Symphonies Turn To Online Ticket Sales

Increased sales, new patrons among benefits reported by companies using the Web.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Fort Worth Symphony and the Detroit Symphony this week joined the growing ranks of orchestras selling single tickets via the Internet.

"We just went through a huge renovation on our site and we can offer tickets to people directly whereby they can know right where they are sitting," said Kevin Giglinto, recently appointed e-commerce analyst for the Chicago Symphony.

This "real time" ticketing — in which you choose your seat and the tickets are issued on the spot — is in contrast to the method used by some orchestras, such as the New York Philharmonic, where users can purchase tickets online but can only choose a section and hope for the best.

"We previously had an e-mail request form and then we'd respond to the customer and let them know where they were sitting," Giglinto said. "We're also taking subscriptions online now — you can build your own subscription, and the more you buy the better the price."

The Detroit Symphony is using the services of Tickets.com to facilitate their seating.

"Previous technology did not allow us to guarantee exact seating for patrons, and the system required a series of labor-intensive fulfillment steps," Ross Binnie, Detroit Symphony director of ticket services, said. "Now, using Tickets.com on our own Web site, patrons can take their time, look at all available seating options and make a personalized choice. Their tickets are reserved for them instantaneously, just as if one of our agents were booking the seats on the phone."

According to Detroit Symphony figures, annual sales via their Web site have increased 600 percent since the introduction of the online order form in the 1998–99 season and they are projecting online ticket sales to make up 6 percent of their overall ticket sales for their upcoming season.

Always On The Job

"It is also today's most cost-effective method of selling tickets online and the cheapest way for consumers to buy tickets on the Web," Binnie added. "Now we have a sales agent that works 24-7-365 and doesn't take a break. This enables the rest of us to concentrate on other aspects of customer service."

The Forth Worth Symphony, which began experimenting with online sales in the spring for their outdoor summer "Concerts in the Garden" series, found it to be a huge success. Online ticket sales represented almost 20 percent of the total sales and more than 60 percent of online buyers were new symphony patrons.

This week, they began selling real-time single tickets for the 2000–01 season directly through their Web site.

"Today, current and potential customers absolutely expect a Web-based presence so that they may research and possibly purchase a product or service. FWSO patrons can now purchase their tickets easily from the convenience of their homes, when it's convenient for them, even if it's 3 a.m.," BizNetTech.net President Joseph Geiser said in a statement. BizNetTech.net is providing and managing the online ticketing for the FWSO.

Risî Walter, ticket services manager for the San Francisco Symphony, said they saw about 7 percent of their single ticket sales last season come from their Web site.

"The 1999–2000 season was the first time we put the tickets online," Walter said. "We sold 15,875 tickets online for $615,000. We were really thrilled, being a classical music organization, with selling online — and a very high percentage of those sales were [customers] new to the symphony."

The SFSO will be selling single tickets for the 2000–01 season starting Friday (Sept. 1), and by 2001 they hope to sell subscriptions online via real-time online sales, too.

"It'll be interesting to see what happens," Walter added. "Subscriptions are up so we have less single seats, but we're hoping to hit a million in sales online, including tickets for the Black & White Ball [fund-raising event]."

Giglinto said he's also pushing for the million-dollar number for this year's Chicago Symphony online sales and also is seeing a new customer base forming.

A New Crop Of Customers

"Just in the last 24 hours since we've been up and running, we're seeing about 80 percent of those tickets sold online were new or relatively new customers," said Giglinto of the Chicago Symphony. By "relatively new," Giglinto said he meant those who haven't purchased tickets in the past three years.

However, while online ticketing is considered attractive to new customers, according to American Symphony League spokesperson Grace Cheng, older patrons may not migrate to online ticketing because they aren't computer savvy.

"We're about to send out a survey about online ticket sales," Cheng said. "Short of that our resource center's feeling is that for many audience members it's more convenient. Older audiences may not use it, but baby boomers and other younger potential audiences are definitely positive about using online services."

Nevertheless, it appears that online ticket sales are the wave of the future and will become a significant growth factor for classical music organizations.

"This is the electronic equivalent of walking into Orchestra Hall and actually choosing your own seats," Detroit Symphony's Binnie said.