Madison Symphony Orchestra—Reach the pinnacle of classical music
Money-back guarantee on season subscription tickets
The Madison (Wis.) Symphony Orchestra was among the first orchestras to develop a 50 percent discount on first-time season subscriptions. This introductory offer has been a successful campaign since it started in the 2000-01 season. New-subscriber acquisitions more than doubled in that initial season, and the campaign continues to be the most successful driving factor in new-subscriber acquisitions.
The 81-year-old MSO makes its home in the new Overture Hall, a relationship that began during the 2004-05 season to critical acclaim. Prior to the move, the MSO had been playing to near-capacity houses and subsequently expanded to three performances of each program ("triples") to accommodate increasing demand. At the same time, the MSO conducted research of fellow orchestras in new facilities. Judging from industry statistics, the MSO budgeted for flat subscription sales during the current season (2006-07), its third year in Overture Hall—suggesting that the novelty of a new hall wears off by the third year. To combat the anticipated "novelty effect," to bolster the already successful 50-percent subscription discount, and to overcome skepticism about the concert experience in the third balcony—which holds more than 650 seats—the MSO began offering a money-back guarantee on third-balcony subscriptions, with the goal of generating 99 new subscriber orders and eclipsing 5,000 total subscriptions during the season, an all-time record for the orchestra.
How it works:
Because subscriptions in the most desirable seats in Overture Hall are near capacity, there are few other locations to place new subscribers, except in the third balcony. Offering music lovers "a 'view from the top' of the new Overture Hall without breaking the bank," the money-back guarantee makes use of the already proven 50-percent discount, while showcasing the excellent acoustics and sweeping views of the third balcony. First-time subscribers can purchase a season of concerts for as low as $9 per concert, up to $22.50 per concert depending on seat location within the third balcony. After the first concert in the subscription series, if a patron does not agree that the seat is a great value, the MSO guarantees a refund of the cost of the tickets remaining in the season-ticket package, as long as the request is made within five business days after the first performance. The guarantee was launched with a multi-media campaign including radio, print, direct mail, and e-marketing.
The MSO’s inaugural season in Overture Hall during 2004-05 seated an unprecedented 4,966 subscriptions. The next season followed with a slight dip of 4,916 subscriptions, yet still exceeded expectations for year two in a new facility. The money-back guarantee started in July, 2006, bringing the number of subscriptions to an all-time high of 4,972—just 28 subscriptions shy of its overall goal of 5,000—with subscriptions still being sold through the month of November. The MSO surpassed its goal of 99 new subscriber orders for the third balcony, taking more than 120 orders (representing approximately 240 subscribers) since the campaign launched. The MSO has not received a single complaint or request for reimbursement as part of the money-back guarantee on third-balcony seats.
When the first-time subscriber discount started in 2000-01 season, new-subscriber renewal rates reached 43 percent, hovering within the industry standard of 40-50 percent. As the 50 percent discount continued, new-subscriber renewal rates have increased, reaching a 64 percent high last season. (Overall renewal rates for the MSO hover between 80-85 percent.) The MSO hopes this high new-subscriber renewal rate, combined with the money-back guarantee, continues as new subscribers see the value of the third balcony.
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