On playing Bingo…

I love bingo!

I know it may not be a fashionable place for a newly middle-aged man to go, but I do love a bit of Bingo. I used to take my daughter and her friends sometimes, and over the years my own friends, very occasionally. My Nanna used to go when we were kids. She had a special bingo card sized clipboard and everything.

I’ve won a couple of times. For the uninitiated, you have a grid three squares deep by nine squares wide, and some of those squares have numbers in them. They call the numbers out, and the first person to get a line says “Line!”. Well, they’re supposed to, anyway. Round my old stomping grounds in the Badlands of the Essex/London Border, calls were invariably “‘Eeyare!”, cried out in a very strident and loud manner, to make absolutely sure the game stopped so your ticket could be checked.

Woe betide anyone who said they had a line and then they didn’t, for then there was an announcement on the tannoy for all to hear of the crime the offender had committed: “False Claim! That’s a False Claim!”. And woe betide those foolish enough to make any kind of noise at all during the calling of the numbers, for both types of unwelcome players would be subjected to the ‘Bingo Tut’.

If you’ve never been tutted at by over a hundred septuagenarians at the same time in an enclosed space, then believe me – you have no understanding of the meaning of the word ‘chastisement’. Especially when the tutting is being done in the Badlands (I am sure that there are many more such regions in this Sceptred Isle of ours).

Anyway, to get to the point: once you’ve played for the prize for one line, then the prize for two lines, you get to play for the ‘Full House’, which is when you have all the numbers marked off in your grid. In practice, you shout “House!” (or “Eeyare!”, in the Badlands), and your ticket is checked. “House!” is, of course, an abbreviation for “Full House!” And that’s the point of today’s missive.

I’ve returned to Mrs B for a week, before I return to Edinburgh to deliver the Open Book Management session at Fringe Central on the 12th (did I metion it’s free?). I’m no longer needed for the show and so I get to come back and do my list of domestic tasks that Mrs B will obviously have been saving for me.

On my arrival home, I got the message that we’ve all been hoping for from Kelly. It simply said, “Two sold out shows today!”. That’s both great, and not great. Stick with me, and I hope this makes sense:

Both shows today were two-for-one shows. Both of tomorrow’s shows are also two-for-one, and are also sold out. So on the downside, we are selling cheaper tickets (they are all at weekend concession rate), and also selling them at two-for-one rates. Venue capacity is 60 and we show twice a day. We need to sell (on average, across the run) something over 65% of all our available tickets to hit Company breakeven (where our investors get all their money back, plus their return on investment, and we then tick over into the profit share part of the financial wizardry.) But hold on – those sold out shows are effectively only 50% filled, remember, because the tickets are two-for-one. So the financial truth about our two-for-one deal is that on those days we’re not hitting our sales targets (which would generally be seen as bad business practice).

However, it’s actually good business practice. I was looking through the listings in the Fringe Guide a couple of days ago, trying to think like a ticket puchaser rather than a ticket seller. And what leapt out at me was the sheer volume of choice. Personally, I found it overwhelming – and I wasn’t even intending to book a show at that point. So how do people make their purchasing decisions in such a competitive and oversupplied marketplace?

Simple. Some get in early and get the special offers on the shows that sound good, or already have good reviews. They’re getting cheap tickets to decent shows which they’re likely to enjoy. Smart shoppers.

The others wait for a bit, until their friends have seen some shows, and then ask them what they thought was good. People who are friends often have similar tastes (or they wouldn’t be friends) in many things, and so a good guide as to what show to go to is the thing that is lovingly referred to as ‘word of mouth’.

Now, word of mouth is a very effective sales technique. Why? Because you don’t have to physically be there to close the sale. The people that came to see your show and liked it will sell it for you, freeing up your time to go and sell your show to people who haven’t heard about it yet (remember: you’re not flyering, you’re selling).

So we now have people who came to see our show selling our show, as well as us selling it at the same time. We also have a scarcity of availability, which is another motivator for consumers to buy. Here’s roughly how it works at the Box Office:

Hopeful Customer: May I buy three tickets for today’s performance of The Just So Stories please?

Helpful Pleasance Employee: I’m afraid that both their shows are sold out today!

Hopeful Customer: (aside) It must be good if it’s selling out this early in the Festival. (To Helpful Pleasance Employee) Are there tickets available for any other days please?

Helpful Pleasance Employee: Why yes, indeed there are. I have availability later in the week. Would you like to book now to avoid disappointment?

Hopeful Customer: Yes please. I wouldn’t want my children to miss out on a show that’s clearly very popular and is selling out already.

Helpful Pleasance Employee: No problem. I’ll book those tickets now for you.

Exeunt Box Office left.

I hope I’m not teaching Grandma to suck eggs here, or that anyone might for a second think that I suppose you to be completely devoid of any sense, because you’re well aware of these important parts of the puzzle. I point them out only to say that, in my humble opinion, it’s best for you to fill your houses as much as possible, and as early as possible, even if at the outset you look like you’re losing money on those shows. If you have a good show, then taking that small intital loss in sales revenue is nothing to the benefits you will reap later in increased ticket sales.

Don’t wait and ‘see how sales go’ before using your allocation of comps to paper the house because you’re not selling as well as you’d hoped. By then it’s too late for word of mouth and scarcity to be effective, and you’ve missed the boat. If you truly believe in your show then fill those seats early, and by any means possible . If your belief is well founded, then ticket sales will follow. And very soon, I hope, more of you will be shouting “House!”

Although I rather suspect the cry from most of those taking shows to the Fringe is likely to be a resounding “Eeyare!”


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