Ask Me Anything: The Hamilton Problem

February 04, 2019

“We’re fortunate to have Hamilton as part of our subscription season this year, but now it’s time for renewals for the 2019-20 season and we’re concerned that audience drop-off will have an impact on our sales goals. What can we do to increase retention?


There are a few things you can count on in the arts, such as: audience churn is going to happen, oncers are not your best customers, and Hamilton is going to boost subscription and single ticket numbers and sell out. It’s how you understand all of this and use it for your benefit that will ensure a successful path for moving forward. This scenario is an anomaly, as no other show in recent history has reached this level of global awareness.

Churn is when a customer (guest, subscriber, member, single ticket buyer, etc.) stops interacting with a business. Churn is an inevitable part of the life cycle of a living, breathing arts organization. People move, lose interest, have children, financial situations change, and an infinite number of other reasons come into play. Typically, you can expect to see audience churn range from approximately 60-70% every season (meaning that 60-70% of the audience doesn’t return in the next season). When you separate out oncers and analyze their churn, you could see a range of 80-90%.

Oncers—those who attend one time, most likely to celebrate a special event or see one hit show (Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, The Book of Mormon, Les Miserables, Phantom)—are universally the least loyal customer at any place of business. To increase engagement, we typically recommend focusing efforts on getting customers to return just one additional time. Rather than pounce on a ticket buyer, asking them to subscribe or donate after their one-off attendance, retention efforts are better spent one step at a time: nudging works better than shoving.

What Hamilton has done is increase attendance across every Broadway show in a touring house’s season. People who would normally attend one time, are now attending 6-8 times in one year and are now a different type of oncer. Churn can be headed off by smart marketing messaging in-season and an engagement strategy that showcases your nonprofit. You have a chance to message to a large number of new or reactivated customers about other shows/concerts/events that happen throughout the year, as well as your mission, your education programs, etc.

Segmenting this audience will be key in moving forward and trying to get them to come back. You can’t speak to them like traditional oncers and you can’t treat them like hot subscription or donor leads. Don’t make assumptions about these people leaving or staying. Use what data you have to see what, if any, these customers’ past buying behavior looks like. Check your scanned ticket data to see if these new subscribers even attended the other shows in their package—maybe they actually only attended Hamilton! You can also append your data with demographic information such as age, wealth, geographic location, education, household size, etc. to find look-alike customers within the “Hamiloncers” and your own subscriber or single ticket buyer base, crafting targeted messaging that meets them where they are.

The key is to make data-driven decisions that incorporate several layers of analysis to craft targeted and informed messaging. If you’re on Tessitura, using the Segmentation Engine can help you identify and tag constituent records to easily compile a list by extracting the right customer from within your database. (You can also do this if you’re not on Tessitura, it will just take some more time to analyze and tag the data). A deeper dive can be done with a customer behavior analysis to track your constituents’ ticket buying behavior over time and identify opportunities for growing revenue and attendance.

If this has piqued your interest, contact us today to continue the conversation.


JCA Arts Marketing collaborates with cultural organizations to increase revenue, boost attendance and membership, and grow patron loyalty. We provide consulting and software services to hundreds of cultural institutions across multiple genres, including dance, museums, opera, performing arts centers, symphony, and theatre. We can help you achieve your marketing goals.