Chicago counts record ticket sales, but the orch hits deficit

Chicago counts record ticket sales, but the orch hits deficit


norman lebrecht

October 23, 2015

For the fifth year running, the box-office of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra broke all records, it was announced last night. Nevertheless, the orchestra ran into deficit.





The stats:
Ticket Sales and Earned Revenue for Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2015

Ticket sales totaled $22.7 million for 233 CSOA-presented events, a slight increase over the previous year’s $22.4 million, marking the fifth consecutive year of record-setting sales.

Nearly 369,000 tickets were sold for 233 ticketed concerts*. Average paid capacity also increased in FY15 to 82%, up from 79% in FY14.

In addition to ticket revenue, other revenue of $9 million was earned from tour fees, merchandise sales, space rentals, royalties, recording fees and miscellaneous activities.

Approximately 483,000 people attended CSOA performances and presentations at Symphony Center and in other venues in greater Chicago last season, including 235 free events such as concerts by the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and small ensembles with Civic players, the CSO’s All-Access chamber music programs, education programs and open rehearsals for students and community groups, as well as the CSO’s free performance at Millennium Park.

The subscription renewal campaign undertaken during FY15 for the current season remains at 89%, one of the highest rates for a major U.S. orchestra.

* Figures exclude CSO concerts at Ravinia Festival or on tour anywhere outside the Chicago area.

Contributed Revenues for Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2015

During the 2014/15 season, overall contributed revenue totaled approximately $36 million.

General operating support to the CSO was $27 million. This total included more than $18 million in gifts from individuals, $5.2 million from corporate sponsorships and partnerships, and $3.4 million in grants from foundations and government agencies.
<Financial Information for Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2015

Operating revenues totaled $71.4 million.

Operating expenses totaled $72.7 million, resulting in an operating deficit of $1.3 million, or 1.8% of operations.


  • Ray Richardson says:

    What do they pay Riccardo?

  • Stephen says:

    Riccardo is largely responsible for the record ticket sales.

  • MacroV says:

    What’s surprising to me is that the CSO only sells 82% of capacity. I assume 100% for Muti so someone else is bringing them down.

  • Mark says:

    There are a lot of empty seats at CSO events, even during the 8 weeks or so when Muti is conducting unless it is a blockbuster event (Beethoven’s 9th last year). The orchestra sounds great with many excellent new principals. The programming is often mundane though even with Muti.

    • Olassus says:

      ” … lot of empty seats at CSO.”

      They jacked up the prices so that ordinary Chicagoans can’t afford to subscribe.

      A 6-concert subscription should cost $120, $140, $170 per decent seat, so an annual outlay of about $300 for an average couple. That way you build up loyalty and make the orchestra a part of a family’s life. You also fill the house, maximize excitement, and save on marketing.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    1) Chicago is the murder capital of the US. There are many people who just don’t feel safe on Michigan Ave late at night.
    2) The CSO like every other major American Orchestra is going to have to face the reality that since classical music isn’t a big part (or any part) of most people’s lives, that salaries for musicians are just too high.
    3) And that means ticket prices are too high.
    4) Go to Grant Park in the summer – the place is packed! Obviously people enjoy hearing a live orchestra, but not with 1, 2, 3 above.

  • herrera says:

    An annual deficit of $1 million for a few years running is not that bad when revenues and ticket sales are so good and the endowment is so high. It’s a deficit that any one of the Board members can cover with a single check, after a couple of drinks with Riccardo.

    Nonetheless, management won’t want to seem irresponsible or profligate. So what’s driving up operating costs?

    It could be the free live streaming concerts. Sure, it brings a lot of (free) viewers from around the world and creates a lot of good will, but ultimately, free is free is free: free for the public, but not free for the orchestra, somebody still has to pay the camera/lighting/sound crew, the streaming technology, etc.

    Even Berlin’s Digital Concert Hall is only breaking even on its technology investment after 10 years of paid subscribers. Streaming technology, and personnel to run the live streaming, don’t come cheap.

  • Greg says:

    1) Chicago is the murder capital of the US. There are many people who just don’t feel safe on Michigan Ave late at night.

    The Gehry bandshell (a monstrosity IMHO) at Grant Park is also on Michigan Ave, just a couple blocks north of Orchestra Hall. Most Chicagoan know that Michigan Ave. is quite safe, even at night, and that most of the mayhem in the city is gang-related and occurs far from the Loop.

    • John says:

      Yes, I agree. Michigan Avenue is completely safe. I’m guessing that there are a lot of suburbanites who haven’t been downtown for years and think the worst for that reason. When I lived in Milwaukee, and now in the Denver area, that was very much the case. Also, lot of suburbs form their own orchestras, and while they’re nowhere near the quality of the hometown band, they’re good enough for some of those people; and they often perform in one or another of the many performing arts centers that suburbs like to build. I’d bet that even in Chicago, CSO has competition from lower cost competitors.

  • Max Grimm says:

    Some years ago, I read an article about the CSO that reported ticket sales that season as 85% of capacity and I remember being surprised to read that those 85% were – according to the article – unusually high for an American orchestra and in that particular year, the highest of any American orchestra. I doubt rather strongly that the level of crime has anything to do with these circumstances.

  • william osborne says:

    Interesting that the CSO costs $72 million per year, while the Berlin Phil only costs $39 million.

  • Dave says:

    What is surprising is that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra can’t find a few millionaires to bridge the deficit. Someone isn’t doing their job properly.