Why Do You Care If You Sell Out or Not?

For this series, we’ve reached into the vault to share a few pieces that are still relevant today.

There’s a phenomenon in live entertainment marketing that’s fundamentally childish, and yet on some level, just about everyone who markets our products falls victim to it.

It’s the desire to “sell out.”

"The Flaming Lips at the Palace Theatre," © 2011 Remix Your Face, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

“The Flaming Lips at the Palace Theatre,” © 2011 Remix Your Face, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

I put “sell out” in quotes because everyone who markets live entertainment professionally understands that this term can be defined in all kinds of ways and manipulated in even more ways.

There was a theater production in a major city in California that ran for several years and actually tried somewhat successfully to build a Broadway and then touring brand for itself on the basis of the fact that it had “sold out” every date for X consecutive weeks, months, years or whatever.

The reality, of course, was much more complicated: The house they chose to play was dinky; they created a system whereby about 10 or 15% of the seats could be flexed in or out for a given show, and the price was quite low.

So, yes, they “sold out” the show, but what did that really mean? Did it mean people loved the show? Goldstar members gave it middling reviews, actually. Did it mean they made a ton of money? I haven’t seen their books, but I’m guessing no. Did it help them leverage the show into productions elsewhere? Possibly, and if that was the strategy, terrific, but it only goes so far, because ultimately the show’s franchise faded. It wasn’t fundamentally strong enough.

Maybe focusing less on “selling out” and focusing more on building a bigger and bigger audience willing to pay more for your tickets (and btw, managing Revenue Per Seat)  would have made a difference in the long term, but that’s not how this group decided to play it.

Bragging about “selling out” when there are so many levers you can manipulate to make it happen is like bragging about straight A’s on your report card when everyone knows that if you wanted to you could take remedial math and that English course where the professor doesn’t believe in grades and anyone who turns in the final term paper gets an A. It’s like bragging that you won a beauty contest where you were the judge.

Instead, worry about building a better product and building a better, stronger connection to an audience that’s going to last.

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