SPAC to go it alone on ticket sales, cuts Ticketmaster loose

Saratoga Performing Arts Center is ending a 20-plus-year relationship with Ticketmaster and selling

Saratoga Performing Arts Center is ending a 20-plus-year relationship with Ticketmaster and selling tickets in-house next year.

SPAC currently uses Ticketmaster for phone and Internet sales of its tickets for the New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra.

But SPAC can do a better job of serving its audience than the ticket sales giant, officials state.

“Nobody knows our customers better than we do,” said Richard Geary, chief financial officer. And they plan to spend $100,000 on software, equipment and additional staffing to make that happen, officials announced at a board meeting Friday.

Starting this spring, SPAC will use the same ticket purchasing system used by Proctors in Schenectady, The Egg in Albany and the Troy Music Hall, said Marcia White, president and executive director. The Theatre Manager Ticketing System is used by hundreds of arts venues across the country, she said.

By collecting fees that Ticketmaster currently pockets, SPAC will be able to break even on the investment in three to five years, she said. SPAC officials hope to charge less in fees than Ticketmaster.

The new system is expected to be up and running this spring before the summer season. A new full-time assistant box office manager and other staffers will be trained on it.

Staff started discussing the move a couple of months ago, after SPAC got a letter from Ticketmaster saying the company wanted to renegotiate its old contract, Geary said.

Under the 1992 contract, Ticketmaster took a majority of the fees it charged people who bought tickets, but collected no annual contract cost from SPAC. “We are one of their oldest customers,” Geary said.

Adopting its own system will allow SPAC to better respond to customer questions, keep better records, give people the option to download and print their tickets and let them more easily select where they want to sit.

SPAC staff are trained to correctly pronounce the programs and even throw in a tidbit about the principal dancers in ballet, for example.

“I think that it’s something that is very timely,” White said.

Currently, only 6 percent of SPAC’s classical season tickets are sold online, in part because many people find Ticketmaster’s system cumbersome and expensive, officials said.

“That’s telling us that we’ve really got to take a hard look at the process,” Geary said.

SPAC board Chairman William Dake cited other factors that may spur people to visit the box office in person, including the ease of parking and walking in and the fact that visitors know the venue usually doesn’t sell out, so they can get tickets at the gate instead of ordering in advance. Twenty-five percent of tickets for classical events are sold the day of the show, Geary said.

SPAC budget

Also at Friday’s board meeting, SPAC adopted a $7.9 million budget for 2010, keeping revenues and expenses the same as last year. “We’re looking at almost a mirror,” Geary said.

Employee salaries are frozen for the second year in a row, and so are most ticket prices.

Tickets for the Freihofer Jazz Festival will increase, probably by about 4 percent, Geary said.

This year SPAC is expected to break even, and so is the National Museum of Dance.

Categories: Schenectady County

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