Case Study

Case Study | How Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company Leads the Way in Radical Pricing

Jennifer Sowinski Nemeth

Senior Consultant & Analyst

Jennifer enjoys working with arts and culture clients to help them increase revenue and grow audience through data-driven strategies including pricing studies, venue re-scaling, customer behavior analyses, and segmentation.
February 10, 2022

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company (Woolly) located in Washington, DC has always been a home for radical thinking onstage and off—it’s only natural that the organization is also an industry leader of Radical Pricing. Woolly staff have introduced two new Radical Pricing strategies over the past two years: an expanded Pay What You Will (PWYW) program, and a new loyalty program called the Golden Ticket. Over the past season, JCA Arts Marketing has been working closely with the Woolly team on marketing and pricing initiatives and we’re excited to share the results.

History of PWYW at Woolly

Woolly began their first PWYW program in 1987 with the goal of making their theater financially accessible. The program helped build one of the youngest and most diverse theater audiences in the city. For many years, the first two preview performances for each production were entirely PWYW, with audiences lining up outside the building to purchase tickets two hours before show time. In 2017, staff moved PWYW ticketing to TodayTix, a digital ticketing platform, which brought the program into the modern era and removed a barrier for those who couldn’t stand outside in a long line.

Bringing PWYW into Today

During the 2021-22 Season, in alignment with the organization’s values and mission, the Woolly team expanded the PWYW program to include 28 seats for every performance. These seats are not in a dedicated area of the house, but rather are scattered throughout the venue, so that those who aren’t able to pay high prices are still able to experience great seats. The response to the expanded program has been overwhelmingly positive. PWYW preview performances continued to sell out for the 2021-22 season, as they had in the past. In addition, Woolly sold almost all available PWYW tickets for their most recent production, A Strange Loop.

Season 42: 2021-22. Teenage Dick: Single Tickets: 1,336 - Average Paid $32.17 and Pay What You Will Tickets 312 - Average Paid $8.42. A Strange Loop: Single Tickets: 5,214 - Average Paid $54.49 and Pay What You Will Tickets: 777 - Average Paid $11.78

Staff are also learning and adjusting the program as the season progresses. For the first production of the season, the average PWYW ticket sold for $8.42. Displaying a low entry point was important in order to align with the organization’s values, so they provided a default price on the website of $1. For the second production, they kept the $1 default price, but—following a recommendation from JCA Arts Marketing—added language that “the average full-price ticket is $35.” As a result, they saw their PWYW ticket yield rise to $11.78.

Selling tickets throughout the run at these low prices may seem counterintuitive to a strong revenue management strategy, but staff at Woolly are also very diligent in their other revenue maximization tactics. They use the RMA to make dynamic pricing decisions, and—on that same production that sold 777 tickets at an average yield of $11.78—Woolly also made an extra $42,000 by raising prices on other seats in the house, where patrons were willing and able to pay more.

Radical Loyalty: The Golden Ticket

The Golden Ticket was conceptualized pre-pandemic for the 2020-21 season. Woolly staff knew that they had a high number of repeat single-ticket buyers. They were looking for a way to draw in new subscribers by making theatre more on-demand and flexible, while also increasing the loyalty of those patrons who were already coming to multiple performances each year. And so, the Golden Ticket was born. The Golden Ticket operates as an all-access pass. One flat fee grants unlimited access to any performance, meaning that a Golden Ticket holder can see a production as many times as they want, picking dates and seats that are convenient to them. Unlike a traditional subscription, they are not locked into one specific day or into only seeing it once.

The most radical part of the Golden Ticket is that it’s offered at two price points, with buyers having the option to choose whichever price works for them. There is no difference in the product at the two price points, the only difference is how much someone is willing or able to pay.

Golden Ticket Sales. 28% Accessible Price. 72% Full Price

In practice, Woolly found that 72% of Golden Ticket buyers purchased the full-price Golden Ticket, with the remaining 28% choosing the accessible price. They also found that, for their most recent production, 9% of Golden Ticket holders took advantage of the option to see the performance more than once.

What’s Next for The Golden Ticket

When it comes to the future of the Golden Tickets in 2022-23 and beyond, staff at Woolly recognize some challenges they’ll continue to address. The initial conversion rate from traditional subscribers to Golden Tickets was not as high as hoped, but as the program launched during the pandemic, they’re optimistic about subscriber participation in future seasons. In addition, there are communication challenges that come with launching any new program. Woolly is working diligently to ensure Golden Ticket holders know how and when to book tickets, and how to take advantage of the new flexibility. Finally, staff hope that the new program will provide the opportunity to continue selling well into the season, since Golden Tickets hold their value longer into the season than traditional subscriptions.

The Radical Pricing Journey

Overall, staff at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company have dubbed their Radical Pricing initiatives a success. The expanded PWYW offerings have provided increased access to more audience members, and they expect the program to continue its growth. The Golden Ticket has shown that loyal audience members value their experience with the organization, and—given the choice—are willing to pay for that experience. The Golden Ticket will certainly evolve with the organization as they look for ever new ways to offer Radical Pricing.

JCA Arts Marketing can help you use your ticketing data to craft an effective pricing strategy, optimized for revenue and access and leveraging the concept of Radical Pricing. Let us help you.

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