San Francisco Opera's (SFO) general director David Gockley came to the company in 2006, bringing with him the legacy of free "plazacasts" that he had done at the Houston Grand Opera, his former home. During his first year at the San Francisco Opera, 8,000 people turned up at Civic Center Plaza near the Opera’s home at War Memorial Opera House to watch a simulcast of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. However, Gockley was concerned that there was no method of tracking the conversion of simulcast attendees to ticket buyers, so at the suggestion of a staff member, the simulcasts were moved to the AT&T ballpark. Attendees who wanted the best seats would sign up online for complimentary early-admission tickets, allowing the Opera to obtain contact information for new opera-goers.
The simulcasts were successful enough for the San Francisco Opera; according to an article from 2010 in the Wall Street Journal, data showed that new patrons - who bought tickets to the opera after attending at least one of the simulcasts - brought in about $880,000. With production costs of roughly $800,000, the revenue from these converted ticket buyers covered the Opera's in-house production costs and gleaned a small profit.
Seven years later, are the San Francisco Opera's simulcasts at the ballpark still proving to be an effective audience engagement mechanism, turning a number of simulcast audience members into ticket buyers? Might there be a better model to get the audience from the outfield into the opera house? Particularly, are simulcast goers continuing to provide their contact information online in order to gain early admission for the best seats?
Over the next few months I hope to tackle these questions and gain further insight into the short-term and long-term effects of free opera simulcasts as related to audience conversion and retention. I will be focusing my research on the San Francisco Opera, Washington National Opera, and Dallas Opera. What questions do you have about simulcasts as an audience engagement tool? Has your organization implemented a similar program? How did it impact attendance at live performances? Let me know in the comments below.