Box-office leak: 3 in 4 tickets to the BBC Proms are going unsold

Box-office leak: 3 in 4 tickets to the BBC Proms are going unsold


norman lebrecht

July 20, 2022

Monday’s Bruckner concert at the Royal Albert Hall was one of the worst attended in more than a century of Proms.

Blame the weather, blame Covid, blame Brexit, blame inflation, blame the traffic – blame who you like. The problem is not isolated to last night.

Our usually-reliable mole behind the grille in the RAH virtual box-office tells us that only 25 percent of this season’s tickets have sold so far.

That is simply catastrophic, and not altogether inexplicable.

It is a below-average piece of programming with few obvious highlights or compelling attractions.

But to sell only quarter of the seats is appalling. And I don’t get the impression that anyone at the BBC is addressing the crisis with any sense of urgency. They are still too busy congratulating themselves on being the best in the world.


  • Tony Sanderson says:

    I think the Proms tickets are pricey compared to other Royal Albert Hall concerts. Mahler 7 with the Berlin Phil and Yuja Wang playing Liszt are pretty well sold, which other concerts must very poorly sold.

    One tip – if you buy a cheap ticket at a poorly sold concert, then you can often get a free upgrade t a better seat on the day.

    • La plus belle voix says:

      “Pricey”? You have to be kidding.

      For some concerts, there are seats starting at £12 and others at £16; this probably does not cover the printing costs of the tickets.

      • Una says:

        I am coming down from Leeds for 11 concerts over the season for just £150. I went on Monday at 38C and severe tube delays, and then two on Tuesday at 40C and half the tube lines down with the heat. If I still lived in London, I’d have possibly been tempted to stay at home and go on a cooler night but from Leeds 200 miles away, got on with it like the others there I met from as far as two from Aberdeen next to me, also upgraded to the stalls. Took me 7 hours instead of 2.25 hours to get to Leeds from KX with no LNER mainline trains!

  • No to war says:

    I thought it was just me.. for years, feeling excited to open the new programme booklet and to realise I’d just go to 2-3 concerts. Sounds like they need a new programme manager

    • Henry williams says:

      Before covid 19 i have been to jazz and rock
      Concerts where the hall has been half empty.
      It not just classical music

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    “And I don’t get the impression that anyone at the BBC is addressing the crisis with any sense of urgency.”

    Well what do you suggest they do?

    This is the first time I haven’t been for about 20 years because nothing appealed and encouraged me to travel from north Wales and stay over night. Easier to watch on tv this year.

  • Joe Mills says:

    No wonder with Stasevska conducting.

    • msc says:

      She did not conduct the Bruckner concert. That was Mena. I don’t think there are many people particularly eager to hear his decent but unexceptional Bruckner.

  • Duncan says:

    Assuming that this box office info is correct, one might assume that Covid and transport (rail) issues are partly to blame. The issue of programming is a matter of taste and opinion – one man’s meat etc… I do wish Norman that you would not constantly bash the BBC just because you don’t agree with their programming policies. I know they are sometimes their own worst enemies but if we lose the Beeb (and who knows what this govt will do) it will be a loss to broadcasting. And I’m willing to bet that nothing better would replace it.

    • Manda Williams says:

      I couldn’t agree more. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone and our philistine government would love to destroy the BBC. I’ll know we’re doomed if that day comes.

    • V.Lind says:

      I wonder if it is just programming policy.

    • Michael says:

      Good comment. I was at both Proms yesterday evening (the Vaughan Williams / Tippett one then the Dido and Aeneas late Prom), and it seemed pretty clear the heat had an impact, as the Dido prom later in the evening was far better attended.

  • Rob says:

    The Proms never recovered after the astonishing John Drummond era. It was dumbed down and now we see the result.

    • Jacqueline says:

      I remember the John Drummond era very well and the Robert Ponsonby era that preceded it. Those were the eras where audiences went to hear music they wanted to hear played by artists they wanted to see!

    • Jbb says:

      The Drummond era was awful .. .. narrow programming . glad when it was over.

    • Maria says:

      Yes, and a more diverse and new audience less intimidated by the snobbishness and superior protocols of tge old guard. Now you can listen even with a beer in your hand on a hot summer’s night.

  • V.Lind says:

    Might the heatwave have something to do with it? Trains up from the shires are going slow or cancelled, and it is hot just to get from point A to point B. The prospect of three hours in a crowded — and I assume not air-conditioned — hall is not that enticing.

