Seating By Southwest

I served an arts organization that scheduled concerts each summer.  One season we landed Willie Nelson.  Tickets were a hot commodity since Willie resonated with the 60+ age group that was the art center’s core audience and also other parts of our community.  The center sold tickets at three levels, including a premium level which guaranteed a low-back lawn chair directly in front of the stage (premium patrons got to keep the chair).  A second lawn chair group was ticketed just behind the premium level and the rest of the venue was general seating.  Tickets for past summers concerts had always been sold as general seating on the lawn.  Four thousand tickets sold in a matter of two hours and then the center spent days fielding requests from some of its greatest supporters who had not been able to purchase tickets.  

The day of the concert I arrived a half-hour before the gates opened to find a line snaking away from the venue and out along a bike path further than I could see.  The ticket holders filled the lawn and then some.  Willie took the stage and the evening went into high energy.  Eventually a group of general admission fans started dancing.  They moved right on top of the premium level patrons, causing the highest paying ticket holders to abandon their lawn chairs in front of stage.  It was chaos as the center tried to salvage an area where the premium guests could sit but the crowd of dancers expanded to a thousand and was soon beyond our control.

Two lessons learned.  Always keep a handful of tickets in reserve to take care of your greatest supporters who happen to miss out on a sold out event.  Second, sell tickets that allow for early access to the concert grounds but in the spirit of Southwest Airlines allow the patrons to select their seats.  If they sit right in front of the stage then they get the benefits and potential hazards of proximity.  These two lessons have been instrumental in creating a better experience for the audience and keeping the concerts manageable.

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