Sunday, May 19, 2013

If You're Selling Orchestra Tickets, Students Are Worth the Trouble

Last winter, when working at the Rochester Philharmonic, one of our musicians sent me an article by Zachary Lewis on the outstanding success the Cleveland Orchestra had last fall in increasing its ticket revenue by focusing on students and young people, groups that are often afterthoughts in classical-music marketing strategies. Overall, earned income was up 24% in the first half of this season (the article ran January 19), and student attendance was up 55%.

The Cleveland Orchestra got there by offering $10 student tickets, and a $50 Frequent Fan card, which gave students access to as many concerts as they could take. Also, the orchestra gave out 26,112 free tickets to children. To prime the pump for all of this, Cleveland started October with Student Appreciation Weekend.

While worrying about the aging out (dying out) of their audiences, orchestras and classical-music presenters come up with a host of excuses to ignore the youngest concertgoers: students have no money to spend; they are itinerant and can't be counted on as long-time patrons; there just isn't money in the budget to spend on heavily discounted tickets. (I'm guilty of uttering all of these at different points in my working life.)

What the Cleveland Orchestra has shown is that attracting students is a money maker, and a great way to fill a hall. All it takes is putting aside the empty excuses and getting to work. If you show them you care, they will come.