From Traditional to Transformed: How flexibility and an innovative launch led Music Theatre Wichita’s success with TRG

From Traditional to Transformed: How flexibility and an innovative launch led Music Theatre Wichita’s success with TRG

By Lory Bowman, Senior Consultant

When Music Theatre Wichita came on board with TRG Arts for a Revenue Accelerator consultancy, their primary goals were two-fold: utilize TRG’s expertise to update their self-described “antiquated methods” and do so in a way that would maximize results without breaking their staff or the patron relationships that had been developed over 47 seasons.

At the October onset of their consultancy with TRG, Music Theatre Wichita was well into their subscription campaign and looking ahead to their 48th season which would run June through August. Subscribers had been told that prices would be held until December (their traditional renewal deadline). Our first step was to align single ticket prices for matinee and evening performances and then we added conservative increases to better align the package pricing. We also used these changes to create urgency for subscribers to renew before the prices increased. In the 4 weeks leading up to the deadline, renewals more than doubled (units as well as revenue) from the same period the year prior.

Undoing a Loyalty-Busting Discount

Traditionally, Music Theatre Wichita would offer half-priced subscription after the renewal period to attract new sales. The problem was buyers came to expect this sale and it was creating a dynamic that was undermining loyalty. The season before TRG coming on board, Music Theatre Wichita reduced the discount and took the heat from disappointed patrons. So much so that in our first consulting call there was apprehension knowing we would have strong opinions on how they had managed the discount and they might be setting themselves up for more customer complaints. 

Armed with additional data, we were able to turn the situation into a win for Music Theatre Wichita and patrons alike. Discount subscriptions had been offered in two areas – rear orchestra and balcony as these were traditionally the areas with the most availability. The result was a band of half-price buyers across the back of the main floor with several rows of empty seats separating them from full-price buyers. Since Music Theate Wichita had a very traditional scale plan, this also meant the least expensive seats were now being sold at a high discount, making it difficult to upgrade these buyers. TRG’s recommendation: no more discount day. We had something better in mind.

Music Theatre Wichita's original scale plan:

Music Theatre Wichita heat map showing the fill pattern for half-price subscriptions:

In reviewing the areas that needed filling and the new prices, we established a special price point which was higher than the previous discount buyer average but offered a one-time opportunity to upgrade into mid-orchestra seating where we needed seats filled. A special mailing was sent to previous discount buyers alerting them that there would be no discount day. Instead, their past purchase entitled them to an exclusive Private Sale offer and they could purchase much earlier to get the best seats. We even added the extra incentive of waived fees if they responded by the early deadline. The results: happy patrons and more revenue for Music Theatrer Wichita. While the private sale did not reach the volume in terms of number of packages sold, it did help increase the per cap of new acquisition sales by 57%. Given the attention and better seating locations, it is also very likely that these patrons will now have a better renewal rate. Tracking on these specific patrons is not complete, but to date, these efforts along with a restructured campaign timeline have resulted in a mid-campaign renewal rate of 56% compared to 26% for the same period in the prior year. But that is just the start of the story.

Innovative Implementation

TRG saw an opportunity in rescaling the traditional seating plan of the 2,100 seat Century II venue. Due to the time that Music Theatre Wichita signed on as a client, they couldn’t take advantage of the recommended changes for the subscription campaign, but that did not stop them. A decision was made that single tickets would go on sale utilizing the new scale plan to take advantage of the strategic placement of price points to drive behavior and increase revenue with demand. Most importantly, this unique implementation allowed Music Theatre Wichita to execute the new scale plan and start paving the way for the 2020 subscription campaign changes ahead. While subscribers were not impacted they were certainly aware of the changes. Each time they exchanged tickets or redeemed bonus vouchers they had an opportunity to see the new seating plan. 

Heat map showing the fill pattern of subscribers in 2019:

TRG's recommended scale plan for onsale:

Single Ticket Planning

After scaling and pricing were completed, best practices were implemented for single ticket sales. The process began with a breakdown of unit and revenue projections by production rather than an overall revenue goal as was their traditional approach. This shift illuminated additional revenue opportunities and fine-tuning of expectations as well as cost-of-sale allocations. Individual goals, as well as careful monitoring of progress with a sales tracker, gave the Music Theatre Wichita team clearer targets throughout the season. 

By comparing year-over-year results, it became apparent that the first show of the season suffered from a short sales period. For the 2019 season, the opening show, The Sound of Music, also had the highest revenue expectations, so changes were implemented to maximize sales. An exclusive online presale began two months before the season. Also, as with each production, direct mail was added as a specific tactic for marketing directly to Music Theatre Wichita’s recent and lapsed patrons. Lastly, a limited number of $25 tickets were introduced for each performance to stimulate urgency and fill in empty, but highly visible seats. The Sound of Music reached goal two weeks before opening. The greatest contributor to this success was the combination of having a longer sales period and a scale plan based on demand. Further, these full houses served to validate subscribers for their package purchase and create urgency for single buyers for the remainder of the season. 

The single ticket scale plan along with careful inventory control not only filled the houses but also raised per cap prices 10% higher than original projections. 

The Sound of Music – Saturday Matinee (all sold with exception of top 3 rows of the balcony):

Change Management

In preparation for renewal time, Music Theatre Wichita embraced counsel and took the extra steps to assure careful handling of their subscribers. An advance notice went out to all subscribers describing how the changes would impact their subscription and renewal forms were updated to make the ordering process easier. Those not directly impacted by the changes were also alerted regarding the new timelines and encouraged to renew early due to anticipated demand on seating. All letters also included a dedicated patron services number for renewal assistance. Music Theatre Wichita staff were trained so messaging would be consistent across the organization. 

The new schedule and earlier renewal deadlines jumpstarted the campaign and allowed the time needed not only for excellent customer care with seating changes, but also for additional acquisition efforts. To date, in week 16 of their campaign, Music Theatre Wichita is pacing 33% ahead in revenue and 38% in number of packages. Strategic pricing and inventory control has boosted the average package price by 18%.

Subscription results up to November 2019:

About Music Theatre Wichita

Music Theatre Wichita
, founded in 1972 and currently the largest subscribed not-for-profit arts organization in the state of Kansas, has attained an international reputation for excellence. Each summer at Century II Performing Arts Center in downtown Wichita, MTWichita self-produces five Broadway-scale musical productions, using a unique mixture of top-flight professionals from Broadway and Hollywood working hand-in-hand with talented Midwesterners. Each year eight administrative year-round staff, approximately 55 seasonal performers, 65 seasonal technical staff, and 30 seasonal orchestra members work together to design and create five Broadway-quality musicals during the months of June through August.

80% of TRG clients are growing subscriptions. Find out why or learn more about our other engagement opportunities.

Posted December 3, 2019

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