Chance to catch up on some important threads, including the disturbing Baker Richards puff which has damaged the credibility of the Royal Opera House.
I’m more than happy to support the aim:
‘increasing earned income, while at the same time becoming more approachable to a wider audience.’
There are pressures on grants giving organisations like the Arts Council and I can quite understand the desirability of ensuring grant receiving organisations are accessible.
Turning to what is said about pricing, for a consultancy that emphasises the importance of data and analysis, it seems very weak to state without any quantification:
‘ROH confidently reduced some prices while increasing others, and raising the overall financial capacity of the venue.’
When Swan Lake prices were published there were a number of comments on the Forum with a lot of complaints about the steep increases in prices for some tickets, including the moving of tranches of tickets into higher price categories - a double whammy. I recall that some tickets were moved to a lower price category but those identified were Orchestra Stalls extreme sides (e.g. A1 and A2). So a handful of Stalls tickets were cheaper for Swan Lake than for Nutcracker but as far as I’m aware just a handful of still relatively expensive tickets.
It seems deliberately misleading to choose a formulation ‘ROH confidently reduced some prices while increasing others’ which gives an impression of balance in its approach to pricing. That is then contradicted by the concluding statement ‘raising the overall financial capacity’, where the net effect is an increase in ticket sales so there has to be an overall increase in prices. It also disguises the point that price reductions were for a handful of still relatively expensive seats and my understanding is that the most significant percentage increases were for relatively cheap seats. And of course matinee prices are no longer discounted.
It would be interesting to see how many seats were reduced in price, by how much and where, or the average price and average reduction for those seats reduced in price, with similar analysis for those seats where the price increases. But there’s nothing presented, just the lazy ‘ROH reduced some prices while increasing others’ - so much for the ‘data led, evidenced based approach’ lauded by Baker Richards.
Moving to the statements which have caused most offence:
Baker Richards: ‘ROH was relying on a small core of extremely frequent customers (though not always very high value in terms of ticket yield or donations) to sell the majority of tickets.’
Again there’s remarkably little quantification on this and others have highlighted that the majority of the audience are far from being frequent customers. A public document is quoted stating 70% of the ROH audience are single-timers. So are most tickets going to frequent customers or are most of the audience single-timers? The Baker Richards article sheds no light on this despite claiming the importance of data analysis.
I’m afraid Lucy Sinclair’s quotes are awful however many times I read them:
“We need to accept the difficult reality that making more tickets available to new audiences sometimes means that the frequency of attendance of regular customers might need to reduce.
This is an incredibly delicate balance, where we need to increase price just enough to reduce frequency of attendance without reducing income or being exploitative. We can only embark on such a strategy with a really sophisticated understanding of the behaviour of our customers.”
Where there is massive demand for tickets for certain productions/performers, the Royal Opera House has operated limits on ticket numbers when priority opens. But here Lucy Sinclair seems to suggest pricing can be used to discourage regular customers and those tickets no longer purchased by regular customers would then be available for new customers who would be happy to pay the higher prices. Once tickets are available for sale it’s very much a free market and customers can chose to make their purchases without restriction. I can't help but wonder if Baker Richards’ throwaway comment about frequent customers not always generating ‘very high value in terms of ticket yield or donations’ is telling - it certainly reveals a contempt for loyal audience members.
Finally, I thought it illuminating to see in print the rationale for cutting back on print marketing (although not for the Open Up brochure) and the primacy of digital marketing:
‘The last year has seen big changes to the ROH’s overall marketing approach, again driven by data. This has meant a radical reduction in spend on paid-for media (press, radio, outdoor, printed brochures), where results can’t be tracked, and instead focussing virtually all investment on digital marketing, where return on investment can be closely monitored.’
It seems ease of data analysis is the key. But I do get tired of assertions of a ‘data-led, evidence-based approach’. Would anyone advocate the converse - ‘data free, non evidenced’? In which case the claims are pretty pointless and to me draw attention to the lightweight nature of the article with its lack of proper analysis of pricing and audience make up but which sadly has had such damaging consequences.
For my part I am delighted to remain a Friend, Baton Associate and attend performances at the Royal Opera House, even more so when able to book 'our named seats', use the shop for books/DVDs, and encourage friends to go. But I sincerely hope the Royal Opera House looks again at its handling of all this and really does learn important lessons.
With apologies to Capybara and I will be delighted to turn to thoughts on Mayerling.