Case Study

The New Seat Map: How JCA Clients Re-scaled Their Theatres During the Pandemic

Jennifer Sowinski

Consulting 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.
October 18, 2021

Over the past year and a half while performing arts organizations were closed, many took the opportunity to spend time examining their operations and making changes. Some organizations underwent renovations in their physical spaces, others overhauled their subscription program, some partook in research to change their marketing strategies, and some changed their pricing and price zone structure.

Re-zoning and re-scaling projects can be an intimidating undertaking, especially when they disrupt the seats of loyal subscribers. But with subscribers’ routines already upended thanks to the pandemic, the closure was an ideal time for many organizations to make these changes.

The team at JCA Arts Marketing has years of experience in creating and implementing new seat maps, so we’re experts at recognizing when changes might upset subscribers (and when it’s still worth making the change), where to watch for pitfalls, and how to design maps to get an optimal house fill. Plus, projects that result in a new pricing structure and zone map happen to be some of our favorites to work on!

The most exciting thing about re-zoning projects is that each one is unique. There’s no magic formula that works for every client or every project. To get the seat map right, we take into account not only what the data says, but also what the organization’s staff communicate about their goals for the future. Here are just a few of the new zone maps we’ve helped to implement over the past two years.

Ballet Arizona – More Premium Seats for The Nutcracker

Like most ballet companies, Ballet Arizona sees a very different sales pattern for their production of The Nutcracker than they do for the rest of their productions. JCA Arts Marketing completed a pricing study for Ballet Arizona in 2019, which included updated pricing and a new recommended zone map. As part of our recommendations, we created a separate map just for The Nutcracker which included extra seats at the highest prices to maximize revenue from high demand performances.

Seattle Rep – Renovated Venue with Micro-zones

During the pandemic closure, Seattle Rep underwent a renovation of their hall, making the venue more accessible and modern. The renovation also reduced the overall capacity of the hall, so staff at Seattle Rep, together with JCA Arts Marketing were tasked with finding the right balance of prices to provide accessibility while still generating as much revenue as possible. The zone map that JCA Arts Marketing recommended for Seattle Rep includes “micro-zones” in the balcony, so that staff can easily switch seats from a lower price to a higher price, or vice-versa, depending on demand. Seattle Rep staff will be making these adjustments in stages, beginning with the rollover of subscribers into the new seat map, and phasing in micro-zones over time.

Oregon Symphony – Simplifying Price Points

Oregon Symphony staff recognized in 2019 that their seat map was not meeting the demand of their current audience. So, JCA Arts Marketing completed a pricing study with the goal of setting new prices and a new zone map for the following season. Recommendations from the pricing study included a reduction in the number of different prices in the house, as well as a new zone map that more closely matched the pattern of demand. The pandemic delayed implementation of the new pricing structure and zone map, but staff are finally implementing the changes for the upcoming 2021-22 season. Staff discussed delaying the changes further into 2022-23, to get past the immediate re-opening period, but ultimately everyone agreed that with all of the other tumult audience members are facing right now, a new seat map introduction wouldn’t rock the boat any further.

Small Performing Arts Center – A Focus on Equity

This organization recently underwent a renovation of their venue that nearly doubled the capacity. The new hall also offered multiple configurations for staff to choose from, depending on the needs of the production. As JCA was working with the organization’s staff to create a price and zone structure for the new hall, one key factor emerged. It is extremely important to the organization that a low priced ticket be offered for accessibility purposes. And, to ensure equity and inclusion, it was imperative that those seats not be relegated to the back corners of the house, or that they be only available in the mezzanine. So, JCA Arts Marketing staff used that input as a vital criteria when building zone recommendations, keeping low priced seats in the front of the house.

In Conclusion

Your zone map and price structure are critical tools for managing revenue and influencing audience behavior. If they’re not optimized, you’re almost certainly missing out on revenue opportunities. Plus, old zone maps can lead to a house with awkward empty spaces, which can be uncomfortable for patrons. So, if there are areas of your house that are consistently hard to fill, zones that are always sold out, or if it’s been more than five years since you’ve made any updates to your map—it’s time to consider a re-zoning project.

If you do want to undertake a re-zoning and re-scaling project, JCA Arts Marketing is here to help! We can do the work now so that you’ll be prepared for next season. With customizable projects that meet your needs, we can complete a re-zoning or re-scaling project, a pricing study, or more to help you achieve your goals.

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