  • Salmon en croute says:

    A small point: the Bruckner concert (Symphony 6) was on Monday night. Last night was Vaughan Williams and Tippett, their respective fourth symphonies.

  • Helen says:

    “And I don’t get the impression that anyone at the BBC is addressing the crisis with any sense of urgency. They are still too busy congratulating themselves on being the best in the world.”

    Possibly some truth in that, a little like the NHS – much admired, never copied.

    The BBC has messed around with the Proms brand so much that perhaps fewer people know what it stands for any more. Certainly the concerts which the BBC selects for TV transmission do not present a clear image. You try to appeal to everyone and you end up appealing to nobody.

  • Rodders says:

    It is a ‘classical’ celebration and it’s being mucked about with for far too long. Sitars, Jazz, Rap and Gospel do not form part of this tradition. ‘Old fashioned’ is what ‘classical music’ is….
    Let these other musical genres find their own way.

  • Hugh Clark says:

    I try to attend one or two weekends at the Proms each year but the increased cost of rail travel from Scotland and of London hotels have made my trips this year just too expensive.

  • Rob Keeley says:

    I was sorely tempted to go to hear the infrequently-performed Bruckner 6 live on Monday, but the stifling weather definitely put me off. Will hopefully be going to some judiciously chosen concerts over the next weeks….

  • Simon Toyne says:

    I was due to be there on Monday and Tuesday. However, the Government had declared a state of national emergency, only advising essential travel. Train services into London were restricted on Monday and, in many cases, cancelled on Tuesday. Many schools closed because the temperatures were in the high 30s – including my own, causing our end of term concert to be postponed till September.

    More reality, and less doom-mongering and BBC-basing, might be helpful here…

  • Jill says:

    I attended the Radio 1prom on Saturday and our seats were upgraded as ticket sales had been poor. I had assumed that as it was the late night prom starting at 10.30 people were concerned about getting home but this article seems to suggest this is a more general problem.

  • George Lobley says:

    I completely agree. The programmes are unexciting

  • John Simpson says:

    Not surprising as not very inspiring programming for the season. Lots of good old works are rarely performed.

  • Arthur Kaptainis says:

    Surely all bets are off during an epic heat wave. I intended to hear the Bruckner on Monday but chose to stay in Salisbury (Southern Cathedrals Festival over the weekend) rather than risk a return to the great inferno that was London. By all means view programming critically but the concerts this week require an asterisk.

    • more heat bollox says:

      WTF are you talking about?
      At Roque d’Anteron it’s regularly these kind of temps in summer and the place is packed.
      It’s as usual a case of whinging poms, and the mass media hype….BE AFRAID, BE VERY AFRAID….THE BBC has spoken. “DO NOT TRAVEL”, life will end at over 30C.

      Sadly when we playing a week of Tchaik 6, 4 rehearsals a day no less and enjoying it greatly, the summer was just as hot for much much longer in 1976.

      I guess the poor darling Millenials can’t cope with something called SUMMER, and when the first flake of snow falls, it’s exactly the same in Winter.

      BBC=Plonkers on steroids, who couldn’t organise a up in brewery since the Tony Blair and Brown dumb down and nanny state era.

      • AD says:

        Obviously you don’t know what you are talking about.

      • Paul Carlile says:

        La Roque, where i’ve been a regular since 1986, is a completely different matter. It’s open-air, open country surrounded by streams and extreme temperatures are rare in the evening. You are more likely to suffer either: cigales (cicadas), swallows, frogs, mistral, mosquitoes, motorbikes (in the village)…or a combination of some of these. A pullover and/or water/windproof is recommended for certain capricious spells….
        Bref, no comparison with the enclosed Proms in a big city.

      • Ellingtonia says:

        Well said that man (or person!), a bit of hot weather and it would seem, according to THE BBC that armageddon is nigh. FFS grow up, its a bit of hot weather!

        • Maria says:

          38C on Monday and 40C on Tiesday and half the underground not wlrking to get you there, and not much shade to walk. You can’t blame the BBC for that or people losing their homes and livelihoods as a result of wild fires.

