IN: News & Features

The BSO and Those Empty Seats


_bso_200x260A recent review of the BSO featuring Charles Dutoit and Julia Fischer [here] engendered a number of pointed reader comments about empty seats and BSO policies. Suspecting that the comments might be not fully informed, BMInt staff directed them to the attention of BSO management and received policy explanations from Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Kim Noltemy.

“We do our best to make sure every young person who wants to attend a BSO concert can do so through one of the orchestra’s generous discounted-ticket programs, put in place for students from high school age through young professionals up to age 40, and our records indicate that these programs are being used in a very healthy and robust way. During the current 2014-15 season, the BSO has sold between 200 and 500 discounted tickets for every concert except seven.

“More than 15,000 college tickets are available each season; more than 10,000 tickets are available for the $20 ticket program for patrons under 40. Just under a quarter of the BSO’s audience is under 40 years old, showing the success of these programs and the orchestra’s commitment to making attendance affordable for younger patrons. Due to the administrative work associated with the discount programs and the heavy volume of box office traffic before most concerts, we do have a specific policy in place for procuring the tickets; the instructions are clearly outlined on our website and by our box office staff who talk to patrons by phone.

“In addition, the BSO offers rush tickets, of which there are 100 available at $9 each. The BSO can sell only up to 100 of these per concert (a matter of audits and donor reporting), so if we run out, more seats cannot be turned into rush tickets.

“Regarding attendance these past several weeks, during the winter, and especially this winter, the subscriber no-show rate can be as high as 25%, and subscribers do not always let the BSO know that they will not be using their seats. Unfortunately, in these cases empty seats are not resalable.”


6 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Thanks for the information. It’s good to know.

    On evenings when I’m at Symphony Hall (Thursdays) I might guess that the audience is more than 25% under 40. At any rate, it’s good that there are that many young people attending.

    The point about subscribers not turning back tickets they will not be using is well taken.

    It’s understandable that management would not want to slow the lines and delay sales by going through the extra steps needed to sell tickets under the discount programs during the time shortly before a concert. But in the interest of selling as many seats as possible, as well as generating customer good will (and the customer is always right), perhaps some way of relaxing the rules under certain circumstances could be found. For example, if there is a short line (or none), discounted tickets might be sold; or perhaps, at the announced concert time, unsold tickets could be offered to discount program participants, regardless of pre-set per concert limits. People who come during the “blackout hour” for discounted tickets could be shunted aside to wait and see what’s available at 8:00 or 1:30. They may have to wait to be seated at a break in the performance, but it would be better than turning away paying customers.

    I make these comments in a spirit of hearty approval for BSO Management’s creation of the discount programs, and hoping to be helpful in making them increasingly user-friendly and successful.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — March 10, 2015 at 4:41 pm

  2. When I was a student I was a frequent and thankful concertgoer through the student ticket program. Now I am similarly grateful for the $20 under 40 program. However, before I came to Boston I was an undergrad in the Philadelphia area and was incredibly impressed by their student ticket program. Students could reserve tickets in advance online (so much easier than coming in person to the box office!) and instead of getting assigned seats we were escorted as a group into the concert hall about 3 minutes before the concert started and were sat in empty seats. Each week a different number of student tickets were made available based on how sold out the concert was, but even if the show was sold out they made some tickets available because they knew there would always be no shows. If at some point the ticket holder showed up we would have to move to a nearby vacant seat or, if none was available stand to the side with the ushers. I saw a sold out Mahler 8 thorough this program, as well as a sold out performance of Schumann Das Paradies und die Peri conducted by Simon Rattle. During 4 seasons I saw about 10-15 concerts a season and only had to move 10% of the time, and I only had to stand with the ushers once in 4 years. A good opportunity to fill up more empty seats, even if they’ve been sold to someone else.

    Comment by Mark Kharas — March 11, 2015 at 4:01 pm

  3. But there have been obvious blocks of unsold seats that are not scattered as they would be if caused by no-shows. Blocks in the rear orchestra and along the sides not so far back. Blocks of the last rows of both balconies and along the side balconies far from the stage as well.

    I’m less concerned about sales to students and rush tickets than I am about the failure to sell the house. I fear 20th-century marketing doesn’t cut it and the current team may not have what’s required.

    The recent programs led by Denève and Dutoit have been brilliant, both the programming and execution. The empty rows and blocks of seats are a scandal that, based on the statement above, the people responsible fail to recognize.

    Comment by Raymond — March 12, 2015 at 8:38 pm

  4. >> failure to sell the house.

    Can you elaborate on this a bit, with suggestions? If people are not buying a given program and personnel combo, what would be the best thing for an institution to do, do you think?

    >> I fear 20th-century marketing doesn’t cut it and the current team may not have what’s required.

    What’s required, and what marketing would work better, in your view? Everyone wants more people to attend and hear what we all appreciate. What specifically could be different?

    Comment by David Moran — March 13, 2015 at 12:43 am

  5. I started this conversation with my comment that Friday afternoon, so let me now offer a general suggestion. Given the ever-expanding options that “social media” present these days, I would think the BSO could post vie Facebook, Twitter, etc…up-to-date, or up-to-the-minute availability of rush/student tickets even as it gets close to concert time. That way young people, who both read these messages quickly and move quickly could make last minute decisions and get in…

    Comment by tom delbanco — March 13, 2015 at 12:04 pm

  6. all these ticket issue are only on the surface

    Does more free/cheap exposure really nurse more future crowd? I doubt.

    Even many of the musically educated do not love classical music much. Many of them choose to play and listen to jazz, as far as I know.

    What if all of sudden the tix become as hot as and as silly as NCAA?

    In that case, do more people really get deeply attached to for example Beethoven’s late works? I know many of present lovers love them for wrong reasons. Yes, the orchestra will be supported better financially in that case. But does that directly change anything much in music terms?

    On an even deeper level? No doubt, classical music (certain works) is the highest art form? But does that make its performing a high form of art?

    Don’t you realize that majority of the ‘artists’ only repeat what was done before or just claim so-called new insights w/o anything exciting to offer? Are they really more creative than, say, some of the sitcom performers? If one really want music and just music, listening to CDs is a wonderful way. Live sound is not always great, even if sitting in the symphony hall.

    Comment by Thorsten — March 14, 2015 at 6:04 pm

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