What happens when big data meets classical dance? Judging from Boston Ballet’s record-breaking 2015-16 season, you get a high-tech pas de deux in which audience numbers increase and ticket revenues soar.
Crediting a host of new techniques that include variable pricing, alternating repertoire, and an enhanced social media presence, Boston Ballet is reporting that last season marked the company’s highest attendance levels in more than a decade and its best ticket revenues in the company’s 53-year history.
Boston Ballet’s box office sold 191,000 tickets last season, netting a record $13.8 million and besting its previous record by $1.4 million.
But perhaps equally important is how the sales were distributed: Rather than seesawing between sold-out weekend shows and more sparsely attended weekday performances, Boston Ballet managed to distribute attendance more evenly, selling on average at 75 percent capacity.
“That’s the best we’ve had in Boston Ballet’s history,” said Meredith “Max” Hodges, the company’s executive director.
Borrowing a play from professional sports, the company has developed a set of analytic measures to closely monitor ticket sales — both for individual nights and for specific seating sections. Based on demand, Boston Ballet will dynamically calibrate ticket prices — moving them up or down to spread sales more evenly across all performances.
“We use these tools so that all the houses fill at roughly an even rate,” said Hodges. “So someone who would normally go to a high-priced ticket on a Saturday night might choose to see it on Thursday night. Audience members with flexibility will choose a different performance or a different section, and most often they will come to a different performance where they can get the price they want.”
Hodges added that for the 2015-16 season, the company also experimented with its schedule, alternating performances of artistic director Mikko Nissinen’s “Swan Lake” with the contemporary “Mirrors” program during a five-week run at the end of the season.
While contemporary programs are often less well-attended than classics such as “Swan Lake,” Hodges said the extended schedule enabled Boston Ballet to present added performances of “Swan Lake,” while giving “Mirrors” more time to build audience via media reviews, publicity campaigns, and word-of-mouth recommendations.
“We consider ourselves a ballet company of the future,” she said. “From a mission standpoint we are very interested in building up these evenings of contemporary ballet so they have the same size or bigger audiences than the more recognizable classical ballets.”
Similarly, Boston Ballet has shifted strategies when it comes to marketing, moving away from traditional advertising and concentrating more on expanding its social media presence with a series of behind-the-scenes photos, videos, and blog posts.
Of course, Hodges noted, the ballet’s strategies were only part of the calculation.
“What we put onstage and the artistic quality of our work is the bedrock upon which all of this sits,” she said. “We have these deliberate strategies rooted in data-driven thinking and business intelligence that meaningfully impact the size of the audience, but you’re nowhere without incredible, exuberant art.”