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Introducing a series: “Will Call: The Art and Challenge of Ticket Sales in the Age of Groupon.” Installments will follow in the coming days and weeks.

It used to be a lot harder to snag a performing arts deal. Students had to appear at box offices at odd hours on the day of a show, praying seats were left. Broadway fans braved Times Square crowds and, occasionally, attitudes, for hours, just for a shot at a half-price seat. And in San Diego, fans hoped to find a steal at the Arts Tix booth for the show they wanted to see.

Today, buying discounted tickets is as easy as sitting at a computer, mulling Groupon or Goldstar offers, and reaching for your credit card. For consumers, it’s a dream come true — not to mention the only way people who can’t afford full-price tickets can see these shows and exhibits. For arts organizations, the benefits are more dubious. LivingSocial, Daily Deals, Google Offers and the legions of Groupon imitators make it easier than ever to fill auditoriums. But for how long, and at what cost?

In a series for voiceofsandiego.org, I’ll be exploring the art and challenge of ticket sales in the age of distraction.

How do these daily deal sites affect art institutions’ bottom lines? How are they changing — or reflecting — consumer behavior? Retailers are ambivalent about these programs, since they can hurt revenues and tax their staff and facilities. Is it any different for arts institutions? Given the tough economic climate — donations dwindling, grants thinning, organizations laying off staff or even filing for bankruptcy — are these sites helping boost revenues?

My aim is to interview a dozen or so arts institutions in San Diego, from small theater companies to large museums. If you haven’t heard from me and want to be interviewed, please reach me at roxana.popescu.@gmail.com.

The series will open a window into the interesting differences in the way these groups operate. Most arts groups rely on a certain mix of ticket sales, donations and other revenue. It’s going to be challenging to examine the financial setups and internet marketing tactics of organizations in different categories, each with widely varying budgets, calendars, expenses and revenue streams. Some, like the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, earn money from ticket sales, but also special events, venue rentals and development. To supplement ticket income, the San Diego Opera does things like renting out sets and costumes. But both have used Groupon or Goldstar, to varying degrees of success.

And hey, here’s another question: How do each of these organizations define success? A full house? Hitting a certain revenue target? Keeping key donors satisfied so money flows in next year?

In my next post, there are two things I want to understand: How do these institutions set ticket prices to begin with? And when someone is paying $2, or $20, or $200 for a ticket, how much of a performance or exhibit’s costs does that fee cover?

Next post: Ticket pricing 101.

In the meantime, if you have any questions you’d like me to explore, please leave a comment below.

Roxana Popescu is a San Diego arts writer. You can reach her directly at roxana.popescu@gmail.com.

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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