Why Selling Out Is So Important in Live Entertainment

Every seat that isn’t sold means that the revenue needed from all the other seats gets that much higher. “Empty House,” © 2009 B Rosen, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license.

Every seat that isn’t sold means that the revenue needed from all the other seats gets that much higher. “Empty House,” © 2009 B Rosen, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license.

In the live entertainment and arts business, selling out is urgent. It has short and long-term strategic implications for venues and producers as well as the industry overall.

Partly, this is because of the financial structure of most live entertainment: The costs are almost all “fixed.” That means that regardless of how many people buy tickets to a show or event, the costs to deliver that show are very nearly the same. One person could show up, or 400 could show up, and the amount of money the venue or producer has to spend to make the show happen is basically the same.

So in a very direct and real way, every seat that isn’t sold means that the revenue needed from all the other seats gets that much higher.

If live entertainment as an industry were drowning in money, we might be able to demote this issue to the B list.

We can’t demote it to the B list. Live entertainment overall sells at a rate of about 60%, which is awfully close to the break-even point for most shows and events. That leaves the industry very little margin of error.

Some people may say that’s simply how it is. I reject that because we know that people want ways to entertain themselves, to leave their homes for a good reason, and that they’re willing to spend more and more to see a live show, game, performance or other event.

Every marketer of every live entertainment and arts production should have a powerful sense of the importance of selling everything they can possibly sell. "Rockettes 1," © 2009 Penn State, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license.

Every marketer of every live entertainment and arts production should have a powerful sense of the importance of selling everything they can possibly sell. “Rockettes 1,” © 2009 Penn State, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license.

My call is that people in the business take the task of selling everything they can possibly sell more seriously. Many people, of course, do take this very seriously and are excellent at it. Others have a mindset that we set a “realistic” goal for a given show and if we hit that realistic goal (which has already been adjusted downward), we stop worrying about selling more. The tickets that get sold above “goal” represent resources. Resources that can be used by the organization or producer to be better, in whatever way that organization defines better.

Maybe an even more important reason that people in our business should be focused on selling out is that for every person who is NOT there, but who might have been, it’s one less experience of an event. Each of those experiences has long-lasting value. Impressions get formed that didn’t previously exist. Habits start with a single action. Hundreds of people who would have been at a show (but weren’t) represent hundreds of potential lifelong patrons, fans, word-spreaders, testifiers and advocates.

But if they’re not there, they won’t be any of those things.

I was just imagining what it would be like if part of marketing’s job in a live venue was to fill every empty seat with a life-size mannequin during the show, and then put all those mannequins away at the end. It’s a weird thought, but in this strange scenario I’ve envisioned, those responsible for selling the show would experience the lost opportunity very personally. If sales were really bad, they’d be putting the dummies away for hours. If they sold out, they’d have an easy night.

Make no mistake: The content (the show, the event, etc.) is critical, and not every show is going to succeed. But every marketer of every live entertainment and arts production should have a powerful sense of the importance of selling everything they can possibly sell. It’s a mission well worth accepting. You’re bringing the people and the resources to your organization to make it all possible.

And that makes you a bit of a hero, don’t you think?

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