Is it better to open in the spring or in the fall?

We all know that the spring season is getting more and more crowded, as Broadway shows try to slam themselves into a theater before that all-important Tony cut-off date at the end of April.  It’s created quite a headache for reviewers and Tony Voters who sometimes have to see up to five shows a week just to keep up (and I wouldn’t want to be the 5th show in that week, would you?).

I’ve heard all sorts of chatter about how to prevent this log jam, from shifting our end of eligibility to the end of the summer and having the Tonys in the fall (like the Emmys) to splitting our season into two semesters of eligibility (one in fall and one in spring).  But that’s for another blog on another day.

Today I wanted to look at new musicals that open in the spring, compared to new musicals that open in the fall.  We’ve already proven that shows that open in the spring are more likely to get a Tony nomination, but what about their survival rate?  Does one season produce more flops than the other?  Are you more likely to get past your first few months if you open in the spring versus the fall?

Here’s what we did to come to some conclusions.

There are a couple of big ol’ dips in Broadway business throughout the year.  For shows that open in the spring, the first is Labor Day.  For shows that open in the winter, the first is right after New Year’s.

So we looked at the last twenty years of new musical openings in both seasons to see what percentage of open-ended new musicals that opened in the spring closed by Labor Day.  And what percentage that opened in the fall closed by the first week after New Year’s.

Make sense?

Here’s what we found out:

20 years labor day

20 years jan 2

I gotta admit, the above charts are the exact opposite of what I thought they were going to be.  I had hypothesized in my head that the increase in the number of spring openings over the last few years would cause more shows to not only fail, but fail faster.

But that’s why we don’t just have hunches.  That’s why we have data.

Because I was wrong.

The trend looks to be that there are fewer spring openings with quick closings over the past ten years or so.  And January or earlier closings for fall shows are on the climb.

And if that wasn’t enough . . .

We took a little bit of a deeper dive into the fall numbers, and extended January out just a little bit, all the way to Presidents’ Day.

Look at what we found.

20 years presidents day

Shocking, right?  Without a doubt, shows opening in the fall are having a tougher time getting through the cold winter than shows that open in the spring.  (The fact that more shows are closing by Presidents’ Day is probably explained by the fact that a few shows try to get a little deeper into January before closing up shop.  The first week after New Year’s has trended up the past few years, so more shows are going a week or so beyond.)

Or maybe shows make it through Labor Day because like squirrels, they’ve saved up more nuts in the rich summer months, giving them more of a reserve to push through back-to-school and Jewish holiday filled September?

Or could it be that with awards still fresh in hand, the shows still feel new enough to attract more consumers than their counterparts that open in the fall that have no accolades to advertise?

This was just a scraping of the surface of this subject for sure, and there would be much more digging to do to find out more on the long-term economic benefits of opening in each separate season.  But even this quick data dive proves that despite the competition, there is an advantage to opening in the spring.

The real challenge is, in today’s market, where trying to get a theater is like trying get the Victoria’s Secret Angels to hit the all-you-can-eat buffet at Shoney’s during Fashion Week . . . Producers don’t have much of a choice when to open.

But if you ever do, make sure you factor in the above to your conversation.


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  • Marshall says:

    Nailed it even before reading your blog! I think it’s logical that while visitors love to come to the City for a musical and the Rockettes, most of NYC is thinking Chanukah and Christmas. Maybe tickets as gift?…eh, let’s get that sweat-ah we saw at Macy’s. It’s cheap-ah.

    Who’s thinking of the cost in April? Not me! 🙂

  • Joe Marino says:

    I think it would be interesting to look more information and to see the total numbers we are talking about.
    Some questions: I am assuming fall means anything that opens after the Tony Awards through the end of the year. I assume the Spring means Jan. 1st- the Tony eligible cut off date.

    What are the hard numbers for each year. Seeing 40% or 80% is telling, but actual numbers (2 out of 5, 20 out of 25) might give a more accurate depiction.

    While a producer will put up both straight plays AND musicals, and the information is important for both types of theater, it would be interesting to see numbers comparing apples to apples- i.e. yearly comparisons of musicals and yearly comparisons of plays to plays.

    So few plays that are not “star driven with limited runs” are mounted in the Fall. That is something interesting to look at.

    Are only new musicals accounted for in this information? I wonder how a revivals comparison would look?

    Finally, any show with a ‘star” attached will probably drop after that initial star leaves (I’m sure a topic for previous/future posts). One thinks of IT’S ONLY A PLAY limping along after Nathan Lane left to do O’Neill. And I would guess most stars are going to pick the spring as their 16 weeks run so that it coincides with the Tony’s.

    It’s all fascinating, none the less.

    Thanks Ken for keeping it interesting.

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