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Summer Concern

Venues Find Consumer Patterns Are Shifting

By Kory Loucks

July 05, 2010

Connecticut companies in the business of show business are making the best of the worst recession in memory, with some riding high, others treading water, and one returning after years of legal battles.

Some venues — such as the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, and the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville — are doing well and even thriving in this difficult economy, and can attribute part of their success to location and attractions that are bringing in large crowds who are willing to pay the premium ticket prices to see top acts.

Daniel McMahon, Goodspeed’s marketing director, attributes part of that venue’s success to good planning with about 16,000 subscribers and an enviable 92 percent renewal rate.

“Last year was the best year ever,” McMahon said, with over 120,000 tickets sold in the 2009 summer season. “Ticket sales were through the roof.”

Goodspeed, like many other entertainment venues, has not increased their ticket prices over last year.

“Annie Get Your Gun,” which started in April, did so well the run was extended, finally closing July 3. Next up it’s “Carnival” running from July 9 to September 8, and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” running from Sept. 24 to Nov. 28.

Goodspeed marketed a mid-week super-saver subscription program this year that increased subscription rolls by 2,000, McMahon said. Other special offers include $15 student rush tickets, wine-tasting and girls night out events, and discounts to area restaurants.

When the economy turned south in 2008, McMahon said Goodspeed planned ahead and chose popular well-known musicals and even more diligently watched expenses. Ticket prices were flat, ranging from $27.50 to $72.

McMahon attributed part of the success to people who are choosing to stay closer to home during the summer months, and enjoying the beautiful historic theater picturesquely located along the Connecticut River.

Mohegan Sun Arena and Casino

Thomas Cantone, vice president of sports and entertainment at Mohegan Sun Arena and Casino, said that, despite the economy, the entertainment glass is definitely half full.

In June, Mohegan had no trouble selling out Carole King and James Taylor at the arena, despite ticket prices that ran $95 and $135. An appearance by Conan O’Brien sold out using only Twitter, an approach Cantone says is the future.

With a 10,000 seat arena, plus the free Wolf Den and the Cabaret venues, Mohegan Sun has filled over 350,000 seats since the beginning of the year, he said, and he anticipate at least that many seats to be filled during the summer season.

Mohegan Sun’s 12th annual “Hot Summer Fun Days” celebration, which runs from July 1 to Labor Day, offers 164 shows in 64 days at three venues.

Other acts include Sting and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, with tickets from $85 to $115, and classic rock acts including Pat Benetar with REO selling for $35 each.

“The Wolf Den alone is probably the best story in the country,” Cantone said, with free acts such as MC Hammer, David Cassidy, Herman’s Hermits, Blood, Sweat and Tears, and Survivor playing in the 400-seat theater.

Recently ranked third in the nation for a venue of its size by Billboard Magazine, behind Radio City Music Hall and the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Cantone said much of Mohegan Sun’s success has to do with the “value-driven story” that combines shows, hotels, fine dining, shopping, and gambling — all with free parking.

Lake Compounce

Sarah Webb, director of marketing at Lake Compounce, said the water park, poised for a great season. The park, located on over 200 acres in Bristol and Southington, is open daily through Sept. 12.

With over 50 attractions, it is the largest owner-operated water park in North American and at age 165, it is also the oldest continually operating amusement park in North America.

The company owned by Palace Entertainment in Spain doesn’t release season ticket numbers, but Webb said that on a busy weekend day between 6,000 and 7,000 walk through the gate and on July 4th the park attracts over 15,000 for their fireworks show.

Webb attributes part of the success to people choosing “stay-cations” rather than travelling long distances on summer vacations. Last year 20 percent of the attendees came from New York, where Lake Compounce advertises heavily.

They also help the summer economy by employing about 1,500 seasonal workers.

Individual tickets are $34.99 for those 52 inches and taller, and $25.99, under 52 inches, while children 3 years old and younger are free. The real deals are the season passes, which cost $79.99 for unlimited entry.

