The Nutcracker Case Study — “Ballet Austin: You’re My Hero.”

Matthew Zarracina
5 min readJan 16, 2024
Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood

In the summer of 2023, Ballet Austin was fresh off back-to-back record sales in 2021 and 2022. Despite this, the ballet found itself facing a pivotal decision, as their recent success also brought with it the emergence of bad actors — something many ticket issuers experience with their most popular holiday shows. One of the more heart-wrenching stories involved a grandmother who paid $500 for non-existent tickets, leaving her and her granddaughter both in tears in the Long Center lobby. Ballet Austin decided to act.

The company sought a transformative solution that would elevate their patron experience while also addressing the increasing chaos bad actors and unauthorized resellers were causing. In June of 2023, Ballet Austin partnered with True Tickets to provide the secure digital ticket solution dozens of Tessitura network clients already rely on.

This case study details several impactful before-and-after comparisons to help venues assess if True Tickets could be helpful for their organization.

Reduced Reseller Issues:

Before True Tickets: Nights punctuated with unauthorized reseller issues were the norm, resulting in box office staff spending countless hours trying to resolve often unresolvable problems — leading to exhausted staff dealing with frustrated and sometimes angry patrons.

After True Tickets: No box office lines and minimal ticket issues at the door. Not only was sharing tickets easy, but when issues did come up, box office staff were able to resolve them quickly because True Tickets captures the information of the person using the ticket, adding it to the venue’s database directly and in real-time.

Continued Financial Success:

Before True Tickets: Ballet Austin would set aside 5% of the house for “panic seats” to deal with unforeseen ticket issues. 115 seats a night for 15 nights at an average ticket price of $71.50 meant the ballet was sacrificing over $120K in potential revenue to address ticket issues for The Nutcracker.

After True Tickets: This year, the ballet only held 1% of the house back and they “rarely had to tap into them.” Selling the additional 4% of the house resulted in the ballet exceeding their previous 2022 record revenue by $76K.

Streamlined Ticketing:

Before True Tickets: Fumbling with Print-At-Home Tickets (PAHT) and physical copies created delays, leading to long lines, irritated patrons, and flustered ushers.

After True Tickets: Lightning-quick scanning expedited the entry process, minimized wait times, resulting in a 93–95% scan-in rate (the highest ever). The “scanned” ticket status indicator allowed patrons to go in and out of the building to take pictures on the terrace and enjoy the downtown view, while helping the ushers keep their lines moving.

Proactively and Preemptively Mitigating Chargebacks:

Before True Tickets: Chargebacks and disputes posed a constant threat. An inability to prove ticket delivery and receipt or adherence to terms left the ballet with little recourse and a lot of risk.

After True Tickets: The ballet was able to proactively identify and act against suspicious brokers (preemptively refunding over $80K in orders). 98% of the refunded tickets were then sold to actual patrons. Thus far, the ballet has received only ONE chargeback.

Building the Audience of the Future:

Before True Tickets: Research showed, if a patron comes to 3 ballet performances in 18 months, there is a high likelihood they will become a long-time supporter. However, in the past, Ballet Austin only knew the identity of the ticket buyers. The Ballet would only know about recipients if they personally reached out and identified themselves.

After True Tickets: The 32,574 tickets for the ballet’s 15 show run of The Nutcracker resulted in 2,432 new patron registrations of patrons that attended the show. This means 2,432 more patrons they can now market to over the next 18 months to identify the next generation of long-term ballet supporters.

Echoes from Ballet Austin Patron Feedback: Stories of Gratitude

While the Ballet expected True Tickets to deliver financial and operational impact for the organization, what they didn’t expect was how True Tickets would help endear them to their patrons, establishing meaningful relationships with their real-life audience through providing exceptional customer service.

“Thank you so much for your thoughtful and complete letter detailing what happened with the tickets for December 23rd to the Ballet Austin Nutcracker. I so appreciate you notifying me and spending so much time in trying to rectify this problem with the third party. I am beyond impressed, and this will make me a future season ticket holder and proud supporter of your organization. I firmly believe in the arts, and the city of Austin is lucky to have you and this ballet company in their community.” — Ballet Austin Patron Email

“Ballet Austin: you’re my hero. Got a call today from Ballet Austin letting me know that my Nutcracker tickets that I bought in August were through a scammy stupid third party reseller. And that they were onto them. And that Ballet Austin had already refunded the vendor and so I could seek a refund of the gouged price. And offered to sell me back my tickets at a fair price.” — Ballet Austin Patron Email

Jack’s Story: Jack purchased tickets from Expecting Orchestra Center seats, he came to the Box office window upset having received Orchestra Right at the end of the row. Because the original purchaser had shared the tickets with him via True Tickets, we located the order. We offered to cancel the reseller’s order, allowing him to seek a refund from his credit card company, and then sold him 4 great Orchestra Center seats (which had been returned to us earlier that day). Jack paid more than $1,100 for 4 tickets through the broker site — tickets that cost $420 when purchased directly from us. He was incredibly grateful, thanking us for helping him get his desired section and facilitating the refund process. This exceptional level of support was made possible only because of True Tickets.

A Standing Ovation for Ballet Austin

Ballet Austin stands as a beacon for cultural institutions navigating the complex landscape of contemporary audience engagement. The partnership with True Tickets is the epitome of embracing new ways of working to drive success. It is a narrative of resilience, innovation, and a commitment to elevating the patron experience — one that is a dynamic, interactive, and ever-evolving part of the Ballet Austin experience.

As other cultural institutions look to change the narrative in 2024 and beyond, the spotlight is not just on the stage but on the transformative power technology can have in reshaping their future.



Matthew Zarracina

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