First-time arts audiences: Reattendance and loyalty

What the latest audience data means for post-pandemic recovery

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In association with Indigo Ltd

Tomorrow’s Audience was developed in 2023 as an Indigo Share: Hot Topic, in association with a consortium of the UK’s leading arts organisations and in partnership with Spektrix.

The project was designed to help performing arts organisations across the UK to:

  • Discover more about first-time attenders in terms of who they are, what they do and what they think.
  • Uncover any differences between the loyal audiences of yesterday and the potential loyal audiences of tomorrow.
  • Understand the drivers of reattendance in order to develop meaningful connections with new audiences to ensure they want to keep on coming back.

Tomorrow's Audience

January 2024

In-depth insights on the audiences of the future, presented by Spektrix and Indigo Ltd

Watch Tomorrow's Audience webinar

More sales, more engagement: 
Why first-time bookers could be key to arts sector success in 2024

 

2023 saw record numbers of people booking tickets for cultural events, and the last two years have seen a higher proportion of first-time bookers than ever before. 

From 2013-2019, first-time ticket buyers reduced from 55-50% of all arts audiences. In 2023, they grew back to 54%

By 2019, before Covid lockdowns, the average proportion of first-time bookers for the arts had dwindled to around 50%, from 55% in 2013.

Post-lockdown, the proportion of first-time bookers peaked at 56% in 2022, and 54% last year - making new audience members more important than ever as a segment of arts audiences.

It's hard to keep first-timers attending regularly in the long term. But audience members who first bought tickets in 2022 are more likely to stay engaged than they were before the pandemic - creating a real opportunity to reverse decline and build a new, loyal, post-lockdown audience base.

The pre-lockdown picture:
In 2019, audience retention was in long-term decline

Audience retention, or loyalty, has been in steady decline for at least a decade. By 2019, only around a third of all ticket buyers returned to the same arts organisation each year. 

Reattendance by first-time bookers was lower still, and declining faster. Of those customers who first bought a ticket in 2012, 22.5% returned a year later. Six years later, only 18.3% of 2018's new ticket buyers returned in 2019. 

In  2019, rapidly declining retention rates for first time bookers appeared to be the most significant driver of overall decline.


 
What proportion of ticket bookers returned to the same arts organisation, one year later?

The proportion of returning ticket buyers declined steadily from 2013-2019, especially among first-time bookers

The post-lockdown opportunity:
Changing behaviours by first-time bookers could drive audience retention 

Now that it's finally, largely, behind us, we can look back and understand the full impact of the pandemic on arts sector audiences. And more importantly still, we can now look at a full year of post-lockdown data - helping us to focus not on what audiences were doing in the past, but on what they might be doing tomorrow.

Unsurprisingly, reattendance nosedived in 2020-2021. And after a brief, but probably illusory, peak in 2022 - when the small size of the 2021 cohort makes return visitor numbers unreliable - overall audience loyalty is settling back toward pre-Covid trendlines.

The chart below shows the reattendance data for all ticket buyers (in grey) and first-timers (in green). By 'erasing' the outliers of the lockdown years, we can see clearly that, across the UK arts sector, it's the newest bookers who are bucking a decade-long trend.

Of all audience members who first bought tickets in 2022, 19.5% returned in 2023 - a rate of retention unmatched since 2016!

We know first-time bookers are a large cohort - more than half of overall audiences. This data shows that they're also a vital one. The shift in behaviour by first-timers represents a real opportunity for the arts sector not only to recover from the pandemic, but to thrive.

If arts sector leaders can help this trend continue, it could show the way out of a 10+ year decline in reattendance and loyalty. 

Stay in touch for future updates from Spektrix 
 

 
How audience reattendance trends changed during and after lockdown

Audience loyalty trends have changed since lockdowns, with reattendance by new audience members offering the greatest potential for growth

 

More arts data insights from Spektrix

Where does our data come from?

Spektrix works with over 600 arts and entertainment organisations across the US, Canada, UK and Ireland. Our data on first-time audience reattendance includes real sales data from the vast majority of users in the UK, meaning our figures are based on what we believe to be the most comprehensive dataset of its kind in the cultural sector.

Full Description of Our Data

Spektrix Data Insights

The latest analysis of arts audience behaviours - from ticket buying to philanthropy, online activity, and reattendance.

Ticket Sales Dashboard

Compare global ticket sales in 2023 to pre-pandemic booking patterns, broken down by country and artform.