantly over the past decade, impacting their revenue streams​​.
    • The programming for classical music concerts often includes symphonies, operas, and chamber music, which traditionally draw smaller crowds than popular music concerts.
  2. Popular Music:
    • Popular music concerts dominate the live music industry, accounting for a substantial majority of ticket sales and revenue. Genres such as pop, rock, and hip-hop attract large audiences and generate high ticket sales.
    • Major tours by top artists like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, and BTS contribute significantly to the industry’s revenue. These tours often sell out large venues and stadiums, reflecting the high demand for live performances by contemporary popular artists​​.
    • The live popular music sector benefits from extensive marketing, merchandise sales, and sponsorship deals, which further boost its financial performance​.

The Need for Diverse Programming

To address the decline in theatre subscription sales and appeal to a broader audience, there is a growing need for theatres and concert venues to diversify their entertainment calendars. This includes integrating performances by top touring artists and contemporary acts alongside traditional classical music offerings. By doing so, venues can:

  • Attract a Wider Demographic: Younger audiences are more likely to attend concerts featuring popular music artists. Including these acts can help theatres reach new segments of the population.
  • Increase Revenue: Popular music concerts tend to generate higher ticket sales and additional revenue from merchandise and concessions.
  • Enhance Audience Engagement: Offering a variety of performances can keep the programming fresh and exciting, encouraging repeat attendance and building a loyal audience base.

Classical music remains an important cultural offering, but due to its market share (about a 1% hold) the financial dynamics of the live music industry heavily favour popular music and classical should be utilized to round out your venues offerings. Adapting to these trends by incorporating a mix of programming can help theatres and concert venues remain financially viable and culturally relevant especially to a demographic who grew up without classical music in school, and no real connection to the genre. Oh, and it’s time to ditch the subscriptions as well. You’re Welcome.

By leveraging our expertise in strategic adjustments (marketing, ticketing, content plan) and programming diversification, we can assist your venue in navigating the current challenges and unlock new audiences for sustained growth and profitability. Together, we can create a vibrant, inclusive, and financially sustainable future for your venue. Let’s ditch outdated subscriptions and embrace a dynamic approach to theatre programming. You’re welcome!

Contact us today to transform your venue’s future!