Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

US theatre study shows 2021-22 decline

Rachelle LeGrand, New Study Measures the Sales Decline of the 2021-22 Season, American Theatre, 14 November 2022

JCA Arts Marketing’s study showed declines in seats sold and revenue per performance, driven in part by last year’s omicron surge.

The 2021-22 reopening season saw a decline in patrons, ticket sales, and revenue, according to a recent report from JCA Arts Marketing, which conducted a study that tracked reopening trends. The focus of the study was on audience behavior and ticket sales. Examining 15 professional arts organizations—six regional theatres, four music organizations, two opera companies, two performing arts centers, and one ballet company—with the help of Revenue Management Application (RMA) tools, the analysis came to a couple of stark conclusions, and the report offered a list of recommendations for future seasons.

Relative to pre-pandemic times, the 2021-22 season saw a 14 percent decline in the amount of seats sold, a 17 percent reduction in paid capacity, and an 8 percent drop in revenue per performance. The omicron variant, which surged throughout the season in question, played a significant role in the percentage of capacity sold. JCA Arts Marketing recommends that arts organizations adjust revenue goals, and be prepared to continually readjust them as unforeseen events affect the extent to which audience members choose to participate, and how much they’ll pay.

Another recommendation from JCA: Organizations should put more focus on audience acquisition strategy, as they aren’t seeing the same patrons return to arts organizations this season. The number of returning audience members was 29 percent lower in 2021-22 than it was in 2018-19, and the number of new audience members was 33 percent smaller than in 2018-19. Data also show a decrease in discount buyers, so people don’t necessarily seem to be motivated by lower prices.

In fact, the study shows that raising prices is in itself not a bad idea, though organizations should make sure increases are reasonable. The study shows that organizations that increased ticket prices due to inflation did bring in more income and sell more seats compared to organizations that kept prices the same or lowered them. This led JCA to dig deeper into what kinds of tickets sold best last season. They found that subscriptions have dropped 32 percent in comparison to previous seasons, and discount and comp tickets sales have also dropped. But standard ticket sales remained consistent. If subscription sales continue to be soft in the coming season, organizations might want to make sure to pack houses at earlier performances to create the kind of buzz and word-of-mouth excitement that loyal subscription audiences once provided.

Another practical recommendation: Organizations should consider adjusting the number of performances offered per season. The number of performances offered in 2021-22 seasons was lower than in 2018-19, while the revenue was disproportionately less. Organizations staged about 68 percent as many performances as in 2018-19, but brought in just 62 percent as much ticket revenue. Popular shows, they found, did sell very well in this period, but all other shows sold poorly. That continues a trend that was already in place prior to the pandemic, but it seems that, as it did in many industries and segments of society, COVID-19 accelerated or exacerbated many existing imbalances, and adjustments will be required.

Organizations can pull from their own data to compare and contrast findings with JCA’s. If your organization has the RMA, you can pull the same metrics reflected in the report, which can be found here.

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Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Mr Brian Oldman, South Australian Museum PO Box 234 Adelaide, South Australia 5001 Australia, © CAMD 2022
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