🎭 Be World Class in Everything, Center Theatre Group

With the announcement of the Ahmanson Theatre season at the Center Theatre Group (FB) this week, we made the decision to resubscribe at the Ahmanson again. Doing so reminded me yet again of the differences between how the Hollywood Pantages (FB)/Broadway in Hollywood (FB) does the care and feeding of subscribers, vs how CTG does it (especially as we also just resubscribed at the Pantages for their 2020-2021 season). So I thought I would start the morning by writing up this summary — primarily so I could tweet it to @CTGLA and challenge them to match their world-class theatre with a world-class subscriber experience.

I’ve been attending theatre since I was 12 and attended The Rothschilds at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion as part of the LACLO season. My parents were long time LACLO season ticket holders. We’ve subscribed at numerous theatres large and small, from the Pasadena Playhouse for almost 20 years (until their bankruptcy), the Colony, small venues like REP East and Chromolume (both now gone). Currently we subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2020-2021 season] and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB).

Most theatres make it easy for subscribers: call and change your tickets easily, get the best prices (modulo the Goldstar last-minute tickets), often the ability to pick your seats and your nights well in advance. Some of the venues have their quirks: the Thousand Oaks Plaza (home of 5-Star) insists on a change fee, for example, when rescheduling. But the comparison of the two largest theatres in town: the Pantages and the Ahmanson, is telling. Both book Broadway tours and compete for the same audiences, although the former is for-profit and the latter non-profit. Here’s a comparison:

Characteristic Pantages Ahmanson
When you subscribe, can you pick the day you attend? Yes, online Yes, online
When you subscribe, can you pick the date you attend (i.e., which week of the run)? Yes, online, and you can compare seats across the nights Only over the phone, and there’s no ability to compare the different seats across the nights
When you subscribe, can you pick your seat? Yes, online Yes, online
When you subscribe, can you set up a payment plan? Multiple payment plans are possible, up to 10 payments, all can be set up online, no additional fee You can pay online in a single payment, or set up a 2 or 4 payment plan, but only over the phone, for an additional fee.
When do you learn of your subscription dates and seats, so you can block your calendar? At the time of subscription. Months later when they resolve the seats for subscribers, unless you did a phone subscription and picked the week.
Can you improve your seats after the renewal deadline, when non-renewing subscribers have dropped off? Yes, online, for no additional fee. Not that I recall from the last time we subscribed.
Do you get reminders before each show of the opportunity to purchase additional tickets (or exchange your seats) before anything opens to the public or special pre-sales? Yes, online Not that I recall from the last time we subscribed.
Are exchanges easy? Yes, online, for no additional fee. Often, however, it is hard to find a good exchange seat. Somewhat. They are online, but the system is confusing with respect to the full price vs. the exchange price. Often, however, it is hard to find a good exchange seat, especially at the lower price points.
Are there special subscriber events? Numerous evenings to see the theatre and backstage, for free, often with tastings set up from local restaurants. The occasional speaker or educational events.
Any other thank yous? We’ve occasionally gotten thank you bags … and even chocolate. Not much that I can recall.

Now I understand that goodie bags are probably a perk of being a for-profit theatre, and that might also limit the ability to do the tastings (although that’s marketing for the local restaurants, so it is in their interest). But the online ticketing and subscription system of Center Theatre Group is so antiquated and limited in its abilities. It really calls out for improvement. The Pantages is using an instance of the Ticketmaster system (also used by 5-Star, TO Civic Arts Plaza, and the Soraya), which likely means the increased fees are added silently to the ticket prices. But CTG really needs to look into getting some of these capabilities integrated into their system if they are going to successfully compete in the subscriber market. They’ve improved quite a bit from 10 years ago, when it was actually more expensive to subscribe thanks to per-ticket fees than to buy HotTix for each show. But I challenge them to improve again.