TSO’s cheap tix site yields new fans and facts

Last year, the near bankrupt Toronto Symphony Orchestra took it upon itself to 'break down all barriers when it come to music' by welcoming, and in fact facilitating, the attendance of younger people.

Last year, the near bankrupt Toronto Symphony Orchestra took it upon itself to ‘break down all barriers when it come to music’ by welcoming, and in fact facilitating, the attendance of younger people.

Now, the restructured TSO counts about 5,000 15-to 29-year-old members (though the original concept was for people 17-29), who purchase anywhere from 60 to 200 tickets per concert. Remarkably, roughly 50% of the total registrants are first-time patrons of the TSO.

The audience development initiative, called tsoundcheck, first launched in September 2001. The free Web-based program allows people from 15 to 29 to purchase online tickets a few days before any TSO main series concert for only $10. But as the TSO is finding, there are plenty of other layers they can and are adding to the popular Web site.

There’s been no real promotion – simply word-of-mouth and online chatting, says Mike Forrester, the TSO’s director of marketing, adding that the site creative was done by Taxi, though it is maintained and run in-house. ‘We tried to go against the more staid grain of traditional symphony direct marketing pieces – a good deal of what we do is direct. This is much younger and hipper looking.’

The Web site (www.tsoundcheck.com) attracted 3,000 members in the first eight months, he says – primarily university students. The end goal is to attract and maintain about 10,000 young people. To promote the program, the TSO has now partnered with NOW Magazine, which distributed cards and info via GTA-based post-secondary schools’ frosh packages.

The TSO is also about to give away a used car on the site, laughs Forrester – a 1989 Toyota Corolla named Pearl, which previously belonged to a TSO employee. The three-month promotion kicked off Nov. 30 and is open to anyone between 15 and 29 who registers for the tsoundcheck program. The TSO, he says, has also built an art deco mini-site for Pearl. ‘It’s the kind of thing that takes away the stained glass approach to classical music that is so intimidating for so many people.’

In addition to re-energizing the concerts – long-time subscribers are thrilled to see young new faces – the TSO is also able to gather data on their new young patrons.

‘We have a good chunk of data now,’ says Forrester. ‘But we’re treating our databases with kid gloves in terms of communicating to our registrants. We send information only about concerts, or very special promotions.

‘But the data is relatively new. For example, our first indication is that they are as apt to like modern 20th and 21th century compositions, as they are to enjoy Bach, Beethoven or Brahms. The fabulous part is that eventually, once these customers get a bit older and start coming into the hall as full-fledged or even single-ticket, subscribers, the symphony can actually widen its repertoire over time – as opposed to having to concentrate only on the Top 40 dead guys section of classical music.’