Case Study

Case Study | Audience Churn and Retention

November 06, 2017

JCA Arts Marketing reached out to over 100 performing arts organizations in the US to see if we could spot trends in churn and retention across the performing arts industry. We received back data from 40 organizations of varying genres, budget sizes, and regions. Here is how those figures broke down:

What is churn?

Churn, as we define it, is the percentage turnover of your customers each year. To calculate that figure, we take the number of customers who didn’t return in a year divided by the total number of customers from the previous year. Example: If you have 100 patrons in 2016 and 30 of them didn’t return in 2017, your churn rate is 30%.

Of the 40 organizations we analyzed, the average churn rate last year was 66%. Two-thirds of audiences aren’t returning each year.

What is Retention?

Retention, as we define it, is the percentage of people who return from one year to the next.

Two years ago the average retention rate across all organizations was 47%. That increased just slightly last year to 48% on average. This means that over half of your audiences each year are entirely new. However, that 1% increase in retention is due to performing art centers (PACs) and orchestras.

It’s fascinating to note that the genre with the highest retention rates, opera, was the only one to see a decrease in retention on average. However, when we look at churn percentages, dance and PACs have the highest churn, while opera has the lowest:

This tells us there are significantly more new people attending dance and PACs who do not return the following year. That said, the increase in PAC’s retention shows they’re doing an increasingly better job of getting those people to return.

Regionally, churn is highest in the South at 73% and lowest in the Midwest at 59%:


Additionally, larger organizations ($30M or more) struggle more with churn and retention. Organizations with operating budgets under $30M seem to be experiencing similar amounts of churn:

Ultimately, our findings show that there are only slight differences among genres, budget sizes, and geography. This tells us that the biggest way to increase your revenue and fill your houses, across the entire industry, is to get people to come back year to year. In particular, if you’re able to focus efforts on increasing retention of those 50%+ people who are new to your organization in a year, that can help reduce churn significantly. 

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.