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Operatic discounts incentivized attendants

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I saw my first opera when I was eight. It was rapidly followed by a string of other operas. I became, from a very young age, such a fan that when I was in Chicago for six years as a broke graduate student I always found a way to pay for the least expensive opera subscription. It meant eating a certain amount of oatmeal for dinner, but it was well worth it.

When I had kids, though, I rapidly found that taking my kids to operas and other classical music performances was prohibitively expensive. How had my parents managed it for all those years, for all three kids in our family? I was curious.

It turns out that when I was growing up, my hometown opera company was working hard to build a subscriber base. They knew that young parents struggled to afford a night out at the opera. The cost of tickets was high, and adding the cost of a sitter made things even pricier. As for taking the kids? Forget it! Even at reduced rates, taking a few small children to the opera was expensive. If they didn’t like it, you’d have to leave early and eat the cost of the tickets, and if they couldn’t sit still you’d incur the justified wrath of the other music patrons sitting near you.

So, the opera offered a special series of performances. They were the same operas they performed for regular ticket holders, but scheduled for Sunday afternoons (a time when lots of families are looking for something special to do together). And for every adult subscription you purchased, you could get a child’s subscription for a ridiculously low price. It was a brilliant marketing strategy. Not only did the opera company fill seats for the less desirable Sunday matinees, they incentivized young couples to come to the opera, cloistered their potentially noisy child audience members into particular dates and times (which delighted the traditional classical music audience), and—most importantly—they raised a whole new generation of opera fans.

We got to hear classical music from an early age, at a low financial cost to my parents and with a low probability of any possible wiggliness imposing negative externalities on the rest of the audience. We got to practice being good audience members, and we got to educate our musical palates.

I’ve been telling my friends in the arts about that gimmick for years. And I’ve been waiting to see it repeated.

Yesterday I got a flyer in my mailbox from my local symphony. They’re running a Sunday family series of classical concerts designed for kids. With every adult subscription, you get a free child’s subscription. They’re even throwing in a free pair of adult tickets to one other classical performance.

I waited to write this post until after I paid for my subscription. If you’re looking for us on Sundays, you’ll find us at the symphony.


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