        • AD says:

          Ok, another person that does not know the difference between weather an climate, between (hot) summer and heatwaves, between the different way people cope with (even non extreme) heat (I, as Italian love hot weather, my wife and most of my nordic colleagues hate Italian summer, and any temperature higher than 25 C feel uncomfortable, for them), between living and working in a country used to hot summer and one that is not (I was working in the Netherlands in the summer of 2003 in a old building without aircon).
          I remind you that the hearwave in Europe in 2003 killed more than 70000 people (yes, you read it correctly). And temperature at the time were possibly lower than the peak ones in these days, in some places.
          Now, if you don’t know what you are talking about, there is no really nedd to speak just for the sake of it.
          I don’t really want to fully disclose myself, but heatwaves are my day to day job, after all (not everyone here is a professional musician, apparently).
          So, please simply avoid.
          Thank you.

      • Robin Tunnah says:

        But the summer of 1976 was not as hot.

  • sonicsinfonia says:

    I suspect the planning was tricky coming out of covid (still not gone) and with increasing travel difficulties.

    Over the last few years, I have flicked through the schedule and found fewer and fewer concerts I even want to listen to, let along travel to attend.

    In addition, the number of concerts I actively want to avoid increases year on year.

    Instead of focusing on the best possible concerts by the best possible artists, more and more programming is trying to appeal to people who do not go to or want to go to concerts. They do not appeal to regular concertgoers, so what is the point?

    If the BBC wants the Proms to become, increasingly, a kind of live version of a trailers website of highlights from their schedules suitable for televising, so be it. They need to find an audience for it, if there is one, rather than alientating those who previously bought tickets.

  • Wurtfangler says:

    Today on R4 there was a trail for ‘the biggest Classical music festival in the world’. A matter of minutes later on R3 the trail was for one of the ‘crossover’ concerts. No wonder no one is buying tickets – confused messaging and poor programming with no focus on quality but rather on ‘broad’ appeal. In the end the brand is watered down so much that it appeals to noone. Added to this the increased focus on what the performers look like, rather than how they sound, further erodes the position of the Proms as being a showcase for the very best classical music. It is increasingly becoming a hotch-potch of mediocrity (with some notable exceptions) more concerned with its own image than the music it should be serving.

    I would also agree that the tickets (aside from the promming tickets) are overpriced for the quality of sound one gets in the RAH. The ticket prices would be reasonable for a reasonable concert hall, but they are not for the sub-par sound experience one gets in the RAH. The ticket prices really should reflect that.

  • Alan Williams says:

    Not value for money – each year programmes get shorter and shorter, not worth travelling 4 to 5 hours to attend

  • Annie says:

    has anyone actually looked at the programme for this year? I feel like I’m in a parallel universe with this talk of turgid programming and messing around with the Proms brand. Dido and Aeneas, Verdi’s Requiem on First Night… plus incredible new air con that means the Hall is delightfully cool. What a load of old codgers you lot are!

    • Derek H says:

      I read these posts and hope that I am not an ‘old codger’ but I will take that – you could have said worse! 🙂

    • Paul Carlile says:

      Well, you chose two examples of excellence (and i went!)…it’s hard to ruin Verdi or Purcell masterpieces (for the moment…) with inserted jingles or presentation of announcers’ names (that will surely come in due course), but for most of the season i won’t risk being frustrote/bored/infuriote… etc, with woke commissions by Persons of (un)Certain Gender or tint, Musically Challenged to “write” …sorry: computer-program a “score” inserted into a programme of real music. The relative mediocrity of numerous performers also discourages making the journey…(i am within walking distance!). If mediocrity and woketh satisfies you, it’s ok. But too many variables: good music/poor orch/fair cond… poor/bad music wasted on a great orch (ex: Philadelphia), great music compromose by poor cond…. Result: there are few programmes i’d regret missing.

      You are right: the aircon works surprisingly well; normally i’m not a fan(!!), but the temperature is very comfartable.

      • guest says:

        In other words – if it isn’t composed by a white male, preferably some considerable time ago, I don’t want to know about it.

  • Wagnermahlernallthat says:

    Although Norman enjoys his shock and horror, I am sure his informant is correct.

    There are several and local reasons for this – Covid, rail strikes, heat wave, cost of living and also (big contributor in my view) the reduction in tourists. But I think there is a more general problem.

