BLOG 11th March 2019

Customer Retention: Ticketing Trends in Northern Irish Venues

Each year, we run a box office benchmarking project with venues across Northern Ireland. In 2018, 18 organisations participated, 7 in Belfast, and 11 across the rest of the country – including theatres, mixed-use arts centres, and festivals.

In addition to getting crucial insight into their own individual audience behaviours, the project provides an opportunity to pull out the wider trends that are appearing in the data.

This year produced some interesting insights. Here’s the headlines of what we found about the levels of new and returning customers.

Sales were up overall – but not in the regions

The good news is that most venues had more bookers in 2017, than they did in 2016.

And in Belfast, ticket sales were also up - they increased by 10% overall. Outside of Belfast, although there were more bookers, there was a small drop in sales of 3%.

New vs. returning customers

We also examined the trends in retention that is the split between those who were new to the organisation, and those who had been before.

And we found a clear split between those based in Belfast, and those outside the capital.

In Belfast, there were slightly more new customers:

  • 53% of ticket-buyers at Belfast venues were new.
  • 47% of ticket-buyers at Belfast venues had been before.

For venues outside of Belfast, the trends were reversed, with the majority of customers returning:

  • 47% of ticket-buyers at regional venues were new.
  • 53% of ticket-buyers at regional venues had been before.

Attendance frequency within the year

So, of those attending in 2017, how many times did they attend during the year? On average, it was just once within the year.

For many, having someone come once a year to an arts venue doesn’t seem like much. But in fact, lots of previous research has shown that if someone goes once a year to the theatre, they consider themselves a regular attender. And keep in mind too, that these figures are for individual venues. Your audience members are very likely to be attending other shows and exhibitions in other places throughout the year.

Again, we are seeing contrasts between audience behaviour in Belfast and the regions:

  • 78% of Belfast ticket-buyers were Single Time Attenders.
  • Outside of Belfast, 57% of ticket-buyers were Single Time Attenders.

The challenge then is different for different areas – for Belfast it is about encouraging loyalty and for the regions, it is about attracting completely new attenders.

What next for venues?

So, what’s the ideal balance of new and returning customers? This is different for every organisation. In general, you want the majority of your customers to be returning. It costs between 5 and 25 times more to attract a new customer, rather than convince a current customer to return. But at the same time, you always need some new customers to keep your audience growing over the years.

Having around 75% of your customers as returning customers could be a good target to aim for, but again, this totally depends on your own organisation.

In order to increase return-rates, you’ll need to have enough extra nights or seats to sell, along with relevant programming that your customers will be interested in. This should all be part of a long-term audience development plan.

We’ve blogged before about ways to increase audience loyalty but if you want to really examine your own existing levels of audience loyalty and return, you can take part in this year’s collaborative ticketing report.


Maurane Ramon

Head of Client Development

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