Very much related to the question of whether Philadelphia can support what it has built is a rising doubt that there are audiences large enough to patronize all the performances now happening in these larger and more numerous venues. The argument advanced by planners of the Kimmel Center during the preopening fund-raising phase was that relative to other cities, Philadelphia had fewer seats.
The Kimmel's main tenant, the Philadelphia Orchestra, saw the expected boost after the opening of Verizon Hall, but attendance since has dropped sharply. The first season of a new music director usually creates a substantial bounce in ticket sales, but Yannick Nézet-Séguin's arrival in 2012 moved the percentage of the house sold only a hair, to 84 percent from 83 percent. Pennsylvania Ballet ticket sales have been flat for a decade. The 2007 opening of the Perelman annex to the Philadelphia Museum of Art did not boost overall Art Museum attendance.
Is the city oversupplied with arts and culture? Or do groups lack the marketing sophistication to lure audiences? A recently commissioned Opera Philadelphia study unmasks an insidious trend: The traditional subscriber model is declining each year, which means that, without changes, the company eventually will end up with a decline in total ticket sales.