To entice new patrons to a suburban venue
Combine rush tickets with a ride service
Rush ticket purchases tripled
Some performances didn’t have rush ticket holders
Rush&Ride for future shows
“Some drive, others are driven,” declared my ultra-cool older sister when she turned 16. My sister was as uninterested in obtaining a driver’s license as most teenagers are keen on getting behind the wheel. Her dismissal of driving wasn’t entirely illogical, as we grew up in a sort of hybrid suburb where our apartment was not only a block away from public transportation but also within walking distance of most places of interest. Moreover, my sister had a number of driver’s license-bearing friends happy to shuttle her around to farther-flung destinations.
“What if you end up marrying a man in Texas?” my mother proclaimed in an attempt to spur my sister into action. The proposition seemed preposterous at the time—my sister was a tried-and-true city girl. But fate has a sense of humor: Sure enough, my sister now resides in rural Texas, married to a Texan. (And for the record, she drives.)
I approached driving with hesitation, though not quite with my sister’s stalwart resistance. I got a license at the age of 20 but now, at 34, I consider it to be more of a theoretical document best used to show people a remarkably bad photo of myself, rather than something that should necessarily be put to use. I’m better suited to bicycles. And in New York City, taxicabs are abundant and car services rarely disappoint.
Still, I’ve begun to wonder if really learning how to drive—including getting on and off of highway ramps—might give me a bit more freedom, especially in places beyond the five boroughs. How, for example, would I visit the 42-year-old Northlight Theatre, located just outside of Chicago, in Skokie, Ill.? While it’s a short-ish drive from downtown Chicago—17 miles in all, with easy access to and from the highway with plenty of parking—alternate routes to the venue present more challenges.
“Without a car it’s time-consuming and difficult,” concedes Northlight marketing and communications director Mara Mihlfried. Traveling to Northlight from Chicago “almost always requires transfers through multiple bus and/or train lines, some of which stop running later in the evening, making it impossible to get home.”
Combining the challenge of location with the ever-present pursuit of new patrons, Mihlfried looked to TodayTix, a same-day or “rush” ticketing app founded in 2013. “We participated with TodayTix for three productions in the spring of 2016,” she says, but sales through the app remained low, despite experiments in changing creative and other in-app variables.
Mihlfried met with Rachel Birnbaum, TodayTix’s partnership and marketing manager, to discuss the lackluster sales and explore other ways of working together. “TodayTix was having greater success with theatres in the city of Chicago,” says Mihlfried, who recalls telling Birnbaum about Skokie’s location challenge vis-à-vis Chicago dwellers, especially those who rely on public transportation. “I suggested that the location difference might be the determining factor, and if only we could somehow include a way to get them here with the tickets,” says Mihlfried.
TodayTix has worked with the car service app Lyft in other cities. So Birnbaum began to coordinate between the three companies—TodayTix, Northlight, and Lyft—on the details of a new program called Rush&Ride, which would enable patrons not only to buy rush tickets to Northlight but also to organize a free Lyft ride to and from the theatre in the same purchase.
For Anthony Giardina’s The City of Conversation, which ran at Northlight this past fall, the show was listed on TodayTix throughout the run and tickets were made available at 9 a.m. every performance day for $20 each. “When a user selects the show, to purchase the Rush&Ride tickets, they must first ‘unlock’ the offer by sharing it on either Facebook or Twitter—they click the preferred option and the post is made, with preset text and an image,” says Mihlfried.
The user then can proceed to purchase or not. “Many people unlock the offer to access the details and don’t buy—but that still gets us extra social media exposure!” Mihlfried enthuses. Once a patron completes a rush ticket purchase, the confirmation sent from TodayTix “includes a unique promo code to enter when requesting a Lyft ride, which is only usable to and from Northlight’s address.”
A pretty nifty system—and the results also haven’t been too shabby. Rush ticket sales through TodayTix tripled compared to Northlight’s four previous productions. “And it’s succeeding in reaching new patrons,” observes Mihlfried. “Seventy percent of the buyers were completely new to Northlight, and an additional 10 percent were dormant,” i.e. patrons who “hadn’t been in several years.” It also turned out that the Lyft ride played a key role and was part of the appeal: Eighty-five percent of ticket buyers used it. “Plus, it created a significant amount of extra exposure for The City of Conversation,” says Mihlfried. “Everything in the campaign was co-branded with TodayTix, Lyft, and Northlight, and combined exposure was an estimated 130,000 impressions.”
Mihlfried acknowledges that some performances of The City of Conversation had no patrons using the offer. But that hasn’t stopped Northlight from considering Rush&Ride a success and continuing the program. The theatre’s subsequent show, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, which ran around the holidays, also used the service. “We’re following the same format and hope that by offering two productions in a row, we’ll continue to build momentum and exposure in order to grow the program,” says Mihlfried.
Though they adopted the program entirely “to help overcome a location-related barrier,” as Mihlfried puts it, the ancillary result of enticing new patrons has been a pleasant surprise. Even theatres that don’t have the same location challenge as Northlight might consider this winning rush-and-ride combination. To put it another way: Being driven to the theatre may drive ticket sales.
Playwright/performer Eliza Bent is a former senior editor of this magazine.