Webb said that ticket sales are on par with last year and prices are unchanged from 2009.

Others are finding that drawing audience to see their shows is more challenging.

Hartford Stage Company

Julie Stapf, director of marketing and communications at the Hartford Stage Company, didn’t have numbers available for the summer program, but acknowledged that advanced sales have been slow so far.

Stapf and Managing Director Michael Stotts said the trend for theater-goers is getting away from subscriptions and heading towards purchasing single tickets just before the show.

Due to the $4 million in renovations underway at the downtown theater on Church Street, this summer the Hartford Stage Company is having their three Broadway Legends shows and the first show of the the fall season at the Kingswood Oxford School in West Hartford. The school’s Roberts Theater has 586 seats, 97 more than Hartford Stage’s home theater. Phase One renovations should be completed by October.

To generate sales, Stapf said her team is actively pursuing every marketing technique they can think of, including direct mail, telemarketing, radio, television ads during the Tony Awards, and online networking, blogging, tweeting, and segment marketing.

This summer, the acts included cabaret shows by Elaine Stritch and Chita Rivera, and Ben Vereen who will be performing from July 6 to July 11. The first show of the 2010-11 season, “Sheila’s Day,” will also run at Kingswood-Oxford’s Roberts Theatre.

Because of the marquee nature of these stars, the tickets are a bit higher than regular season shows, running from $60 to $70, Stapf said. Last-minute rush seats sell for $10.

Artistic Director Michael Wilson recently announced he will be leaving The Hartford Stage Company at the end of the 2010-11 season after 12 years at the helm.

Hartford Symphony Orchestra

At the Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s Talcott Mountain Music Festival in Simsbury Meadows, Executive Director Kristin Phillips also is finding ticket buyers are more interested in paying a little more for buying tickets at the gate rather than subscribing. The orchestra has the added challenge of dealing with Mother Nature, since the shows are all outdoors.

Historically, the orchestra has drawn between 6,000 and 7,000 per show on a good night, Phillips said.

“One of the trends is more of a migration to the cheaper lawn seats,” Phillips said. This year for the first time, Saturday rain dates have been added if the Friday shows can’t go on.

Although she did not divulge numbers, Phillips said that sales for the 15th annual summer concert series are “keeping pace and slightly ahead of last year,” with the majority of the sales at the door.

Recognizing that the economy is tough, Phillips said that the program will stick to more popular music events such as Spectrum – A Tribute to Motown and R&B on July 9, and a Classic Mystery Tour – A Tribute to the Beatles on July 16.

SS&C SummerWind Performance Center

Weather was also the major contributing factor when SS&C SummerWind Performance Center, an outdoor entertainment venue in Windsor closed six years ago.

After losing its tent to a winter storm in 2003, the center had its last performances in 2004. Since then, the SS&C SummerWind Performance Center in the Griffin Office Park in Windsor has endeavored to get back in business. That’s proven to be a Herculean effort, particularly during the worst recession in 50 years.

Thanks to private donations and public giving, the center is poised to return in August and early September with four outdoor shows, according to SS&C SummerWind Executive Director John Berky.

The tent installation and final preparations are still underway and Berky said that prompted a prudent decision to ease back into business in August.

“We need to find ourselves again,” Berky said, adding, “it was rough going.”

In the end it, cost about $1 million to replace the massive tent structure, with over $500,000 coming from William C. Stone, chairman and chief executive officer of SS&C Technologies, Inc., plus more through a matching-gift program. The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving also contributed a $150,000 grant to the cause. Griffin Land leases the land for free and contributed $50,000.

The four Saturday shows are The Robert Cray Band on Aug. 7; Mary Chapin Carpenter Aug. 14; Arturo Sandoval Aug. 21, and Blues Traveler Sept. 5. Tickets are $30 for up to 9,000 general admission lawn seats and $60 for the 1,500 seats inside the tent.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Business Journal. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Business Journal Archives at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/archives.php.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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