If tourists go up, Broadway grosses go up. But what about bodies?

Yesterday, we drew the very simple conclusion that when there are more tourists in the city, Broadway grosses are bound to go up.  See the graphs in yesterday’s blog if you’d like a reminder.

Today, as promised, I have to draw another graph and a more unsettling conclusion.  It’s one that I’ve drawn before, and frankly, I’m beginning to feel like one of those crazy cult leaders that keeps yapping about an end of the world theory.  Only difference is, I do have some data.

Let’s take a look at that first graph we drew yesterday that charts the growth of the number of tourists coming to New York City since 1992.


Now, let’s not compare that to grosses this time.  Let’s compare that to actual audience attendance, or the number of physical bodies that walk through our theater doors.  Ready?

To quote a Christmas Carol, “Do you see what I see?”

After dramatic increases in the early 90s, we went flat in 1998.  Then there was a modest increase in 2006 and we’ve  been marginally up/down ever since . . . despite a drastic increase in tourists during the same period.

Again, I go back to yesterday . . . more tourists, more dollars . . . but not necessarily more bodies.

And that gives me the ooglies.  (Ooglies = My childhood word for when I got spooked out.)

What’s the cause?  Is our ticket price inflating at a higher rate than in previous decades?  Is it the adoption of premium ticketing?  Do tourists have more options of things to do in NYC and we’re not staying high enough on the list?  Has our audience flatlined because we’ve actually hit a ceiling on the number of people that are interested in Broadway shows?

So many questions.  Some of which I’m going to dig into on future blogs.

Until then, I do know this:  Our revenue is increasing.  The number of tourists in our fair city is increasing.  Our market share is not.

Oh, there is one other thing that is increasing.  Our expenses.  And that, combined with the above, really gives me the ooglies.


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  • Trevor C says:

    Interesting new charts and thought-provoking questions.

    Part of the answer will be found be in looking at what has been happening,is happening and might happen, from a different perspective.

    As set out very clearly the blog – link below – by one of the Ad industries top creative thinkers, Dave Trott.

    The answers will become clearer when you stop thinking about what you want to happen(say), and start thinking about what people want to happen(hear).

    Read more:


  • Adam says:

    This reminds me of Steve Martin’s bit “If I could fill up a 3000 seat hall at $3.00 a ticket, I’d make $9,000.
    If I could fill up the hall at $7.50 a ticket, I’d make $22,500. But if I could fill it at $800.00 a ticket, I’d make $2,400,000. This is what I’m shooting for – one show, goodbye!”

  • Jason says:

    Well, does this have to do with the fact that the number of actual Broadway Theaters is not increasing, or does this have to do with the quality of what’s being presented? Regardless, there is a theoretical upper limit to the amount of people that can see a Broadway show every year anyway because there are x number of seats in y number of theaters times 8 shows a week times 52 weeks a year. Not that Broadway has reached that limit yet, obviously. If it did then higher ticket prices would really be the only path to higher grosses. If all the theaters could book a show like “Wicked” that upper limit is not entirely unreachable, right? It appears to me that there are fewer and fewer blockbusters like “Wicked” or “Book of Mormon” out there that drive their own inherent demand which could be cause for a general lack of bodies in the seats across Broadway. Plus as more shows turn over there is more dead time in the theaters as new shows get ready to open. So, do you think this is a quality issue or a general interest amongst tourists issue? Maybe an upper limit to the number of shows that actually can draw that amount of inherent demand? Or perhaps just a sales/promotional issue?

    I mean I have my own opinions about this as a theater insider; that quality should be looked at first in this equation. Both “Wicked”, “Book of Mormon” and “Jersey Boys” are incredibly successful without the promotional tricks of booking “stars”. Then again “Chicago” is also successful, so… what do I know?!

  • Jared W says:

    I think the reason there aren’t as many people attending Broadway shows, even though grosses are increasing, is because the market has become so dominated by tourists.

    Tourists are by definition on vacation, and we all know that people are a little looser with their money on vacation. It’s a one time thing, you can cut some expenses when you get back home. If you were able to break down the numbers, I bet you would find that tourists are paying a higher average ticket price than locals (people from the tristate area), since they aren’t as aware of the deals and without a frame of reference just assume that’s how much theatre tickets cost. More importantly, as Broadway becomes dominated by long-running shows, locals are buying less tickets than they used to. There are only so many times you can see “Wicked” or “Jersey Boys,” and Broadway ticket prices are high enough that it makes most people think twice before they decide to become a repeat customer. At some point, most locals end up having seen everything they’re interested in, and as Broadway becomes more dependent on long-running hits there are less new options to entice those locals back into the theatre.

    If we want to increase attendance, we’re going to have to do something to increase the number of options available. It’s great that a show like “The Lion King” can run for 15 years and employ thousands of theatre artists and make a ton of money. But if every show becomes “The Lion King,” there stops being new options for regular theatregoers to choose from, and we loose that business.

  • Lynn Manuell says:

    When I visited NYC in 1975 orchestra seats were $15 and standing room $5. We had $1000 for the whole trip. Hotels, gas, food and shows. We saw 7 shows in 5 days and tourist sights. In June my family visited with a total of 6 people. They chose 1 event at Radio City. These are savvy Theate loving people who simply could not afford the cost of tickets. I frankly as a theatre person could not see more than a couple of shows were TDF not available. In the 1980s I saw every show that opened each season. The equation is it takes fewer people to hit a higher gross…but it will be fewer people

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