A gross statistical seasonal wrap up. Part I

The official Broadway season finished up on Sunday, and with that comes the release of the highly anticipated season stats.

How did Broadway do during the last 12 months?

Total gross was $943.3 million, up 5.8 million or an itsy-bitsy .6% from last year’s tally of $937.5 million.  Not so bad, in light of the current economic climate (my favorite hackneyed expression).

But don’t stop at the dollars.  Let’s look deeper.

Attendance at Broadway houses was 12.15 million, down 120k or 1% from the prior year’s 12.27 million.

So there was more cash in the till, thanks to our usual increase in full price tickets, no doubt, but our audience got smaller.

Should we celebrate?  Or should be be concerned?

While I am thrilled that we managed to pull out a squeaker last year, despite a gas crisis, a stock market crisis, and a credit crisis, and a crisis on the overuse of the word crisis, there’s a trend emerging that has me a bit on edge.

As I wrote about in this post regarding whether or not discounts are eroding our full price sales, we’ve been on an attendance plateau of the last 8 years, despite an increasing gross.  And this year that trend continued, as we slipped backwards another 1% in attendance, while the gross barely inched forward.

But more importantly, this is the second slip in attendance we’ve had in a row.

In the 25 years of seasonal statistics available, a decrease in attendance over 2 seasons has only happened once before.  The last time we’ve seen this sort of negative pattern started with the 1988-’89 season . . .  and continued for three seasons in a row.

And I’ll predict that in the upcoming season, 2009-’10, we will see yet another decline in attendance.

While it is true that one of the current ‘seasons of slippage’ included the stagehands strike when we went dark for 19 days, which explains the drop that season . . . how do we explain how we’ve fallen from there???

In my opinion, these statistics and this trending plateau are continued evidence that we’ve hit a ceiling for the Broadway audience.  My concern is that if the attendance remains flat (or slips), and our expenses increase (which they automatically do, thanks to labor contracts, etc.), it means that prices must go higher in order for shows to operate.  We all know that the answer to economic challenges can never be as simple as raising prices, which could lead to even more attendance attrition, etc.

These trends mean that just as every other industry in America is examining how they operate efficiently in this new economy, we must do the same . . . or our real crisis may be yet to come.

We can break through this ceiling. There is more growth that can occur.  But just like the last steps up a mountain, it is going to require a new set of tools and a lot more effort than ever before.

Tomorrow we’re going to break down the last 11 weeks of the season, to see if we can make a prognosis for the summer tourist traffic.

Until then . . .

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Broadway Grosses w/e 5/24/09

Show Name Gross
33 VARIATIONS $236,250
9 TO 5 $805,908
AVENUE Q $290,542
CHICAGO $564,982
EXIT THE KING $486,489
HAIR $930,263
IRENA’S VOW $177,701
JERSEY BOYS $1,041,387
MAMMA MIA! $894,070
MARY STUART $320,683
ROCK OF AGES $450,676
THE 39 STEPS $168,193
THE LION KING $1,118,909
WEST SIDE STORY $1,244,810
WICKED $1,416,179

The game on Broadway has changed.

http://www.theproducersperspective.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/my_weblog/6a00e54ef2e21b8833011570a4d6bd970b.jpgAnd by game, I mean traffic.  And by Broadway, I mean the actual street.

The picture in this post is of Broadway (que Ripley).  Those are chairs down there.  And people sitting in them . . . in the middle of the street, where taxi cabs and City Sights buses once fought for the same slice of the street.
No more, thanks to Mayor Bloomberg.  Traffic is now closed on Broadway from 47th to 42nd street and the street is a a big pedestrian mall.
And since a chunk of that real estate saddles up against the TKTS booth, you can bet that it’s going to affect ticket sales. But how?
  • There will be more room for pedestrians to walk, talk and interact, therefore the importance of a great street team is even greater than it has been in the last 12 months.
  • The importance and value of outdoor advertising in Times Square (billboards, etc.)  just went up, as more pedestrians should flock to the area (and if those chairs stay, so will the pedestrians, soaking up a much stronger impression from that advertising).
  • How people physically approach the booth is going to change, and so should booth business, as more people will be simply walking closer to it.  More people in closer proximity puts more pressure on the the booth promoter for your show (yes, I’m sorry to say, but those many people that stand by the TKTS boards and shout, “Any questions?  Anyone need help,” are actually being paid by specific shows to “guide” you towards the right decision (which is the the show they are being paid by).

The environment has changed.

