Whatever it is you sell, training your audience not to buy unless there’s a 50% off sale going is not good business.
What you want to be is a brand like Apple, where people line up around the block and clamor to buy cell phones for $1000 a piece.
Of course, to get people to pay full or premium price takes skill. You have to have a good product on offer. And you have to know how to market it.
So why does a place like Portland Center Stage have a permanent half off sale going for any show? To marketers with half a brain, this simply cannibalizes the market. Why would you subscribe to a theatre season if you know you can always get tickets for close to free last minute? If you keep an eye on Goldstar, you know that if there’s a show on at PCS, tickets will be in the booth for 50% off all the time. Simply being listed in the company of this show graveyard is not good for the brand.
Why does PCS do this? Why can’t PCS sell tickets for $100 a pop like Oregon Shakespeare Festival? Why can’t PCS sell tickets for more than about $25? Is it because the shows are no good? That’s part of it. But part of it may simply be that they have trained people to think that theatre isn’t worth much. And having picked up on that theme, now PCS and other large theatres without unique brands are in a pickle. Also, as theatres become ever more detached from actual ticket sales, the important metrics to show funders and foundations are attendance. No one seems to care if a theatre is in the red. But if an argument can be made that the theatre is “serving the community”, well then it seems like it’s worth subsidizing.
Of course it costs money to put on shows in a place like PCS, with all the absurd overhead and unions. So if tickets go for cheap to the end consumer, who makes up the difference? You do, my dear People’s Republic of Portland comrade. It’s one bail out after another, via PDC or arts tax, to keep the leviathan of PCS afloat.
In the real world this ship would have been scuttled long ago. But she keeps drifting along, practically giving away tickets while receiving zillions of dollars in grants to help leadership “find an audience”.
News flash: There’s not much of an audience for the kind of mediocre fare PCS loves. But make the best of it. At least if you have to go to shows there, you know it won’t cost much.