    Since the 1960’s the classical music ‘industry’ has allowed itself to take on more and more of the attributes of the wider culture of consumption and economic growth that we all live in. There are simply more concerts, more opera performances, more chamber music recitals than ever before, and more musicians coming, highly trained, out of the music colleges and universities. The industry, as in any other market, has diversified – more ‘country house’ opera, a whole range of resurrected music from Baroque opera to medieval plainchant, for instance. It has created new attractions – the ‘star’ conductors and soloists. But I think we are now at saturation point. There are simply too many professional orchestras in the UK, and they are playing insufficiently diversified programmes. There are too many Mahler 1’s, Tchaikovsky 4’s etc. The nudge of Covid has brought calamity to the industry because people are having to think about and justify why they are going to particular concerts. Yes, I will go to the operas I love, performed to a level I know to be high, and I will go to the LSO’s concerts and those given by ‘star’ conductors and soloists I admire – eg Vasily Petrenko, or Mitsuko Uchida. I go to something between 60 and 80 musical events a year so I think I am relatively uncritical in my affections.

    But why on earth should I plod into a provincial city on a wet Wednesday evening to hear an unknown conductor perform a Brahms symphony with an orchestra who can be inspired but can also lapse into routine with an indifferent conductor. I am just not music-starved enough to bother

    So…..I fear the answer is probably as it is in the wider economy. Forego instant gratification, and having everything available. Reduce consumption, so that you really value what you listen to. And accept that the number of orchestras etc will have to reduce. Naomi Klein, in her book “This changes everything’ reckoned that we would have to go back to the 1960’s to have a sustainable lifestyle –and I am old enough to remember this was a perfectly enjoyable way of living. So should we do the same with classical music – ENO back in Sadler’s Wells, some provincial touring, more UK artists? And combine this with a massive attempt to bring in new audiences, without which the whole enterprise is doomed anyway

  • Philip says:

    Maybe the Covid years 2020-21 will prove to be a decisive watershed. Which is ironic.

    The BBC loved lockdown. It has now morphed into “climate lockdown ” when we get relatively rare hot weather as we did earlier this week. Their endless Project Fear has killed the golden goose.

    Prior to 2020 my Proms trip to London every year for two or three nights for the blue chip concerts (Haitink’s farewell with the VPO in 2019 for example) was the highlight of my year. However I have since moved and the cost is considerably higher.

    Last night’s woke World Premier by the Icelandic composer was probably the worst piece I have heard in 40 years of listening to/visiting the Proms.

    As others have commented the Proms no longer knows what, or who, it stands for. Very sad.

    • Stephen Maddock says:

      What was ‘woke’ about the Icelandic piece? I’m genuinely curious.

    • Robin Tunnah says:

      Temperatures of over 40°C in the UK are not “relatively rare”, they are unprecedented. Temperatures higher than normal body temperatures are a real concern, whether a person is “woke” (define please?) or not.

  • Baroness Millhaven says:

    I’ve been on the Proms website to investigate since reading this article and while I’d certainly take issue with the “3 out of 4 unsold” claim, there are an awful lot of seats available for what are, on the face of it (to me at least) attractive concerts. Saving the exceptional weather conditions, contributory factors will also almost certainly be cost of stalls seats, which are on a par with West End theatre, and a demographic who will naturally be more cautious about the continued and indeed increasing risk of Covid infection. Finally, there’s the red tape caused by Brexit which may have resulted in a Proms appearance being more trouble than its worth for European orchestras.

  • Marlene MacGuire says:

    No more day promming queues for standing in the Arena or Gallery. All tickets pre-sold on-line. No more physical Season Passes, just the ‘opportunity’ to log on before the general public in the morning to reserve a ticket. Take away the day prommers and the Season Pass holders and you’ve lost the Proms’ special qualities that drew attendance. You may as well stay home and listen on BBC 3.

  • Gareth Davies says:

    Let’s be VERY HONEST here. The audience for classical music and jazz is relatively small. The Proms wouldn’t exist if weren’t for the generous subsidy provided by the BBC! But there IS an audience out there (albeit small) that wants something better, higher in quality, and for this alone we must continue to promote it

  • Kenneth Griffin says:

    “… only 25 per cent of this season’s tickets have sold so far.”

    Yes, this is worrying but the more important statistics are the final sale numbers and the final sale receipts.

    Almost everyone everywhere is reporting bookings much much later than previously. Why risk booking in advance when you don’t know whether travel will be impossible or if there’ll be a heat emergency or the Great Flood or a militant insurgency escalation of the Britannia Crutch v Richi Smugak conflict?

