Navigating the Secondary Market

May 4, 2016


Photo courtesy of Esther Dyson

I’ve been involved in the performing arts industry for over 20 years, first working the theater circuit in my youth before joining AudienceView and eventually becoming the Director of Product Marketing. As much as I love the industry, it’s been frustrating for me to see how theater companies have adjusted to the growing presence of the secondary market, especially when it comes to appeasing their most important subscribers. Good shows have a tendency to sell out quickly, which means that the best seats can be found on websites like StubHub, SeatGeek, and GetMeIn, posted by ticket buyers who care more about profiting off a show than seeing it. That’s the way the free market was set up to work, and that’s fine for the patron who goes to blockbuster events like The Book of Mormon or Hamilton. But is there a way that performing arts companies can take advantage of the secondary market without impacting long-time subscribers?

The best way to navigate the secondary market is to get ahead of would-be scalpers. This can be done by offering up the first block of on-sale tickets and making them exclusive to subscribers. This way you reward the patrons who have supported you at length, thus keeping the segment most important to the lifeblood of your organization happy. The theatrical production company SHN in San Francisco has done just that with their upcoming production of Hamilton, giving a pre-sale code exclusively to subscribers. This preferential treatment will also cause sporadic patrons to see the value in becoming a subscriber, helping you develop a stronger relationship with fairweather patrons. 

The other way to navigate the secondary market is to become a player within it. By listing extra inventory on a site like StubHub and SeatGeek, an organization can ensure that any costs associated with the sell of the ticket are going back into the production, instead of into the pocket of a ticket prospector.

Sports have figured out a way to make the most of the secondary market by following these examples. Season tickets are made available to subscribers who might be interested in attending another year’s worth of events, and exclusive packages are targeted to those who have a record of attending games. Sports organizations have also found a way to work with secondary markets by selling overflow inventory directly on sites like StubHub, SeatGeek, and GetMeIn, which are on the way to becoming the first online destination people look to when trying to secure a ticket.

The secondary market can be a legitimate sales channel if you’re posting your own inventory on it and ensuring that revenue trickles back to the production. As long as it’s controlled and you’re able to anticipate the automatic bots that will scoop up some choice tickets before the general public has a chance, performing arts organizations can use this market as another way to drive revenue and increase attendance.

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