Cracking Open the Growth of The Nutcracker

Cracking Open the Growth of The Nutcracker

By Brad Carlin, Consulting Analyst

If you are like me, your jaw tightens and stomach starts to twist when Halloween decorations begin to appear in stores in early September. If so, brace yourself… because now is likely the time to be putting single tickets on-sale for holiday blockbusters in your season.  

For ballet companies, July means the launch of Nutcracker sales and the semi-annual marathon that will can determine more than 50% of a company’s ticket revenue for the season. According to Dance/USA’s Nutcracker Survey, annual ticket sales to the Nutcracker have grown from $30 million in 2008 to $51 million in 2017, and attendance has increased 14% in the same period.

Recently, TRG Arts studied a sample of its ballet clients to crack-open the Nutcracker growth highlighted by the Dance/USA report.

Among current U.S. TRG Ballet Clients’ productions of The Nutcracker:

The addition of performances is important in understanding the growth in Nutcracker demand. Organizations often express concern that expanding performance inventory will dilute their audiences and reducing the inventory of performances will yield higher capacities and lower costs. But time and again, the data says otherwise.

TRG studied the relationship between additional performances and growth for revenues and admissions among our sample of U.S. ballet companies. We found, on average, the rate of revenue growth between 2014 and 2018 was nearly twice the rate of performance inventory growth, and admissions growth was 104% of performance growth. The take-away from this analysis is that as companies have expanded their Nutcracker inventory over time, it has generated significant net growth in both audiences and revenue.

Another important metric we studied across Ballet companies was cost-of-sale (marketing investment as a percentage of ticket sales). We wanted to understand the relationship between increasing marketing investment and growth in sales for
The Nutcracker. The connection between cost-of-sale and growth we found among the sample set of clients was clear: the organizations that grew their cost-of-sale the most, saw the most growth in both revenue and admissions over the study period. 

The Joffrey Ballet in Chicago and Boston Ballet offer specific examples of strategies that have fueled growth in their
Nutcrackers. The Joffrey is coming off an extraordinary season that set records for ticket revenue and admissions. TRG worked with the Joffrey to create new scale-of-hall plans for their 2018 Nutcracker for peak and off-peak performances, expanded their dynamic pricing strategy, and shaped a campaign that emphasized direct communication and fewer discounts. When controlling for differences in the number of performances between 2017 and 2018, the initial results were exciting:

Another TRG client, Boston Ballet, has also enjoyed significant Nutcracker growth in recent years. Double digit growth in admissions, revenue, and average ticket prices over the past five years was continued in 2018 when they exceeded their admissions and revenue goals. TRG has a detailed case study on Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker efforts that you can read here. Savvy leaders at the Joffrey and Boston Ballet do not take this growth for granted and continuously look for ways to boost the performance of their powerful holiday engines.

Holiday blockbusters like
The Nutcracker attract different audiences compared to other programming in the season and need different marketing campaign strategies. The Joffrey’s Nutcracker attracts 40% more new-to-file audience households than their other repertory. That means they will invest more in mass communication and prospecting strategies than in other times of year. New-to-file Nutcracker audiences are also more difficult to retain outside of attending future Nutcracker performances, so efforts to “renew” previous holiday single ticket buyers, even in July, are often more effective than attracting them to non-holiday programming.

Top Take-Aways for Nutcracker/Blockbusters:

  1. Look at your calendar, give yourself enough time to make the most of your holiday blockbuster. The TRG data on this is clear, the more time you have to sell, the more you will sell.

  2. Invest in the fuel to grow your holiday blockbuster. TRG recommends a single ticket cost-of-sale of 15%-20% for these revenue powerhouses.

  3. Align ticket prices, scale of hall, and performance inventory with the demand for your holiday blockbuster. Modest dynamic pricing efforts have generated thousands of dollars in additional revenue for TRG clients.

  4. Target the right audiences for growing your holiday shows. Often, holiday blockbusters rely heavily on new-to-file households that require additional investment in mass media and direct mail prospecting.

Holiday traditions are powerful. Among the most important things the arts can bring people are opportunities to connect with each other around and through our traditions. When I see holiday programming go on sale months in advance, and before my jaw tightens and stomach twists, I’m eased when reminded that arts organizations’ financial goals are in service to creating more opportunities to connect with friends and loved ones around shared experiences. 

To learn more about how TRG could help fuel your holiday blockbuster engine, send us an email at

Posted July 29, 2019

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