    And you can see the availability from the booking website, so you know there’s no urgency to book?

    And you lost the concert-going habit during lockdowns?

    And you’re working at home instead of in Central London?

  • Old Holborn says:

    Oxbridge peacock, suit-stuffed, pink shirted failed musician careerists inhabit arts executive boardrooms. They care not a fig for anything but their own sense of upwardly failing progression in a profession now guided by naval gazing and self aggrandisement, treating music and musicians with condescending contempt: six figure salaries tagged onto inflated job titles tend to go in harmony with a certain narcissistic psychopathy.

    Everyone but them pays the price.

  • Toby Spence says:

    Er… that’s neither constructive nor nice Norman. Reduced attendance since the pandemic is a problem across all live performance. The reasons this summer are many and out of the control of Proms organisers. You say lacklustre programming is the cause but I doubt that. Here are some reasons that spring to my mind:

    1. Many more people are taking holidays abroad this year.

    2. Covid numbers are rising.

    3. The office working week for commuters is now Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday leaving long weekends when fewer people are travelling to London.

    4. It is harder to entice audiences away from their homes now they are used to home entertainment.

    5. The threat of rail and tube strikes is a disincentive.

    6. The freak heatwave.

    I would cite any of the above reasons before pointing the finger at programming, which is no less inspired than any previous year.

  • Neil says:

    Who in their right mind would go to hear a concert in that climate-challenged hall during a heat wave ? I refuse to to to proms because I don’t want to sit in a furnace. Speaking of ovens, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris is unbearable even in winter.

    • Philip says:

      Apparently the RAH has installed air conditioning since the last full Proms season in 2019.

      Ironic since I now feel no urge to attend as I used to every year.

  • Neil says:

    It’s the RVW 150th anniversary and only a smattering of his works this season. I find that inexcusable. Another reason I won’t be attending. Had they programmed a symphony cycle (in one half) and other works as fillers, I would have gone.

  • Philip says:

    Oh dear.

    Another Prom this evening (Wed 27th July) not to D.I.E for (,Diversity Inclusivity Equality)

    The Proms used to the world’s best musicians playing the world’s best music.

    It is now a box ticking quota exercise driven by identity politics. Tragic.

  • Somebody who actually goes to concerts says:

    Funny, the dozen or so concerts I’ve been to this year at the Proms so far have been fairly well sold given the aforementioned challenges, including an excellent sold out show tonight with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus on fine form under the baton of Ryan Wigglesworth (new Olly Knussen, RIP?) – and a terrific programme of Holst, Strauss and a glimmering substantial jewel of a piece by a young British composer, Matthew Kaner. Distinctive and thrilling concert – if not led by the BBC, then by whom?

    Strangely enough I’ve never spotted Norman at a Prom, nor for that matter at any other concerts across London. Perhaps he is too busy to go listen to some music.

    PS Norman – be careful what you wish for. Imagine what the classical music scene in the UK would look like stripped of some of its crown jewels – 5 orchestras, 3 choirs, Radio 3 and the Proms. If you dont understand the value of that, then you are truly an enemy of music.

  • Duncan Richardson says:

    Royal Albert Hall is a second rate concert hall. It is not helped by a 3rd rate website, like most these days addicted to pretty pictures with scattered text.
    During the Proms the seating arrangements (normally opaque through idiotic layed oblique views)
    are equally obscure. Whay can we not be allowed to select seats froma plan.
    I shall not be attend RAH until at least the website is overhauled.

  • Gerry says:

    As a besotted Brucknerian I used to travel every year from Manchester to take in one or two of the symphonies In the Drummond/Ponsonby years performed by world-leading orchestras and conductors. There were always around three or four performed maybe more and were always among the highlights of the season for myself and no doubt many others.

    In recent decades there has been almost a complete dearth of these unique and majestic works whilst there has been the usual overload of Mahler, Brahms etc, alongside the general dumbing down of the Festival with the inclusion of non-classical items and trendy ‘inclusivity’ themes.

    The result is I find little to encourage me to travel to London for any Proms concerts anymore. Others can sneer at ‘old codgers’ all they like but it is they who remember what the Proms used to be like and, frankly, it just ain’t what it used to be, hot weather or rain water leaking from the RAH roof!