Opéra de Montréal, one of the three resident companies at Place des Arts, was founded in 1980. More than 42,000 spectators attend its six annual productions. Last year, four productions were held in the Salle Wilfred-Pelletier, with 3,000 seats, and the other two were held in more intimate venues in Montreal, as part of its multidisciplinary partnerships.
In general, longstanding subscribers are very loyal to Opéra de Montréal and buy season tickets year after year. However, the chances of a first-time season ticket holder renewing their subscription is about fifty-fifty, and nearly 80% of spectators who come to a show for the first time never return.
Fifteen years ago, 65% of all spectators held season tickets with Opéra de Montréal. That proportion has since dropped to 40%, but the desire to build audience loyalty through season ticket subscription still remains strong. Patronage habits have changed, and the entire opera industry is seeking new ways to build loyalty and improve audience engagement—but without the high-quality research and strategies that the main competing entertainment industries have at their disposal.
A survey conducted by Opéra de Montréal revealed that the biggest reasons audience members don’t return are: 1) they value other forms of art and entertainment activities, 2) they don’t feel a sense of attachment to Opéra de Montréal as a brand, 3) they think that the selection and variety of works shown are limited, 4) they think ticket prices are too high and 5) they don’t feel there’s enough flexibility.
The Montreal arts and entertainment market is incredibly competitive, and OdM is facing off against some of the most influential festivals and institutions in Canada and worldwide. Their greatest strategic advantage is that they’re the only major opera company in the city, and opera is an art form that people are particularly passionate about. Being an opera lover isn’t just about buying tickets: it’s an identity. While opera is viewed as elitist and sophisticated, it still holds a lot of fascination for the general public and an inherent value as more than entertainment.
Bearing all of this in mind, how can we maintain spectator engagement and loyalty in the medium and long term while also responding to pressure to expand OdM’s outreach and welcome spectators coming to the opera for the very first time? These challenges are even more difficult now with the new norms for public gatherings and the availability of online opera viewing options.