INQUIRE: Experts Talk Ticket Sales + Audience Behaviours

We asked three arts industry leaders how audience purchasing behaviours have changed over the past few years.


How has audience purchasing behaviour changed for your arts organization over the last few years? What strategies have you tested or implemented to adapt to these changes? 

Marshall Pynkoski (Founding Co-Artistic Director, Opera Atelier, Toronto)

A certain inertia has set in vis-à-vis Toronto audience members, and during the past three years of COVID restrictions, individuals have become comfortable staying at home and focusing on virtual entertainment.

Opera Atelier (OA) is in the process of developing strategies to encourage audience members and subscribers to return to the theatre. This includes special events hosted in the homes of OA supporters, in which past audience members can visit with the artistic directors, members of the artistic team and OA performing artists. By fostering a sense of family and belonging, we hope to encourage our audience to renew their commitment to a live theatre experience.

We have also noticed that people are making their ticket buying decisions later than usual. This, of course, has a negative impact on subscription sales, but gives us the opportunity to focus on single tickets.

To this end, Opera Atelier has begun to offer rush tickets, and the public response was extremely positive. This deserves to be explored more fully as we plan future productions.

The big challenge is to convince/remind people that a live theatre experience is uniquely different, and I would argue, superior, to anything that is offered online.

Maya Lohcham (Director of Marketing and Communications, Victoria Symphony, Victoria)

From virtual concerts, to a season of recovery, to the first “post-pandemic” season, this already financially fragile sector was rocked. But in all the uncertainty, it found resilience. 

This is certainly true for the Victoria Symphony (VS), due in no small part to returning audiences and adapting to meet these audiences where they are today.

Pre-pandemic sales no longer provide us with relevant benchmarks. Orchestras across the country, including VS, have falling subscriptions and rising single ticket sales. Although good for revenue targets, single ticket purchasing patterns skew last minute, which significantly affects cash flow, and doesn’t guarantee return attendance. 

This means after eight decades of thinking about the subscriber first, we’ve added a single ticket thinking cap to our wardrobe. 

“We” representing equal parts artistic and administration because this is where the audience engagement plan really starts – in the artistic planning process. For example, knowing each concert needs something sellable that marketing can lean on, and setting program pacing with audiences front of mind.

Through these experiences, I’ve learned marketing doesn’t have to wait to be told what to sell, and that strategy can’t be set in isolation – it needs to be tested, adapted, and implemented from our core – the music. 

Sabine Rouques (Director of Patron Relations, DanceHouse, Vancouver)

When we returned to presenting live in-theatre performances in 2021, we observed an increase in last minute purchases from patrons, either to limit their risks of becoming sick or making sure of being healthy to attend the shows. This behaviour was particularly observable in the 2021/22 and 2022/23 seasons. Since fall 2023, we are noticing a return towards pre-pandemic behaviours with a larger proportion of patrons buying tickets in advance (subscribing, buying packages or even single tickets months ahead); consequently, the last minute buyers represent a similar weight in the mix as before 2020. 

In 2021-2022, we chose to announce our programs closer to the show dates: Firstly, to minimize the risks of presentations being cancelled and, secondly, to adapt to the new audience behaviours. We also chose to do more YouTube advertising starting in 2022 and increase our use of short video content. As a presenter, the lack of visibility of not having a full season subscription meant an increased uncertainty in ticketing revenues as we could only offer single tickets or smaller packages. We heard from some of our patrons that they appreciated having a subscription to plan their cultural year: We resumed offering subscriptions for the 2023/24 season with success, on the path to returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Photos submitted by: Marshall Pynkoski, Maya Lohcham, Sabine Rouques (left to right)

Categories: Featured, MPMG