SMU DataArts - Cultural Data Profile


Image courtesy of SMU Meadows School of the Arts, Meadows at the Meyerson. Photo by Kim Leeson... Image courtesy of SMU Meadows School of the Arts, Meadows at the Meyerson. Photo by Kim Leeson Photography.

Orchestras in Recovery: Ticket Sales and Donation Trends, 2019-21

The following is an excerpt from an insight report published on November 23, 2021, "Orchestras in Recovery: Ticket Sales and Donation Trends, 2019-21." This report is part of a larger project called the COVID-19 Sector Benchmark Dashboard conducted by TRG Arts and Purple Seven to help arts organizations in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. understand how the COVID-19 virus has affected operations.

This report focuses on the orchestra field and the partnership TRG Arts and Purple Seven have with The League of American Orchestras. Specifically, this report highlights data from 27, mostly larger-budget U.S. orchestras participating in The Benchmark and how that data compares to the larger data set of U.S. performing arts organizations participating in The Benchmark.

Key Findings

  • Ticket sales and associated revenue for orchestras in the U.S., while showing some signs of recovery, are still lagging significantly behind pre-pandemic levels. For the last 12 months (November 2020-October 2021), orchestra ticket revenue is down 67%. This is on par with results for the larger performing arts sector in the U.S. for the same period.
  • The greatest ticket gains took place in the late spring and early summer of 2021 when vaccine rates were steadily climbing, and many orchestras put 2021-22 season subscriptions on sale before the Delta variant took hold.
  • The picture is more positive on the donation side, with donation revenue for the last 12 months up 23% from the same period in pre-pandemic times. These results are outpacing donation results for the performing arts sector more broadly.
  • Many brand-new patrons to orchestras are making their first financial transactions as donors as opposed to the more traditional “on-ramp” of ticket purchase/concert attendance. The number of gifts from first-time patrons has grown by 15% during the last 12 months. This could be the result of a wide range of factors including donation asks associated with viewing digital programming and funding mission-driven, resiliency efforts.
  • During 2020, active ticket buyers and donors of orchestras became somewhat less diverse, both generationally and racially. In 2021, however, active ticket buyers and donors mostly returned to pre-pandemic levels.
  • As orchestras approach the halfway point of the 2021-22 season, it is evident that many past ticket buyers are still not ready to return to live performances. Orchestras may need to put more resources into selling the overall experience of attending a live concert. This includes highlighting both the joys of attending and safety attributes within the concert hall.
  • Orchestras have an opportunity to build new patron bases through donations, recognizing that many patrons are having their first experience with the orchestra as a donor, either for philanthropic reasons or as payment for digital programming. Acknowledging this new activity and inviting these new patrons into a carefully crafted next experience with the orchestra that builds on each patron’s interests could be a highly effective strategy for deepening and sustaining these new and valuable relationships.


Read the Full Report


The COVID-19 Sector Benchmark Dashboard, developed by TRG Arts in collaboration with U.K.-based audience analytics company Purple Seven, launched in early April 2020. The dashboard, which is free, provides near real-time intelligence and advice to help arts leaders see results as they respond to the pandemic. The project is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to SMU DataArts, TRG Arts' longtime partner in advancing the arts and cultural sector. 

When an organization signs up for the dashboard, an automated data feed is set up between the organization’s box office and the dashboard’s secure server. The automated feed provides a daily update on ticket sales, refunds, and donations for the organization. In addition, data from all other organizations participating in the dashboard is aggregated in an anonymous format to create a national benchmark, which shows up on the dashboard and allows an organization to see how it compares with a large group of its peers. The dashboard is entirely anonymous, so no one else’s sales figures or customer data are identifiable to an organization. The dashboard provides daily insights for individual organizations that they can share with constituents and stakeholders; reveals sector trends in almost real-time, which can assist in short- and long-term planning; allows arts leaders and policymakers to track daily sales data across entire sectors; and by data gathering and benchmarking across the U.K., Canada, and the U.S., gives a clearer picture of the effects of the virus on the arts sector and the recovery in each country. Monthly Insight Reports will be posted on the SMU DataArts and TRG Arts websites. Read more in the press release.

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