Why is the September Slide getting worse?

There’s a myth out there that says “Broadway Business booms all summer long!”

While sure, the tide of tourist dollars that arrive in the warm weather helps keep the grosses up, the whole summer ain’t a bonanza.

In fact, the summer gets more and more focused every year, with the bulk of the bucks coming in mid to the end of July.

After that, it’s a slow but steady sliiiiiiiiide to September.  And we all know what happens there.  Right after Labor Day, the grosses fall off a cliff (just about every business in every industry falls off a cliff around the same time, so don’t feel bad – people just don’t like to spend money around that time of year).

I’ve been riding this September Slide with all of my shows throughout my career, so I’m used to it.  But recently it felt like it was getting worse.

But I’m a paranoid Producer, so we can’t just go on my hysterical hunches . . . we gotta look at the data.

So one of my trusty interns and I did just that.

We looked at a twenty year period from 1994 – 2013 and for each year we pulled out the aggregate Broadway gross for all shows for the week previous to Labor Day (“Week #1”) and compared that to the aggregate Broadway gross for the week four weeks prior to Labor Day (“Week #4”).  We then figured the percentage decline from the 4th week to the week before ((“Week #4 – Week #1)/Week #4).  Make sense?

(First bit of interesting info – there was only ONE week in that 20 year period when grosses didn’t decline – in 2006, when grosses grew by a whopping .08%.)

Then, I divided those twenty years into two groups, 1994 – 2003 and 2004 – 2013 and I calculated the average percentage decline from Week #4 to Week #1, or what I call “The September Slide Quotient.”

The results?

For the first decade, 1994 – 2003, Broadway Grosses declined 9.07% from four weeks prior to Labor Day to the week prior to Labor Day.

For the second decade, 2004 – 2013, Broadway Grosses declined 12.61%!

That’s an increase to our September Slide Quotient of 3.54%!

To put that in actual dollars, if 2013 had only a slide of 9.07% (the first decade’s Sept. Slide Quotient), Broadway as a whole would have grossed another $722,685!  That’s like having another musical on the boards!  Or two plays!  Both with healthy grosses!

That’s right, during the biggest boom time for Broadway, we’re actually experiencing a larger September Slide than ever before.  Well, well, well, it looks like I’m not paranoid after all!  Ok, well I am, but not about this, anyway!

(For the record, some of you may be asking why I didn’t use this year’s (2014) figures since they are readily available.  Well, honestly, this year is a super anomaly with playing weeks up a whopping 20.9%.  That’s 1/5 more Broadway shows on the boards than last year.  Since this year seems to be an aberration, I excluded it for this analysis.  BUT, we did add it in just to see how much it would change the numbers and we STILL end up with about 2%, or well over $500k.)

So the September Slide is getting worse.

But why?

I think the answer is simple.

School.

Everyone knows start dates for schools (public, private, colleges, etc.) have been scrolling back earlier and earlier each year . . . not to mention the start of “double sessions” for football, soccer, cheerleading, and the zillion more extra curricular activities that are available now that weren’t a decade or two ago.  Orientations, retreats, all factor in as well.  Parents, families, all have to get back home from their breaks faster than ever.

In fact, look at this article from The Washington Post about a Maryland initiative to push the start date of their schools post-labor day, claiming families need more time to spend with each other (admit it, Maryland politicians,  you really mean more time to spend money).

Obviously this country needs to continue to focus on education, especially as we start to lag behind the rest of the world, so I’m not suggesting that we start pulling our kids out of school to see shows.

But the September Slide is real.  And it’s getting worse.

We’ve got to come up with another initiative to counteract it.

How about the June Jump?

 

 

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Comments
  • Jared says:

    I think you’re wrong, Ken. I think the number one cause is actually variable pricing, which didn’t really exist 10 years ago. What is the average ticket price for 4 weeks out from Labor Day versus near the actual holiday? I bet the Labor Day average ticket price is less, which would only exacerbate the dip in grosses caused by less people buying tickets.

  • Garrett says:

    recently fell victim to the September Slide. I produced a play, and unfortunately the best time slot for the space I wanted to produce in was in September.

    I should have waited until the next year, yes there were alternative venues, but I stand by the venue choice.

  • Tom Hartman says:

    If I was a producer and you presented me with the information you do in this column, my question would then be, “Could you break this down further and see if the slump works universally among all ticket buyers?” Are there any groups in the buying audience that show a spike or whose purchases remain steady? I would then work to cover the slump by marketing to these groups.

  • Sam says:

    I think the problem is in the way the season is structured. Generally, the Broadway season starts in early September with previews for the new plays and musical revivals. Things really pick up with several shows opening in October and early November. Then nothing from Thanksgiving to a week after New Years (and, not infrequently, till February, to be honest). Then we get (and please know this is an exaggeration) 85 new shows opening between March and the Tony cutoff date so they can all win awards, get their money, and leave town. By the first or second week of July, all there is to see are the old chestnuts that we’ve all seen more times than we can shake a stick at! There’s absolutely nothing to see from mid July until mid September when the next new season starts! I know that there are some shows that people fall in love with and want to see again and again, but I am not one of them, nor do any of my friends have any interest in wasting their time or money seeing the same old things they’ve seen before just for the sake of going to a show.

  • Debbie Saville says:

    I have been involved with theater for over 30+ years and have a genuine passion for theater… here is a street level view from our visit to NYC this past weekend. This really doesn’t have anything to do with the month of September but since this is still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share the experience.

    My friends and I plan a NYC weekend every year. We stay in SOHO and take the subway to our destinations. Friday afternoon our destination was 42nd street. From the time I hit the streets I was bombarded with flyers for bus rides, Broadway shows, comedy shows (one guy putting his phone number on the ad, another saying to me come to our comedy club…”I’m single” as the street characters continually invaded my space wanting me to take a picture with them when all I was trying to do was get to our next destination. Seriously, I couldn’t wait to get to the side streets where we found the St Luke’s theater and we bought tickets for an off-Broadway show. (My friends are not theater goers but were intrigued by the performance space and the door was open and inviting.)

    So continuing on…. Saturday evening we once again venture out to 42nd street, giving ourselves one hour to get to the show. We were so packed on the street, it took almost that full hour to reach our destination which was only a few blocks away. My friends noticed the tremendous lines for those waiting to get into the Broadway shows and commented. “So happy we are not in those lines” and we all felt a sense of relief approaching the theater on those side streets, even myself, one who is heavily involved with theater.

    I get it… we are in NYC… this is the way it is. But as an avid theater goer, actress, director, etc… I noticed my friend’s comments and my own thoughts. I would love to be an audience member at a Broadway show in NYC and I am certain my friends would be more interested as new audience members if it was just a better experience getting there. I am not quick to anger, but there is only so much “in your face”, “invade my personal space”, that can be handled in one weekend. 🙂

  • Important observations. How do the top ten longest running Broadway shows compare in September slide numbers? Does it matter if the show is a revival? A novel/book adaptation? Etc.?

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

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