The (ticket) Price is Right!

Setting tickets prices can often be a problematic task. Finding the right balance is essential to ensure you cover your costs (and even make a profit!), whilst not outpricing your audience. During my sixteen years in ticketing management, I’ve constantly been walking this fine line. I’ve gathered some ideas and handy hints which I’ve picked up during this time to help you get started with event pricing.

Your ticket price tells audiences what value you place on the event

One of the most common mistakes made in ticket pricing is to assume that ‘the lower the price, the bigger the audience’. This leads some event promoters to underprice their event, in the hope that this will help fill the venue. Actually, the opposite is often true. The price you set communicates the value of the performance to your potential audience. If you set the ticket price too low, customers will (unconsciously) presume that the quality of the performance is also low.

Buying a loaf of bread at the supermarket is an example of this type of consumer psychology in action. When you see a loaf priced at £1.50 next to a similar sized loaf priced at £0.50, you assume that the higher-priced bread is better quality, even though you haven’t tasted either!

Do your research

This sounds a bit dull, but it’s essential to do some research into event pricing for similar performances in the local area. Collate this info, then decide where you feel your performance should sit within these price ranges. Take into consideration venue size, length of performance, experience of performers etc.

At RCS, we train young professionals in the performance arts. We position our pricing in the market place to be higher than local amateur productions, but lower than professional events.

RCS stages Broadway opera Street with its impressive set.

One size doesn’t fit all

You don’t have to charge the same price for all tickets. Most venues will have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ seats. In a church for example, the sound quality of seats under the balcony might not be as good as those in the centre. There will also be a difference in what ‘experience’ audience members are willing to pay for. The music aficionado may be willing to pay a bit more for the best seat in the house or some ‘added value’ (see below), whereas someone new to the art form may not be willing to splash out on a composer/playwright/ensemble which they are not familiar with. If you can accommodate this difference of expectation within your pricing structure, you are widening the scope of potential audiences, and therefore maximising income. You can achieve this by ‘scaling the house’.

This is essentially charging different amounts depending on which area the customer wishes to sit. You could split your venue into ‘price bands’ A, B and C, ‘A’ being the premium seats, ‘B’ the standard seats, and ‘C’ the ‘not-so-good’ seats (you can be creative in how you market these band ‘C’ seats, advertising seats with a limited view as ‘listening seats’ for example!).

Price scaling is easy to achieve if your venue has fixed allocated seating. If you are in a venue which doesn’t have fixed seating with rows/numbers, you can still scale the house, by tying different coloured ribbons to the seats, or placing programmes printed in different colours on the seats.

Offers and discounts

Everyone loves a discount! You can use offers and discounts to entice bookers to sign up for your event. The key thing here is to be strategic. Think about what you want to achieve with this offer, and who it is aimed at. Be careful not to offer discounts too widely, or your core price becomes meaningless, and ticket income drops.
There are a range of offers and discounts that you can use (strategically). Here are some ideas to get you started:-

  • Early Bird – A discount offer for booking before a certain date. This encourages customers to book in advance and can be useful if you need to generate income early, to cover venue hire deposit, performance rights etc.
  • ‘Buy one, get one free’, ‘3 for 2’ etc. These are useful to increase audience numbers, as they encourage increased seat sales per transaction.
  • Subscription offer. If you have multiple performances in the same local area, you can offer a discount if a customer books for all of these at the same time.
  • ‘Status’ based discounts. Offering a discount to Under 16s, students, OAPs etc.

If you are going to discount, then make it worthwhile and discount big. Offering 5% off a £10 ticket for example isn’t likely to make much difference to a potential customer deciding whether to book or not.

It’s also best to avoid last minute ‘knee jerk’ discounting, if sales figures are lower than you are hoping. These late offers may seem to help in the short term, but will be damaging in the long term. This is because loyal bookers who have booked early will feel disenchanted for paying full price, and will therefore be less likely to do so again in the future, and those who used the last-minute offer are likely to hold off booking for future performances, as they will be waiting for another last-minute offer to be available.

A musician smiles during an RCS symphony orchestra concertBe creative with your pricing

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can move away from traditional pricing strategies, and try something a bit different.

  • Dynamic Pricing. This is the ticketing model used by airlines and train companies. It’s based on ‘supply and demand’, so the price increases as demand increases. This model is becoming more popular in arts pricing strategies. A simple illustration in a venue with a capacity of 100 could be:-
    • First 20 seats – £5
    • Next 20 seats -£7.50
    • Next 40 seats – £12.50
    • Last 20 seats – £20
  • Pay what you like. In this pricing model, you let the customers choose what to pay. What they choose to pay will be based on the customer’s perception of the value of the concert, so producing strong marketing copy/images and programme is key to success. You can either let the customer choose any amount, or provide a range of set prices, and allow the customer to choose freely which one to opt for.
  • Pay after the performance. This strategy is based on the fact that customers are (hopefully) on an emotional high immediately after the performance and are therefore likely to place a higher value on the experience. You charge customers a small nominal fee to reserve their seats, then encourage full payment post event (amount decided by the customer). The tricky part is ensuring you have the facilities to quickly take payments of varying amounts (including card transactions) after the show.

Think about added value

Finally, think about how you can add value to your event beyond the performance itself. The more value you can add, the more a customer will be willing to pay. Ideas to add value could include:-

  • Pre/post show talk with the performers and creative team (this can be included free with all ticket purchases, or an optional paid ‘upgrade’)
  • Priority booking for your next performance
  • Complimentary tea/coffee at the interval
  • Negotiate a discount with a local restaurant/café for a pre-performance meal for ticket holders

No matter what method you take to your ticket pricing, the key is to ensure your approach is strategic, and reflects the value of the experience you are offering.

If you’d like to delve a bit deeper into pricing strategy, have a look at Baker Richards, AMA and Arts Professional.

Covid-19: discover our latest updates