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Ticketing Ideas for Church Concert Series

As we prepare to launch 2012, we're seeking fresh wisdom on our approach to concert ticketing.  I'll mention a few areas of interest, but feel free to offer your own anecdotes, successes, etc.
 
* Have you made effective use of an on-line ticketing service? Which one? (I have not been able to successfully get our folks to do this!  I would *love* to be 100% on line to avoid the in-house administration, but ...)
 
* Do you see some advantage of using on-line ticket printing vs. designing and printing in-house?
 
* If so, how have you convinced your folks to buy on line?
 
* Pros and cons of reserved vs. open seating
 
* Have you done open seating with a premium reserved section of some sort?  What was required for people to get those seats?  What perks did you offer?
 
* Have you managed tickets both in your church office and off-site?  How have you kept track?
 
* If you do paid concerts, do you simply have people pay at the door and avoid the paper ticket altogether? Do you prefer this?
 
Thanks for these and any other ideas!
 
 
on October 19, 2011 10:24am
This goes in the "other ideas" category: look into using Square to take credit cards at the door. It's a little box which plugs into an iPhone, iPad, or Android phone, and you're good to go. There's no upfront cost (even the box is free) or minimum charges, the software makes it easy to preprogram your ticket prices, and the percent cut is competitive. Customers sign on-screen with their fingers, and optionally can be emailed a receipt. But Square doesn't handle online sales — only card swipes.
 
Both my church and my community choir have been using it for their concert series, and everybody's been very happy with it. Obviously you lose 2.75% compared to cash, but concert-goers love the convenience. (Online selling will always cost more because the potential for fraud is greater.)
on October 20, 2011 5:59am
First question to resolve is which is more effective - a free-will offering (suggested donation amount) or making it a ticketed event.  The main benefit to using a free-will offering is virtually no administrative hassle up front.  It requires some infrastructure DURING the event to make an effective 'ask,' but if done effectively, chances are good that the final outcome will be comparable to what you'd make through ticket sales.  Do NOT expect people to 'donate' at the door.  If you ask for a love offering, it must be taken during the event with the plate being passed to everyone in attendance.
 
That said, if you are sure that tickets are the way to go, I recommend brownpapertickets.com (based in Seattle).  They're SUBSTANTIALLY less expensive than Ticket Master, and very user friendly.  For ticketed events, there's usually a high value on advance sales:  helps w/ cash flow, builds momentum, helps w/ planning, shorter lines in the lobby.  To create incentive to buy in advance, there has to be some benefit - typically either a discounted price or priority seating.  In my experience, tiered pricing served more as a DISincentive to show up on the day of the concert than it was an incentive for purchasing in advance.  More effective has been the guarantee of priority seating.  Reserved individual seats in pews is tricky - doable, but fussy, and probably not worth the effort - either in the upfront administration, nor on the day of the event w/ ushering, etc.  Instead, we've developed a system of marking a limited number of priority seats that are available only with advance purchase.  Then, it's great publicity to announce that all the priority seats have been sold, but general admission tickets will be available on the night of the concert.  In order to avoid the disincentive of buying online (and incurring credit card charges, handling fees, etc. - which, BTW, are pretty cheap through BPT), we've chosen to eat the cost, but to limit the number of online sales to a few dozen.  Our sanctuary seats 400; we ask for 100 'priority seats' to be pre-printed for us in bulk (for $.10 per ticket) that we sell at the church without a handling charge.  For the consumer, there's no financial difference if they buy it at the church or online, but the church keeps 100% of the face value for tickets sold on site.
 
There are a variety of ways to handle the general admin. tickets.  BPT can print those in bulk also; however, it's convenient for the general admin. tickets to look a little different from the advance purchase tickets, in case the ushers need to 'police' the priority section.
 
Best of luck!
on October 20, 2011 2:38pm
I have a loft for my pipe organ. Something I did a few years ago was offer a higher price for patrons to sit in the loft, right next to the pipes and watch my feet on the pedalboard.  Other tickets were sold for seating in the pews in the nave. 
on October 22, 2011 6:06pm
I recently signed an agreement with Ticket Turtle for my high school choirs, and I used to use Etix for an art song festival I ran once up on a time.  All of the online ticketing companies will work fine for you, but I have found that they tend to be a little more geared to one part of the ticketing market than the others - some are really great for county fairs, others for rock concerts, etc. Ticket Turtle's niche is small to medium arts organizations and schools, and I'm very pleased with the service I've received from them.

Do you see some advantage of using on-line ticket printing vs. designing and printing in-house?
 
There are many advantages.  Basically, I can run a choir and the ticketing agency takes care of the ticketing.  What's not to like like about that?  Who wants to hassle with the administration that goes along with conventional tickets?
 
Specific advantages for online ticketing include: The system captures data for buyers (mailing addresses, emails) that I can import and use to market future concerts.  Most of the ticket income is deposited automatically straight into our booster account, and we don't have to hassle with the accounting.  We have several options for running credit card transactions depending on the venue (writing it out manually and entering it online after the show, card swiping, etc.)  We can design the look of the printed ticket to include advertising opportunities for sponsors.  You can do discount codes (for instance, I'm offering a discount to my feeder school families). The system has an option to ask the buyer who referred them, so I can keep track of how many tickets were sold by each student (the way I use this feature is that I told the students that if they sold at least six tickets online, half of the price of those tickets would go towards their trip fee).  The list goes on, the bottom line is that it doesn't cost me anything and costs the ticket buyers very little.  It's really a no-brainer for school choirs, and probably most concertizing church choirs.
 
If so, how have you convinced your folks to buy on line?
 
They don't have the option to do otherwise.  Our tickets are only available online, or at the door.  
 
Why haven't you been able to convince your people to use an online service?  Could you get them to try it just once and see how it goes?  They will be convinced.
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