Who Sits Where: a glimpse at how we assign subscriber seating

By Barry Kempton

Today’s post is written by Tessa Retterath Jones, The Schubert Club’s Ticketing & Marketing Manager. 

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While summer may be our off-season for performances, it doesn’t mean that things slow down in the ticketing department at The Schubert Club. We spend the months of June and July working on seating our subscribers for the International Artist Series, Music in the Park Series and Accordo. We get many people inquiring about how we assign seating, so this post is dedicated to explaining this complex process.

As much as possible, we try to have just one person in charge of seating. For many years, that was always me. This year, our ticketing and development associate, Tirzah, is in charge of the process.

The process is complex. It involves sorting through hundreds of renewal forms, color coding, categorizing, reading through years of notes, and making many phone calls. We do the absolute best we can to make the process as fair as possible and to accommodate as many requests as possible, but with a 90% subscription renewal rate, we are usually working with just a handful of prime seats.

We start taking subscription renewals and seat preferences in late February with a deadline of early June. Subscribers have the opportunity to renew their current seat during this time. Most subscribers are happy with their seats, but there are always many (a few hundred) requests to improve seats.

In early June, we start by categorizing each request based on where they are in the hall. There is always a very large file of patrons requesting to move to the front of the hall in the center. There is always an equally large file of people asking to move to an aisle. Because all of these prime seats are sold to renewing subscribers each year, we usually have just a couple options that become available each year in each series. When we do have seats available in these highly desired areas, we then must decide among the dozens of requests who gets them. We do this by looking at when the subscriber renewed (earlier the better), how long they have been making the same request, how long they have been subscribing, their donor history, and if the seats they are moving from are seats that someone else is requesting.

In some areas of the halls, we’re more likely to accommodate a request for one person if it means others will get a fulfilled request too, because quite often, in order to fulfill one patron’s request, we need another patron to be willing to move. Sometimes this chain effect can be four or five people long. For example, if Harry is willing to move to the two available seats we have, then we can move Bob into Harry’s seats, and then we can move Peggy into Bob’s eats, and then we can move Julie into Peggy’s seats. However, if Harry decides not to move, then no one else will get to move either. It’s really just a big complex jigsaw puzzle.

The requests that are easiest for us to fulfill are the ones that are more generic. If someone says they want to have aisle seats in row A, it’s pretty unlikely those seats will become available, and if they do, it’s probable that we’ll have 20 people with a similar request. A patron’s request is much more likely to be fulfilled if it’s something along the lines of “closer than I currently am” or “anywhere in the front of the mezzanine” or even just “best available.”

This year, along with assigning seats in the Ordway Music Theater for the International Artist Series, we have the additional task of assigning seats for every patron in the new Ordway Concert Hall.

As you can see, this seating process is very complex but for a great reason: about 70% of the available seats and nearly all of the most desired seats for the International Artist Series and Accordo are sold to subscribers leaving very little to work with. For Music in the Park Series, nearly 90% of the hall is sold to subscribers. We are so thankful to have such a large base of loyal subscribers with a uniquely high renewal rate. If you are one of our hundreds of subscribers, we thank you!

About Tessa Retterath Jones

Tessa Retterath Jones is the Marketing & Audience Development Manager at The Schubert Club, responsible for all aspects of marketing, ticketing, audience development, and online communications such as social media and content.