It’s universally accepted that Rule #1 of showbiz is, “the show must go on.” Which means that Rule #2 is, “if the show can’t go on, you better handle it properly before your audience turns into an angry mob.” For theater and venue owners, it’s never fun to cancel an event, but with these four tips you should be able to handle it like a pro.
1. Make Sure The Show Really Can’t Go On
Sometimes cancellations are unavoidable due to extreme circumstances. What constitutes an unavoidable cancellation? The most common causes are either weather conditions, or the performers cancel the show for reasons of health, injury or sometimes even death.
There’s nothing you can do about the weather, but if a performer is canceling a show, review your booking agreement. Booking agreements should be written firmly enough to make sure you’re not the only one holding the bag for a cancellation. It’s always wise to push back on booking agent to determine if, in fact, the show absolutely must be canceled.
Consider this—on “The Day the Music Died,” Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens’ plane crashed en route to a gig. Not only did the promoters refuse to cancel the remaining two weeks of the tour, they didn’t even cancel the gig that took place the very same day of the accident. Instead, Buddy Holly’s bassist (a young Waylon Jennings) took over fronting the Crickets, and local teenager Bobby Vee played his very first gig as the opening act. Admittedly, this is probably a bridge too far, but it’s good to remember that Rule #1 matters.
2. Immediately Stop Taking Ticket Orders
If you must cancel an event, your first order of business is to stop selling tickets. Your problem now is to manage the disappointment of a large group of people. Don’t make your problem worse by adding even one more person to that list. Remove the option to purchase tickets from your website and contact any third parties who might be selling tickets on your behalf.
3. Contact Ticket Holders and Offer a Refund or Credit
Audiences don’t generally blame the venue when a performer cancels a show. They will blame the venue, however, if they show up and see a “canceled” sign on the door because they weren’t told the performance was called off.
You’ll need to send an email to all of your known ticket holders with a clear, informative message explaining why the show was canceled. Be contrite, but exhibit a calm and controlled presence. Offer to give patrons either a refund or a credit to apply towards another performance. Explain in detail what the process is and how long it will take. But make no mistake—if they choose the refund, give it to them, and make the process easy. Remember that you’re in damage control mode. The best possible outcome is for you to keep the loyalty of the audience. If you make the refund process difficult, you’re likely to lose those patrons forever.
You should also generate a phone list for anybody who opted out of your email contact list. If time permits, make the effort to call each and every one of those people individually. Does this sound like a hassle? It can be, depending on your ticketing partner (Vendini and CrowdTorch members have access to a support team who can help manage all of these issues). Either way, it’s essential to make sure every single ticket holder is contacted and offered a refund or a credit. (This is a good time to point out that having contact information for all of your patrons is one of many reasons why every venue should own their ticketing data.)
4. Update Your Website, Social Media, Phone Message and Advertising
Not everyone buys a ticket in advance, so make sure to communicate the cancellation to the general public. On your website, it’s important that you don’t just erase the listing for the performance. Make a note on it informing people of the cancellation and provide a number to call with questions. The same goes for any print or online advertising you’re running. Make sure to update any information you have on your social media properties and post a message delivering the news. Finally, change your voicemail message on your box office line to alert people to the cancellation. The idea here is to over communicate the issue until you’ve accounted for contacting every single ticket holder.
Remember that if you have to cancel an event, it isn’t just an inconvenience for you—it’s an inconvenience for everyone who bought a ticket. By getting in front of the problem and actively reaching out to your patrons, you’re showing them that you care about their business and that you’d never leave them disappointed.
P.S. For Vendini members, we have a complete set of protocols in place to help if you need to cancel an event. For theaters and venues who aren’t working with Vendini, we’d love to show you how we’re not just a ticketing company, but a real partner. Just drop us a line ›