30 October 2011

Why people don't return to symphony concerts

From a post at Fast Company:
Marketing managers for major orchestras had always assumed that convincing people to give the symphony a try was the key to gaining subscribers. "Get people through the doors!" was their mantra, assuming that the sheer beauty of the music would lure them back. But when they actually studied the numbers, they discovered that getting new people wasn't the problem...

In 2007, several orchestra managers joined forces to analyze their collective marketing challenge. A pro bono third-party study by Oliver Wyman (Audience Growth Initiative) found that on average, symphonies lost 55% of their customers each year; churn among first-time concert-goers was 91%!...
The symphonies compiled a list of 78 attributes of the classical music experience... It turns out the quality of the orchestra, magnificence of the hall, and virtuosity of the conductor were not particularly important attributes. What was? Drum roll! The most powerful "driver of revisitation" was parking! As with other orchestras, veteran members of the core BSO audience had figured out where to park, but trialists identified it as a huge hassle--so they didn't come back... 
More information (and additional factors) at the link.


  1. Not unlike skiing, from a report I read a year or so back. They have a similar lack of retention, for various reasons, expense being a large factor: lift tickets are expensive, as is equipment. And most ski places offer lot of "services" like food and drink that are in some ways antithetical to the activity. You can't eat or drink while skiing so anytime spent doing those is time you aren't using your lift pass. Add in the variable conditions in many places (Colorado, Montana, and Northern California excepted) and distance to travel/convenience (not unlike the parking example) and it's a risky proposition.

  2. If parking is the paramount factor, then why is the turnout to professional sports or modern music events just as high? The parking prospects are almost nill, yet people still show up in droves. I'm somewhat sceptical of that analysis.

    Perhaps 'accessibility' might be too broad as a factor (i.e public transportation options, etc.) but might offer more insights as well.

  3. Stadiums come with large parking lots as they are often located outside builtup areas. Witness how many sports teams are no located in the city whose name they bear (ever heard of the Auburn Hills Pistons or the New Jersey Jets?) And where they are located in town, there are always landowners and parking lot concessions nearby, it seems. Drive to an event at an established venue and you hardly need directions: just look for the flaggers and choose how much you far you want to walk vs how much you want to pay, then follow the crowds.

    Accessibility may be a more accurate term but how many cities have a transit/access system that serves the places where these new audience members live and the concert hall?

  4. And symphony-goers are expected to dress up -- dress & heels for women, suit or tux for men. This is an issue if you have to walk long distances in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

  5. @a progressive crank: The T in Boston (where the BSO plays) has a stop called "Symphony Hall." Can't get much more mass transit-accessible than that. Just walk up a flight of stairs, and there you are. (There may even be an elevator.)

    @lizbethsgarden: I don't think that dress code is in force any longer. You can dress up if you feel like it, but it isn't "expected" the way it used to be.

    --Swift Loris

  6. From 3 to 2 years ago I had two girlfriends in a row whose lives revolved around the symphony, ballet and opera. Both were piano teachers. One sent five students to Julliard. The other actually performed on stage sometimes.

    They got me very interested in attending the symphony, the ballet and the opera.

    I thought I'd like it, since there is much classical music I like, some of it to do with ballet and opera.

    Results? Literally the most boring nights of my life. I tired the symphony three times, and was utterly unimpressed. It was 2-3 times less interesting than listening to classical music on the radio.

    I cannot see why I would ever go back.

    The opera and ballet were even worse.

    I thought I was a blue-collar guy who could get into it. I wasn't.

    Price was not an issue. Nor was parking. The Lyric Opera is two blocks from the Chicago downtown Metra station, and I live 1.5 miles from my local station.

    @Lizbethgarden - I agree with Swift Loris. In Chicago, few of the men were dressed in suits; none wore tuxes. Ladies varied from evening gowns to office wear. I wore a suit, and I was overdressed, I felt.

  7. I had season tickets to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. I was so annoyed by the repeated calls from them for donations, I have not returned. (Parking was really easy and inexpensive though).


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