The Playgoer: The Slow Death of the Season Subscription

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Slow Death of the Season Subscription

TCG's annual "Theatre Facts" survey has some sobering news for subscription-based theatre companies. As Chris Jones reports:

According to Theatre Facts 2010, the annual research snapshot released by the TCG lobbying and support organization, subscription income is dropping at American theaters at an alarming rate. Between 2006 and 2010, the report (released Monday) says, national subscription income dropped by an eye-catching 15.1%. Some 14% fewer subscripion tickets were sold and the closely watched subscriber base dropped by 15%.
Are you really surprised, though?  Do you subscribe to anyone's season? When you look at the offerings for your local regional, or even the NYC nonprofits, do you see any justification to fork over upwards of $200 up front for a ticket  to four or five shows you're not sure about? (More likely, one or two you're interested in and the rest... eh.)

Yes, your parents and grandparents in the suburbs might still like planning their social calendar and commuting plans around a monthly theatre visit. But the rest of us might prefer to, oh, I don't know, buy tickets only when we want to see something?

Interestingly, single-ticket income rose modestly during each of the years in the study. And between 2006 and 2010, the number of single-ticket buyers rose by 3%. 
So think it over, Managing Directors of America. Yes, you're spoiled by years of up-front financing from those subscription renewals.  But how can you retool the business model for the 21st century?


Thomas Garvey said...

Yeah, they can raise the price of single tickets! Oh wait they already thought of that.

cgeye said...

Or use airline pricing, so you never know what end of the scale you'll have to pay....

Esther said...

Over the course of a season I buy tickets to 2 local theatre companies and 1 venue for Broadway tours. Together my purchases probably equal a subscription. I wish there were some way to combine them, giving the theatres their money up front and giving me a little discount without the need to buy tickets for shows I may not want to see.

RLewis said...

I tried to buy a subscription to BAM, but it was so complicated with information I did not need and so lacking in answers to my questions, that even after 2 telephone calls, I did not understand my options. By the time I was ready to by the subscription, the price of it had gone up. I'm now going the individual ticket route -- it's like that's what they wanted me to do all along.

achtung! said...

@cgeye: Or charge for luggage! No more handbags, ladies! (Guess I'd be in luck since I hate to carry one.)

I have gone the season route before, but it was a stellar year in which I already knew I wanted to see everything. Good points...I had never really thought about it before.

Shari Perkins said...

I grew up on subscriptions, and grew to love subscriptions, in Southwest Virginia. Every year my parents took me to see all the shows by our local regional theatre, and many seasons we signed up for the opera and for the local touring house.

But gradually the appeal faded: Too many shows were jukebox shows with no plot that held little appeal. The cost of tickets went up. I went to college, so my parents stopped subscribing.

Now I live and work in NYC, and I am a doctoral student. I can't afford single ticket prices for many shows, let alone subscription prices. Indeed, my show-watching has been sadly circumscribed by what comes up on TDF and papering services. I know I miss many things I should be seeing.

But then . . . who would risk that much money for an unknown? After a certain number of disappointments, you decide that $35 (in a regional theatre like in my hometown) is better spent on a night of drinks with friends.