On the Discounting of Tickets (Part One)

The Guardian posted an article today, discussing the (relatively old) practice of offering ‘Pay What You Can’ tickets, which also included one company discussing the (relatively new) idea to offer them for its entire run.  New End Theatre, the Hampstead, London-based company extending this ‘Pay What You Can’ offer, are doing so in order to attract new, first time audiences to experience their shows.


This is a fractious subject in the performing arts, inciting great debates between box office, marketing, administration, and artistic about when, why, and how discounting should be done.  The article sparked a conversation in our offices about our personal experiences using discounting to attract new audiences, and we thought we would share the fruits of this conversation…


In using discount pricing to attract new audiences, there must always be balance and compromise.  If you make the offer too broad, you risk upsetting full price paying patrons or having your full price patrons simply begin purchasing discounted tickets. If the offer is too limited, there is a possibility that new audiences simply won’t attend and the entire exercise is a bust.


With that in mind, we thought we would take the opportunity to write a series of posts looking at several ticketing and marketing initiatives, examining the clever ways ticketing strategies do (or don’t) create limitations to devise successful, audience generating tactics.


As the article did, we’ll start with…

Pay What You Can (PWYC)


A fairly common pricing strategy that invites audiences to pay whatever they can (or want) to attend a show.  In certain municipal markets, even receiving funding can be contingent on offering one PWYC performance a week.  Speaking from personal experience, Toronto theatres such as Tarragon, Factory, Passe Muraille, and Buddies offering PWYC Sunday matinees (and Canstage offering Monday PWYC evenings) was the only reason this author was able to experience the richness and variety of the city’s theatre industry.


The most common limitation used for PWYC (although not by New End Theatre) is that the tickets must be purchased on the day of the event, and are therefore highly subject to availability. It’s a clever limitation that works intuitively with the ritualistic aspects of theatre attendance. For many, the experience of a show is not limited to the actual performance itself, but to a much larger process surrounding attendance.  From buying the tickets to reading up beforehand, to picking a spot for pre-theatre dinner and enjoying social drinks during intermission – our relationship with performing arts is that we want to make an event of the entire attendance (it’s why we describe the process as going to the theatre).


By offering tickets on a rush-only basis, PWYC strategies make it difficult to fully realize the entire theatre experience in the, above-mentioned, ritualistic way. This clever PWYC strategy allows a company to introduce new patrons at a lower price point, while holding back some portion of the complete theatre-going experience, subtly encouraging patrons to become full price buyers or season subscribers down the road.


Stay tuned for the second post in this series, looking at ticket programs targeting the ‘under 30’ crowd.


Categories: Musings