Can we Moneyball Broadway?

One of the most popular flicks of the last several weeks has been the Brad Pitt produced, Moneyball, based on the book of the same name.

Simply put, Moneyball is about statistics . . . and how the Oakland A’s used complex mathematical formulas to find some of the most undervalued players on the baseball market, in order to put together a team that could challenge the best teams, for 25% of the payroll costs.

Despite a bunch of the old baseball guard rejecting the theory, the A’s were so successful that the principles in Moneyball are now used by a bunch of ball clubs across the MLB.

Think we could do it for Broadway?

It’s not as easy, because we just don’t get up to bat as much.  Ball players play over 100 games a season, get up to a bat a few times a game at least, and play year after year.  They have a long-term past behavior that can help predict future results.

It’s not as easy for plays and musicals . . . but maybe . . .

Could we analyze which theaters recoup more shows?  Which writers?  Which actors?  What about the time of year?  Musicals versus plays?  Is there a budgetary sweet spot that gives you an edge?

I’m not sure we could ever get something as effective at sabermetrics, but there are no doubt a whole bunch of numbers that could help determine what degree of risk you were taking with a show.

Would statistical analysis be the only thing I’d use to make a decision to produce or invest in a show?


Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a huge believer in numbers, and I’d be the first one that would support the research of some of my questions above.  But in the business of Broadway, as in sports and the like, the numbers come second . . . and your gut comes first.


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  • Jesse says:

    I mean…doesn’t that already happen? How many more investors do you get in a show if you mention Hugh Jackman or Joe Mantello or Marc Shaiman. I feel like it happens, much more informally, but everyone already has their opinions on when its best to open shows and how to get TONY votes, etc.
    But, the other major factor is the art. Its a lot more complicated then just hitting a ball or getting runs, right? There are so many more factors at stake. The piece, the social climate, etc. Its about everything coming together, where as in sports the individuals, especially in baseball, can function independently…

  • Margie Goldsmith says:

    I am SO GLAD you said your gut. Because that’s what makes me like or dislike a Broadway play — how it resonates with me. Sure, you can measure baseball player’s stats, but Broadway’s stats are all heart.

  • David says:

    The question is could you Moneyball off-broadway?

  • Roger says:

    Jesse cites the factors that defy quantization. The question is; while we know that art can be lighting in a bottle, what factors do hit shows share, and how can these factors be optimized?

  • Michael DiGaetano says:

    Im curious about something. I had a meeting today with the development person of an actor who has been on Broadway recently doing eith shos a week and he said the guy will probably never do it again because it was exhausting.Would reducing the number of shows from 8 to 6 per week make any kind of difference when it comes to how much it would cost to run a show as well as ticket prices?

  • Mike Folie says:

    What made sabermetrics groundbreaking in baseball is that it involved a shift in thinking from “buying players” to “buying runs.” A similar paradigm shift in theatre thinking might benefit Broadway/Off-Broadway, too. For example, from “selling tickets” or “selling seats” to “selling a totally unique end emotionally charged experience.”

  • Bryan David says:

    Dear Mr. Davenport, et al:
    It goes without saying that to produce Stephen Sondheim’s next ‘new’ musical will cost you more upfront (Tickets & Theatre) as the expectations are high as are the ticket prices. If it turns out to be a show like, “Into the Woods” every one makes money. How ever if It turns out to be, “Anyone Can Whistle” not so much.
    So if you produce one of my shows say:
    “Whitechapel” ©
    The Life & Times of:
    ‘Jack The Ripper’
    A Musical Love Story! ™
    “Wilde About Me!” ©
    The Life, Loves & Lawsuits of: Oscar Wilde! ™
    The upfront cost should be less (Inc. ticket prices & Theatre too!) doesn’t the producers ‘odds’ of financial success increase? What is your opinion?

  • I actually know a presenter in California who does his own version of MoneyBall in programming his season. His belief is that he can program a certain genre of performance on a certain day and it will be successful. He doesn’t care about who the artist is as long as they fit the genre he is looking for. For example, he can program a classical music performance on the third weekend of October and it will sell better than any other time of the year. He came up with a formula based on the venues long history of presenting and did in depth ticket purchasing analysis to come up with his formula.
    Can’t say that I agree with this way of putting a season together, but I do agree with you that there is a value in looking at the numbers

  • Yosi Merves says:

    I would love to “Moneyball” Broadway! However, I think the difference between baseball and theater is that whether a baseball team wins their games is more dependent on the individual strengths and weaknesses of the players and their talents, as well as some luck. Whether a show is successful or not depends only indirectly on the talent and skill of the cast and creative team, and directly on how many people have paid to see the show that week, and how much they paid to see it. Obviously the talent involved is a factor influencing whether people see the show and thus make it successful, but marketing, price, and subject matter are among the many other factors.
    Talent attracts other talent, which is why the same baseball teams are often contenders year after year. Many unsuccessful shows have had talented casts, I could name a litany of personal favorites, but it’s rare for them to these actors to win Tonys. Similarly, baseball teams in last place might have a talented player or two, but you don’t have many MVP players on last place teams. As a matter of fact, Andre Dawson and Alex Rodriguez are the only players in history to have accomplished this task, both within the last 25 years.
    Major League Baseball games will still happen in an empty stadium. As a lifelong Florida Marlins fan, I can certainly attest to this. The fans do not affect the outcome of the game, the players do. But plays and musicals will not happen in an empty theater. At least not for long.

  • Jon Kakaley says:

    Moneyball was my favorite film this year, and is quickly becoming one of my favorite films of all time.
    But I don’t think the “moneyball” approach would work to well with theatrical endeavors. Too many variables go into making a successful show. It would be impossible to isolate one or two and start making decisions based on that.
    Think of how many times a “money in the bank” star has been cast in a movie only to produce a huge flop. It’s happened to the best of them. At the end of the day, a good show (and only a good show) is a surefire way of making money.

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