Revenue / 10.14.21
Has COVID Changed Group Sales?
Regardless of the reason, a group visit to see a show, concert or game has always been a special occasion. It could be a school trip, large family gathering, friends who love to sing and dance together, part of a travel package or a local meetup that just adores the arts. The pandemic did change things for a while with virtual events, pods and socially distanced seating, but with capacities increasing, the groups are coming back. Protocols, practices and sales levels may differ, but as INTIX members reported on a recent Wednesday Wisdom call, organizations are figuring out the best ways to move forward.
“We have gone back to everything we were doing pre-pandemic with group sales,” says Kay Burnham, Vice President of Guest Services at the Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa, California. “We have our traditional groups with the leaders getting all the tickets, we have group bundling where the individual group members buy their own order, and we are surpassing all of our goals for group sales. It is like the groups did not know there was ever a pandemic.”
However, says Kay, it is a different story with student groups — they often need to cancel or postpone to another show later in the school year because of vaccination status.
David Winn at Tanglewood.
In Boston, the schools are ready and willing to come back, but there has not been enough lead time to plan the trips. “One thing that we are lacking right now is school performances,” says David Winn, Box Office Manager for the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO). “Schools did not have time to budget for the [trips and transportation]. We do have a grant from one of our corporate sponsors, a limo service, which does provide buses for those schools, which is great, but we do not have the schools themselves. The teachers just did not have the time to put it all together because we came out with our schedule so late in the year.”
Over at Macomb Center for the Performing Arts on the Macomb Community College campus in metropolitan Detroit, Business Manager Cate Foltin says, “For us, groups for school performances in 2022 [are] going better than anticipated, [though things are] much slower for the fall. We are at full capacity, masks only as of now … The college is not going to require testing or proof of vaccination.”
For the LA Phil at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, student groups have traditionally meant big business in the spring. For spring 2022, things are still up in the air for many. “A lot of student groups come to Southern California for performance competitions at Disneyland,” says Joe Carter, Director of Sales and Customer Experience for the LA Phil. “Those schools have still not figured out whether they are going to be doing tours yet or not, and it depends on their [location]. If they are within California, they know what they are doing. If they are coming from outside of California, they are not sure to come.”
The move to digital delivery is also a hot topic of discussion when it comes to group sales. The Segerstrom Center is allowing hard tickets for some of its legacy group leaders who say they are not technically inclined. But, says Burnham, “We are pushing any new groups to mobile ticketing, especially the group bundles, which are individual orders. Those are going to digital tickets completely.”
“Here in Boston, we are pretty much the same as Kay,” Winn says. “We are offering a chance for group leaders to digitally deliver the tickets to their clients. If they can [give us instructions], we will split up the order and deliver the tickets electronically.”
Omaha Performing Arts is operating similarly to the Segerstrom Center and the BSO. “We are doing groups like Kay is, and we will push mobile and will accommodate hard tickets,” says Ashley Voorhees, Associate Vice President of Administrative Services. “Group bundling is going well too,” she adds.
For the LA Phil at Walt Disney Concert Hall, groups are buying tickets, but sales have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. This is in part because the venue only allows fully vaccinated guests to enter, making things a bit more complicated for group leaders who have to be sure that everyone has proof of vaccination. For tour groups, sales vary by where they are coming from.
As for group sales heading into the holidays?
“Holiday sales for us are up … stronger than they have been, so that is great news,” Carter says. “Anything that is targeting a younger audience [like the annual family singalong] is struggling because of [Walt Disney Concert Hall] being a vaccine-only venue; it is blocking [families] from bringing their kids.”
Organizations including Cal Performances at UC Berkeley and Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles are allowing kids under 12 to enter with proof of a negative test.
“Our first show coming out of the gate in November is ‘A Christmas Carol,’ so we are [expecting] to have to have kids in the audience because it is a family show and you will need to have proof of a negative test for those kids,” says Skypp Cabanas, Senior Manager of Ticket Operations at Center Theatre Group.
Organizations are also considering creative ways to get groups to return en masse. “I had a call with one of our partner venues this week, and they are looking to bundle in our ticket refund protection as ‘free’ with their group tickets to give confidence to get groups back booking,” says Peter I’anson, Business Development Manager for Secure My Booking.
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Tags: Music , Theater , Venues , Leadership