And that means there’s a new opportunity.  It’s your job to find it.
(BTW, I’m predicting grassed over streets in Times Square in 10 years or less.  And nothing will make me happier.  Thanks, Bloomie.  I’m sorry your congestion pricing didn’t pass, but this is a great alternative.)
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A Graphic Design book about Broadway.

I e-stumbled upon a nugget of an interview recently with Barry Weissler, the Producer of the phenom known as Chicago, and Drew Hodges, the head of Spotco, one of the powerhouses in the theatrical advertising world, which handles Chicago.

What’s interesting about this interview is that it’s not in the theatre section of the NY Times. It’s not on Broadway.com or in American Theatre. It’s from a book called The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Clients:  How to Make Clients Happy and Do Great Work by Ellen Shapiro.
What’s also interesting is that the interview was done years ago, and features questions like, “How important is it for a show to have a website today?” as well as insights into how both Drew and Barry, two of the best in the biz, approach the creation of art for a show.
And with Google Books, you can read it without buying it.
Read here.  (p. 171)

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Do Tony Nominators and Voters really forget the fall?

No one denies that this has been an extraordinary season on Broadway, considering the economic shite-storm the world has been walking through for the past six months.

With so many great productions and so many great actors on the boards, the potential nominees for this year’s Tony Awards were plentiful.  Yet several industry vets are still wondering how a few standout productions and performances were left off the list.

What happened to The Seagull?  And Kristin Scott Thomas?  All My Sons?  Should Equus have been been nominated?  Daniel Radcliffe?  TOS?

As I heard more and more folks ranting about what productions and people were snubbed, I noticed a trend.  Most of the slights were from shows that opened in the Fall.

That begged the question . . . do you stand a better chance of winning a Tony if your show opens in the Spring versus the Fall? (Spring = 1/1 – Tony Cutoff.  Fall = Tony Cutoff – 12/31.)

I dove into IBDB.com and TonyAwards.com to see if there was a seasonal advantage, and here’s what I found out.

Over the past 20 years . . .

  • 65% of the winners of the Best Musical Tony opened in the Spring.
  • 60% of the winners of the Best Play Tony opened in the Spring.

Over the past 15 years (the revival categories are only 15 years old) . . .

  • 67% of the winners of the Best Revival of a Musical Tony opened in the Spring.
  • 87% of the winners of the Best Revival of a Play Tony opened in the Spring.

On average, that means 70% of the Tony Award winners in these four major categories period were Spring productions.

There’s an argument to open when the leaves are coming back on the trees, don’t you think?

I know what you’re thinking . . . more shows open in the Spring, so of course the Spring produces more winners, right?


Over the past 20 years, 51% of Broadway shows opened in the Fall versus 49% in the Spring!

Now do you believe there’s an advantage?

But wait . . . just like on a TV commercial for the slice-o-matic, there’s more!

I also looked at the nominees for these awards.  Does opening in the Spring not only give you a better shot at winning, but also a better shot at getting nominated?

Results, please . . .

Over the past 20 years . . .

  • 64% of the nominees for the Best Musical Tony opened in the Spring.
  • 72% of the nominees for the Best Play Tony opened in the Spring.

Over the past 15 years . . .

  • 60% of the nominees for the Best Revival of a Musical Tony opened in the Spring.
  • 68% of the nominees for the Best Revival of a Play Tony opened in the Spring.

That means 66% of all the Tony Award nominees in these categories were Spring productions.

Shall we give you a another slice-o-matic for the same price?

What about actors and actresses?  Does the time of opening affect the performance awards as well?  Would Kristin and Daniel have been more likely to get nominated if they opened post January 1?

Over the past 20 years . . .

  • 63% of the winners of the Best Actor/Actress in a Musical Tony were from Spring shows.
  • 75% of the winners for the Best Actor/Actress in a Play were from Spring shows.

That’s 68.75% of all the top performance Tony Awards given to actors and actresses in Spring productions.

What about nominations?
Over the past 20 years . . .

  • 60% of the nominees for the Best Actor/Actress in a Musical Tony were from Spring shows.
  • 71% of the nominees for the Best Actor/Actress in a Play were from Spring shows.

What does all this mean?  And why does it happen?

My conclusion is pretty simple:  nominators and voters are human.  They are subject to the same laws of advertising and marketing that we all are.  Shows that are running and being advertised and in the press and being talked about by their families are just more “top of mind” (the goal of advertisers) than shows that have closed, and haven’t had a dime of marketing spent on them in months.  It’s not a conscious decision on their part to give a slight advantage to shows that just opened.  It’s just what happens . . . and now we have the numbers to prove it.

Open in the Fall and there is a statistical disadvantage to being part of the Tony club.


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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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