Growing Attendance for Ballet, the Performing Arts

BY Courtney Huckabay
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Audiences for major art forms ranging from opera to ballet are aging, creating fears of empty seats and depleted coffers in the future. But a synthesis of market research conducted for 25 performing arts organizations that are part of a Wallace Foundation initiative offers clues that might help change this picture.

Clearer Communication of Price and Benefits of Attendance Could Help Bring In Younger Audiences

Several barriers keep this group from the arts, The Wallace Foundation found, including misperceptions about ticket prices, a lack of awareness of arts organizations, busy schedules and other leisure events that compete for their time.

It may be possible for arts organizations to overcome these barriers, The Foundation's research found.

Knowing more about the Ballet/​Artistic Dance Performance Attendee audience is one way to overcome barriers and grow audience size. The latest AudienceSCAN survey revealed only 8.4% of Americans plan to attend a ballet or other live artistic dance performance in the next 12 months, and 27.4% of them fall into the coveted millennial age bracket.

Among the ideas organizations could consider:

  • Be clear about pricing. Many millennials assume that tickets cost more than they actually do.
  • Clearly communicate the benefits of the arts. Millennials report seeking experiences that challenge them emotionally and intellectually, encourage self-​discovery, and offer them a release from the stresses of everyday life. Arts organizations could convince millennials to attend performances if they highlighted these aspects of the arts.
  • Create social experiences. Millennials appear to value events that allow them to attend in groups and interact with their peers.
  • Focus on “buzz-​worthiness.” Younger audiences are attracted to experiences others will like and share on social media.

Ballet companies and other dance companies can use these bullet points in their advertising campaigns. The most recent AudienceSCAN study found 62% of attendees took action after seeing ads on a social networks in the past year.

Ballet Austin uses market research to learn more about what is and is not working. The data they collected challenged their assumptions on the nature of barriers to bringing in new audiences, particularly for less traditional work.

The initial assumption within the organization was that patrons would move along a “familiarity continuum” from well-​known, narrative works (like The Nutcracker) to more contemporary, non-​narrative pieces by less-​familiar choreographers.

Dance marketers should be encouraged to avoid these kinds of assumptions. Instead, try new avenues and strategies to educate and inform Ballet Attendees. Emailed ads and newsletters can help accomplish this. According to AudienceSCAN research, 63% of Ballet Attendees took action after receiving these in the past year.

In 2015, Ballet Austin began a six-​year project to study what factors influenced attendance among single-​ticket buyers. Using surveys, focus groups, and ticketing database analyses, the staff found that encouraging more attendance was less about increasing audience familiarity with particular ballet productions and more about bridging what they called an “uncertainty gap”—helping audiences feel comfortable with the experience they were about to have.

As a result of the research, Ballet Austin ended some programs and developed others that more effectively bridged that gap. For example, the company stopped live-​streaming dress rehearsals and, instead, launched Ballet-​o-​mania! Interactive Discovery Lounge, a pre-​performance display that allows patrons to learn more about the works they are about to see on stage.

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to AdMall for Agencies, or with the SalesFuel API. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the AudienceSCAN Reports in AdMall.