Revenue / 02.16.22
Vatic’s Sean Kelly on the Current State of Season Ticket Sales
Has the pandemic era affected season ticket sales for arts and sports? That’s actually a complex question, with no easy or across-the-board answer. Pessimists will tell you that the COVID-19 crisis, the tough economy and other factors may have sent some venues’ ticket subscriptions or team season packages into a death spiral the likes of which they may never recover. Optimists will say that people still have a hunger for live events, for a return to normalcy, and that season tickets are still proving appealing to both entertainment and sports fans.
We posed this and other questions to Sean Kelly, founder of Vatic, a software company specializing in dynamic pricing for performing arts and ticketed venues. Kelly started Vatic in 2018 after more than a decade as the head of marketing for arts organizations throughout the United States. His firm’s clients range from the New York Philharmonic and the Charlotte Symphony to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California and The Second City improvisational comedy theater in Chicago.
Kelly’s views skew more to the optimists’ side of things. “A number of our clients in the performing arts have actually seen increased demand for subscriptions,” he says. “Folks are eager to get out of the house, and planning for those experiences appeals to them after two years of ‘You can’t count on anything.’”
So, does he see any evidence that season ticket packages are dying? Kelly was realistic but definitely not on the side of the doomsayers. “From when I started working in arts administration in 2008,” he says, “I have heard the prediction of the imminent demise of subscriptions. And yet, here we are 14 years later, and subscriptions are still with us. When you hear folks talk about the ‘death of subscriptions,’ what I feel they are really voicing is their frustration that subscriptions are increasingly difficult to sell. But that is not due to the concept of subscriptions as much as it is due to the need to evolve how we create packages so they fit patrons’ needs.”
He notes that there is a particular psychology involved in season ticket sales and subscriptions. “Folks like a plan,” he says. “It is a proven fact that people enjoy an experience more when they have scheduled it ahead of time and are able to anticipate it.”
Pricing also factors in the success of season ticket packages. It certainly has for Vatic and its clientele. According to Kelly, “We were able to dynamically price subscriptions for the first time this year, and it led to a 59% increase in average ticket for packages. That speaks to how highly patrons value their subscriptions and the potential revenue that arts organizations can bring in when they listen to patrons about what a subscription is worth to them.”
And have there been any new promotions or value-added propositions that have emerged with regards to subscription sales, particularly as a result of the last two years? Kelly was quick to answer. “It’s not a new feature,” he says, “but it has really proven its worth during the pandemic, which is exchanges. Unlike other industries, the arts have long offered free exchanges as a benefit to subscribers. And with the avalanche of cancellations that have occurred, it has been a significant driver for retention and customer satisfaction.”
That said, Kelly recognizes there are a number of venues around the country and the world that are looking to kick-start their seasons again now that mask mandates are lifting, capacity limits are easing, and people are getting out and about. For those ticketing professionals reading this who have been having a tough time relaunching their season ticketing campaigns and outreach, he offers the following counsel: “Make a plan, assume from the start that you will a) have to work harder than you have in the past to retain and acquire subscribers; and b) at some point, a monkey wrench is going to be thrown into your plans, and you’ll need to make adjustments. The most important thing is: Stick to the plan! Even if you are on version 17b, stick to the plan.”
He also offers some advice that was given to him earlier in his career with regards to navigating the ups and downs of business and business interruption: “Because we are all passionate about the arts — that is why we work in the industry — it’s easy to become overly tied to a certain result. But you are not your marketing campaign, and your marketing campaign is not you. Sometimes a particular title captures patrons’ attention, and sometimes it doesn’t. But that is not something you can control. What you can control is how well you leverage their demand.”
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Tags: Sports , Leadership , Revenue