Know Your Shadow Audience: Go from Surviving to Thriving

Matthew Zarracina
4 min readDec 13, 2022


Image by kjpargeter on Freepik

Being an operator in the live experience space is hard. Take the typical Broadway musical, for example. Shows can cost over $500K per week to produce, with the difference between success and failure being directly linked to an organization’s ability to drive attendance. In fact, a 1% change in the attendance for a musical can result in the gain (or loss) of hundreds of thousands in top-line revenue per year.

Source: RPubs — STA 112 Project 1 KAT

In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear essentially argues the point that we see in the table above — that small incremental improvements over time can have a massive and outsize impact. But how does Broadway relate to the regional venue that maybe does 150,000 tickets per year? In many ways, the attendance issue is more acute for regional operators, as they are not able to rely on 65% of their audience being tourists. With a much greater portion of their audience coming from the local community, knowing their audience is critical to developing those relationships, driving repeat business, and achieving those seemingly small 1% improvements.

Why is this important?

It is important because it is how businesses win, period. Before you can understand your audience to grow your audience, you need to have an accurate and reliable way to KNOW your audience. With no knowledge of who is attending your performances, your efforts to understand and grow your audience will be at best, massively inefficient… and at worst, completely misdirected.

Netflix knows I like startup documentaries and Madagascar 2. They also likely know I lead a startup and have a 4-year-old. Delta knows I’ll pay a little bit extra to fly with them, sometimes even preferring a connecting flight because I have status and almost always get upgraded. Facebook, despite my best efforts, I can’t quit because all my friends are on it. What’s the one thing these companies have in common that live event organizers lack? They know 90% to 100% of the people engaging with their product.

The vast majority of live event organizers know maybe between 25% and 40% of the people who actually engage with their content. Even then, most only know the initial ticket buyer and not the actual event attendee. What if instead of knowing 25% to 40% of their audience, live event organizers knew 50%, 60%, 70%, or 80% of the people who actually attended their events? With that knowledge, what would that enable? What could be done better? What could be done differently?

Make the Ticket the Strategic Capability

The good news is for the live events industry is there is a very straightforward solution: the ticket. By enhancing and securing ticketing — specifically ticket delivery — it’s now possible to know your shadow audience and realize those small improvements that can have a massive impact.

Rules-based ticket sharing from True Tickets has been live for less than four months and we have already surpassed 100,000 tickets shared and accepted. With the launch of this feature, our clients saw over 33,000 net new to file patron names (actual performance attendees) in their database. To some, the numbers may not be impressive yet, but the impact is undeniable. These are patrons they now know — people with which they can now build a direct relationship.

Let’s go back to the regional theater struggling to survive. With 75% attendance and only recouping 50% of gross, they are running a multimillion-dollar shortfall every year. That is a daunting amount to make up each year. But imagine they were armed with more knowledge of who their shadow audience is. Let’s say they are able to drive up attendance the next year to 80%. Assuming show costs of $300K per week and 40 weeks of shows per year, that’s nearly $1M in additional top line revenue! What could that revenue enable? Additional staff. Deferred maintenance. Capital projects. More marketing and development. The list is endless.

Going from surviving to thriving for live event organizers may actually require less effort than most think. But knowing your shadow audience is the key first step to making a small improvement that can have a massive impact.



Matthew Zarracina

Co-founder & CEO of True Tickets | reader, rower, & former pilot | amateur ball player & guitarist | full-time husband & dad | intellectually curious by nature