Three Things Broadway can learn from The World Cup.

Broadway World CupGooaaaaaaaaaaaaaal!

Is it just me or has everyone gone World Cup Crazy?

It’s been four years since the last Cup, and I don’t remember the volume of the soccer conversation in this city ever being as loud as it is now, an obvious sign that the sport has achieved some serious market penetration, as opposed to four years ago.

It’s on the TV, it’s on the Interwebs, and it’s even on the streets (Three German dudes were passing a ball back and forth on Broadway and 48th street yesterday).

So what is it about the Cup that’s gotten everyone to literally kick up their heels?  And what can Broadway learn from it?

Here are three things that Broadway can learn from The World Cup:


The Cup is like the Olympics.  It happens every four years, and it has a way of getting the attention of the entire world.  In fact, one year, the ratings for The Cup out did the ratings for The Olympics!  Countries from all over the world tune in and all talk one common language – soccer or rather, “football.”

While Broadway has only existed for about a hundred years, the theater goes back for thousands.  And plays are performed all over the world, in every language manageable.

While international tourists coming to Broadway has been on the rise in recent years (we welcomed 11 million international tourists in 2012), we’ve still got a tremendous amount of room to grow.

How could we grow the international market and unite our audiences like The World Cup unites theirs?

International stars in Broadway shows?  Ear piece delivered translations during the show?  Box Office treasurers who speak several languages?

The overall Broadway audience has been relatively flat for the last several years.  The international audience represents our greatest potential for growth.


Two opposing sides who are in direct conflict with each other.

That’s a soccer game.

And also a play.

Competitive sports are the perfect structure for any drama.  Take two characters.  Make one want something very, very badly.  And make the other one NOT want that character to get it.  (You probably remember that improv exercise if you ever took acting.)

This theory is why sports movies can be so successful (Rocky, Hoosiers, etc.) because they have a win/lose objective built in to their plot.

Want your audience jumping up and down?  Find a way to make your protagonists and antagonists wants as diametrically opposed as Brazil and England, competing in the finals.


The thing about the World Cup is that . . . there will be a winner.  Just like The Stanley Cup.  And the Super Bowl.  And The Westminster Dog Show.  And the local spelling bee, beauty pageant, and bake-off.

People are drawn to competitions.  They love to watch them and they love to participate in them.  And when you have contests, you actually fuel both sides of a specific business.  You draw so much attention to the subject at hand, that the audience expands, and, new “players” rush into the game as well.  (That’s one of the reasons we do our 10 Minute Play Contest – to encourage more people to write, knowing that a competition, with a cash prize, will be a good motivator).

And since “players” eventually become audience members or supporters, contests like The Cup become a double whammy marketing lightning rod for the growth of an industry.

We’ve got a good set of awards here with The Tonys, Drama Desks and Outer Critics.  And there’s the Oliviers in London.  But I’m still wondering if there could be some more global competition involving the theater.  Remember, way back  in 2008 (!), in the humble beginnings of this blog, when I wrote about The World Championship of Theater?  Not sure if that idea is entirely possible, but there has to be something that we can do on a global scale.  Heck if they can have a World Champion BBQ Cooking Contest, there’s gotta be something we can do, right?


The World Cup and Broadway have a lot in common.  People love ’em, but they don’t necessarily pay enough attention to them all year ’round.  They’re like that friend you see once a year that you love hanging out with, but then you forget about ’em until next year.  And when you do see ’em again, you say, “Why do I only see you once a year?”

Our job as Producers and FIFA’s job (with their 2.6 billion in profit) is to find a way to be the best friend that you can’t live without.

(Truth time – I wrote this blog last night and after I finished, I remembered I wrote a similar one FOUR years ago after the last World Cup!  So if you want to read five MORE things (albeit a little bit dated) that we can learn from The Cup, click here.  It’s crazy that I’ve been writing this blog long enough to repeat myself about events that happen every four years.)


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  • Jared says:

    Contrarian corner time: I am wary of going too aggressively after the international market. While they certainly have a place and a fair amount of money, I think artistically it would encourage some habits I don’t think are in the industry’s best interests.

    Shows that are popular with the international crowd tend to be spectacle driven, since you don’t need to understand the language being spoken to understand that a falling chandelier is pretty damn impressive. Spectacle based shows are very expensive to produce and as a result, tend to be less artistically daring because the myriad of producers are (understandably) worried about trying to get their money back. I think this is bad for the industry and the artform.

    Also, for a show to really become a foreign draw, it needs to run long enough for people in other countries to have heard of it. That means more long-running shows, in an industry where we already have a very limited amount of available theatre space. While it is great for the people who live abroad to be able to see “Mamma Mia!” 10 years after it opened, it does prevent other options being available for those of us who live closer to home that have already seen the show.

    All that said, I do think there are a few simple things Broadway can do to be more inviting to international tourists (who as often as not, have plenty of money to support our expensive industry). Every show should have a translator earpiece. As a concierge at a New York hotel, I have come across many international guests who are interested in seeing a Broadway show but are concerned because they don’t speak great English. If every show offered a translator earpiece, they would have more options besides the usual suspects of “Wicked,” “Phantom,” and “Mamma Mia.” They’d also probably be much more likely to see a play, which generally could use the extra box office dollars more than a musical.

  • senorvoce says:

    Maybe it’s time to sell shows as what they are. Not a bar of soap, not a soccer game, not a picnic.

    Broadway needs to revel in its uniqueness. There’s nothing else like it, so sell that.

  • Kenneth Branagh is causing quite a stir up at the Armory. A unique venue, granted, and there are so many factors creating the draw for this show….but someone should be analyzing what’s going right here. When a show arrives from the UK somehow it always has a tremendous draw…is it the limited run, the big names, the plays themselves?
    A different kind of World Cup, decidedly English speaking….but something you should write about Ken, your take is always appreciated and spot on.

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