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ISO sees surge in ticket sales, led by subscriptions

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The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra enjoyed a nearly 19-percent surge in ticket sales during the 2013-14 indoor concert season, which ended this month, the ISO said Tuesday.

The ISO sold 110,770 total tickets for the latest season, up from 93,337 the previous year. More than 45,500 of those tickets were part of subscriptions, which rose 30 percent.

The number of subscription sales hits it highest level since the 2008-09 season, bucking conventional wisdom in the performing arts that says subscriptions are a dying marketing tool because patrons prefer making last-minute entertainment decisions.

How those sales affect overall ticket revenue will be announced later in the year, when the ISO makes its annual financial report.

ISO CEO Gary Ginstling credited the rise in sales to the group's marketing strategy to broaden the range of subscription options. The ISO increased the number of concert packages, sold them for a longer period of time and altered prices in some cases.

The changes sparked a 30-percent jump in subscriptionsfor classical, pops, and family concerts, with about 6,000 total subscriptions purchased.

Traditionally in the performing arts, subscriptions are pushed in spring and summer for the following season. Once the performances begin, emphasis shifts to single-ticket sales.

That’s no longer the case with the ISO, which changed strategy in response to what had been lagging sales. Ticket revenue fell $500,000 in the 2012-13 season, to $6.4 million, the organization reported in December.

“We’re now relentless not only about packaging and promoting subscriptions but repackaging throughout the season,” said Ginstling. “When one show is done, we add another at the back end and still market the subscription. You can still buy a family package, for instance, even after the first concert is done. That allows us to continue to make the case that a subscription is a great value.”

In another break with standard operating procedure, the ISO allowed patrons to include the end-of-the-season concerts with popular violinist Joshua Bell in 2013-14 to be part of a subscription for the 2014-15 season, using a marquee name to hook ticket-buyers.

“We’re trying as many touchpoints as possible,” said Ginstling, noting that with one concert still to be played, the ISO Happy Hour concerts have attracted 834 new attendees. In the previous season, 24 percent of those newcomers came back for another concert.

Other popular subscriptions included a package of eight classical concerts featuring a 5:30 p.m. Saturday show, and the Coffee Classical, Evening Pops and Coffee Pops series. Classical subscription sales for 14-concert and 18-concert packages also fared well.

Ginstling said he wasn't concerned with the downward trend for subscriptions elsewhere in the performing arts.

“All we care is how we are doing in this market,” he said. “We focus on fundamental marketing focused on pricing and a compelling message. We make sure subscribers realize that they are our core patrons. And we do everything we can to accommodate them."

The ISO also reported a record number of student ticket sales in fiscal year 2014, with 6,569 tickets sold through June 17. The ISO revamped its student ticket program late last year and shaved $3 off the price of tickets for classical, pops, family and Happy Hour concerts, to $10.


 

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  • When Is A Ticket Sold Not A Ticket Sale?
    An good news about our symphony is welcome news to me. However, I don't see revenue data here to coincide with the "ticket sales" data. This has been carefully worded so that no one can see they're making an apples to oranges comparison in order to put some lipstick on a pig. Since most of the symphony's so-called marketing efforts seem centered around sales promotions and manipulative promotional tactics (versus true re-establishment of any semblance of a brand that ISO management abandoned years ago when the bottom line became more important than its programming, its stature, artistic excellene or its musicians), a case can be made that while they're selling "more tickets" they're doing so for less money and therefore actually reducing the perceived value of the brand in perpetuity. Contrary to butts in seats, revenue is the true measure. In addition, only...what...a third at most of total revenue comes from ticket sales anyway? So I don't see what buy one/get one offers or buy 8 get two free or whatever the manipulation might be gets you other than butts in seats (and other disgruntled patrons like me who paid full price for those seats originally by the way) when you still don't have a full time, engaged music director, you raped your musicians (your only real asset) with a 32% pay cut and you've cut scheduling and classical programming and reduced one of the country's great full-time orchestras to what amounts to a part-time community orchestra staffed by contract retirees, subs, students and only a handful of the true, original, world-class musicians that made the ISO what it was before the bean counters started gutting it. ISO management needs to be doing a lot more explaining and a lot less preening. Increased tickets sold is different from ticket sales. A balanced budget means nothing if to get there you had to flog your musicians, force others into retirement and replace them with inexperienced, cheaper players and substitutes. The organization is still fundamentally flawed with essentially a vanity do-nothing board of directors and lap-dog management to whom widget sales are more important than artistic excellence. Bring back the days of Maestro Leppard and the true Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. And then talk to us about how things have improved.

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