Leadership / 12.17.18
The Holiday Ticketing Hustle: ‘Everyone Ups Their Game by Tenfold’
Venues all over the country put on holiday-themed shows at the end of each year, from the smallest community theatres to the largest arenas. For most, these programs and concerts are an excellent way to end the year on a financial high note. Year after year, fans shell out big bucks for "The Nutcracker," "A Christmas Carol" or [insert your favorite singer or group] taking the stage to croon a set list of Yuletide standards.
One of the best-known perennial and lucrative events is the Holiday Pops in Boston, put on by the well-loved Boston Pops. The Boston Pops began in 1885, and nearly a century later, the Holiday Pops, and end-of-year holiday concert event, launched in 1973. The Holiday Pops is one of the biggest seasonal moneymakers in the country, generating about 23 percent of the annual ticket sales for the Boston Symphony Orchestra organization.
Dave Winn, Box Office Manager at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, spoke with Access to provide insight into one of the biggest holiday events of them all.
"From those early days of five to 10 Holiday Pops performances, we now have 40 to 44,” Winn said. “Several years ago, we started to screen movies after Christmas and leading up to New Year’s Eve. The Orchestra plays the score live on stage. This year we will screen ‘Home Alone.’ The score was written by our Boston Pops Laureate Conductor John Williams."
Putting on such a series each year where audiences expect not only greatness and consistency, but also actual holiday magic, can be a challenge. This is something many ticketing professionals can surely relate to during the hectic holiday season.
"Our Boston area audience is very demanding in tradition," Winn said. "The actual format of the Holiday Pops concerts has changed very little over the years. People expect to hear their favorite carols and songs."
Indeed, the very recognizable song “Sleigh Ride” was originally written for the Boston Pops by Leroy Anderson. It would become the staple of each Holiday Pops concert. Fans also come for the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC), which started appearing with the Holiday Pops in 1975. The TFC is an auditioned, all-volunteer chorus.
"There is always a sing-along at the end of each concert," Winn said. "And, of course, Santa appears at every performance including on Christmas Eve."
In terms of attendance, the annual series really began mushrooming earlier this decade. The Boston Globe noted that Holiday Pops attendance increased each year from 68,771 in 2009 to 2012's tally of 78,916. The rise in ticket prices over those years meant that 2012 set a then-record standard, bringing in $5.8 million.
It's not all about padding the books, though. Earlier this December, the Boston Pops kicked off its holiday season with the 35th annual "A Company Christmas at the Pops." It officially raised more than $1 million, according to the Globe, with the money going toward the Boston Symphony Orchestra's education and community programs.
Because the Holiday Pops concerts will be such big money-makers at the close of each year, the series enables Winn and his colleagues a certain freedom throughout the rest of the year to experiment and put on productions others would consider risky.
"We do have several commissioned pieces each year," Winn said. "Those pieces are an unknown quantity. Not necessarily a risk, per se, but we feel that creating the future of classical music is an important and required project. The object, of course, is artistic integrity. But, yes, we also have to consider the bottom line."
Because the Holiday Pops has been around so long, Winn remembers the on-sale days of long lines and hot chocolate, prior to online ticketing.
"As we all know," Winn replied, "the Internet has changed everything. Holiday Pops used to go on sale to the general public the Monday after Labor Day. There would be a line of people stretching around the corner and down the block for the entire day. Patrons would see each other in line every year and catch up and talk about their holiday plans, show pictures of their growing families, and make new friends as well. We would serve hot chocolate and cookies at a 'rest station' about halfway down the line. We no longer see the lines of people on our streets during the on-sale. We now see them in our virtual waiting room online, waiting their turn to get tickets."
Even though the Boston Pops don’t see fans in person until the actual shows now, the fan-to-venue connection is still strong as ever.
"I think when you are doing a run of any show or concert, it, of course, gets repetitive," Winn said. "But what never gets old or repetitive is the audience. People arrive at Holiday Pops happy and looking forward to magic. They are always dressed in some fun holiday attire. Little kids in suits and plaid dresses with bow ties and bows. They pose at our photo wall with our tree and take home a family memory."
Holiday Pops at Boston's Symphony Hall has indeed become a well-oiled machine over the years. When you do two concerts a day Monday through Friday and three performances on Saturday and Sunday, the ticketing and box office staff must be well rehearsed (and "well-fed," cracked Winn). The Orchestra is augmented by a group known as the "Pops Esplanade Orchestra," a series of musicians from the Boston Musicians Union that fill in when needed to relieve the main Orchestra from performing at every concert. Other staffing throughout the building is increased, from ticket office, ushers and janitorial employees to the stage crew, foodservice and concessions.
"Everyone who works in the building is put into action,” Winn concluded. “To make everything look seamless to the audience is the goal. Everyone just ups their game by tenfold to make that magic happen. It is, after all, show business, and there’s no business like it!"
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Tags: Music , Theater , Venues