Growing Loyalty with a Commitment to Free Admission

Growing Loyalty with a Commitment to Free Admission

The Grant Park Music Festival came to TRG in 2014 with one goal: to build a patron loyalty pipeline that will sustain the organization, regardless of fluctuations in government or foundation funding. But there was one catch. The strategy needed to fit within the mission on which the organization was founded in the 1930s: free access to classical music for all.

To solve this challenge, the Festival expanded its existing membership program to include One Night Pass options. Though Chicagoans and visitors could always attend for free, membership offered many benefits including the ability to reserve seats close to the stage for any performance in advance. The introduction of One Night Passes allowed non-members to reserve seats in the Frank Gehry-designed pavilion for individual concerts, effectively serving as a test-drive for membership. In addition, the passes enabled the Festival to overcome one of the biggest challenges faced by free festivals: capturing patron data to build a pool of contacts who could be cultivated for membership and donations. The end result is a festival that remains free while creating a new patron-driven revenue stream to address potential funding fluctuations. 

 Credit: Christopher Neseman

TRG Arts has been innovating and learning with this client since 2015, culminating in significant impact during the 2017 festival. The Grant Park Music Festival completed their 2017 season in spectacular fashion, surpassing their One Night-Pass revenue goal by 34% and unit goal by 9%.
The increases from 2016 to 2017 were even more substantial: 

  • 23% increase in units
  • 53% increase in revenue
  • 35% increase in first-time buyers
  • $9.03 increase in average per-capita

The following key areas of innovation attributed to the significant results. 

Increased cost-of-sale investment in One Night Pass marketing to 47%. The 2017 Festival featured several classical programs that the Grant Park Music Festival knew would attract new audiences, like Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and the Canadian Brass. A strategic increase in marketing investment enabled them to add mass media and outdoor advertising to promote the brand of the Festival to people who may not have known of the Festival at all. Additionally, the team supported those efforts with best practice campaigns for direct mail and digital prospecting. 

Implemented audience retention campaigns to cultivate multi-buying behaviors.
With the increased investment in marketing to attract new audiences, the Grant Park Music Festival had more opportunities to invite new patrons to return. They added offers within online shopping carts to add a second concert at the point of purchase and save an extra 15%. The Festival also sent follow up emails after every performance with an offer to purchase another program and save 50% for first-time buyers and 20% for returning buyers. These efforts resulted in a 23% increase in the number of multibuyer households - a substantial gain for a festival that only runs for 10 weeks. 

Strategic use of dynamic scaling – both in high and low demand.
The Festival’s 2017 program included several blockbuster moments: Beethoven Symphony No. 9, the Canadian Brass, Music from Star Wars, and a Broadway Pops concert. With TRG’s counsel, the box office manager built custom scales for various demand scenarios and release phases, with pricing adjustments baked into each release phase, so that price changes could be made quickly during the compact 10-week season. These efforts yielded an additional $30,000 in revenue to the membership program.

Credit: Walter Mitchell

The Festival also implemented un-advertised decreases in prices the night of the concert. The Festival scale aligned with best practice principles where the lowest price seats sell out early in the cycle and the only seats left on concert nights are mid-range or higher. This scale worked incredibly well online, even for day-of sales; however, because the entire lawn is free access, walk up traffic was consistently choosing free over paid. To incentivize a paid purchase, the team tested offering lower prices to walk-ups, based on demand. Using these strategies, the Festival saw an 8% increase in day-of concert sales.

This business model transition has been incredibly challenging for the team, but their innovative efforts are seeing results in sustainable revenue and repeat buyers, even while maintaining a commitment to the mission of free access for all. TRG is immensely proud of their hard work. Well-deserved congratulations to the Grant Park Music Festival!

Posted November 29, 2017

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