Trivia Time: Who Has Produced the Most Broadway Shows In The Last 20 Years?

Cameron Macintosh?  Disney?  The Weisslers?

Nope.

The Roundabout.

They’ve produced more Broadway shows than anyone.  More in one SEASON that most producers produce over two decades.

And they are a non-profit.  Coincidence?  Or evidence that a different economic model is what is needed to be a prolific producer.

Be Careful! Your Competition Is In The Same Room!

There are 3 advertising agencies that handle the bulk of Broadway business. 

3.

In the 2005-2006, Broadway season, there were 39 new productions on Broadway.  There were also 32 continuing productions from the previous season.

71 shows.  Handled by 3 agencies.

Divided equally (which they are not), means that each agency handled an average of 23.67 shows.  In reality, 2 of those agencies handled the majority of the shows.

To demonstrate a huge practical problem associated with these numbers, let’s look at the four nominees for Best Musical in 2007:  CurtainsGrey Gardens, Mary Poppins and Spring Awakening.

All FOUR of these musicals were represented by the same advertising agency.

That means that Tony campaigns, sales figures, etc. were all discussed, strategized and planned in the same house. 

So when you’re doing your next show, you should understand that your meetings will probably be held in the same conference room as your direct competition.

Can you imagine if Microsoft and Apple were handled by the same advertising agency?  And shared a conference room?  Or Coke and Pepsi?  Or even small hometown grocery stores?   

It’s not even smart business to consider these facts before making your choice of your agency, it’s just common sense.  I’m not insinuating that anything unethical is happening at any of these agencies, but with millions and millions of dollars on the line, why would you take the chance of all that information under one roof?  Even the most ethical and honest employee would have to be subconsciously influenced with the knowledge of what one show’s competitors are doing, wouldn’t you think?

In other industries, companies refuse to allow their advertising agencies to rep competitors.  Duh. 

I know what people will say: “Ken, the reason there is so much overlapping is because there isn’t enough consistent work to go around to keep these agencies running.”

I disagree.  23.67 shows is a lot of commission.  And besides, I’ve seen the sizes of each of their offices. And conversely, I’ve seen the sizes of all of the Producers’ offices in this city.  The agencies don’t need to take on this much work.

But this isn’t their fault.  They are just growing their business.  We’re the ones ignoring the reality and allowing these practices to continue.   

The other argument is that there aren’t enough qualified advertising agencies in business.  This may be true. 

Anyone out there want to hang a shingle?

Or better, maybe producers should start doing advertising in-house. 

News flash: Numbers can talk!

In addition to using the numbers we crunched last week to create a budget that increases your odds of success, here’s another simple use:

One of the hardest things for producers to do is to say “No.”  Who wants to say no when a director, a designer, your child, or anybody asks for something?  Believe it or not, we would love to be able to say “Yes” to everything.  Unfortunately, it’s our job to say no when the request doesn’t assist us with our  #1 responsibility.

So, whenever possible, I let my numbers say no for me.

There’s no arguing with numbers.  While artistic tastes may vary, numbers are not ambiguous.  They are indisputable (as long as they are from reputable sources and triple verified).  I find this most helpful during negotiations.  And the great thing is, it’s not a negotiating trick or tactic.  It’s not a game.  It’s just the truth.

For example, with my Backed-In Budget (my name for designing a budget based on what the  market is bearing), we know the average length of a run for a Broadway revival.  So use it.  When an agent asks for something that doesn’t fit in the model, say, “Did you know that since 1984, the average run of a musical revival was only 51.59 weeks” and so on, using the statistics for average attendance and ticket price and so on.  Most likely, the model for your production will be higher than the average, so you’ll be able to tell the agent that you’re already above and beyond what the market is bearing, so there is no way to justify additional expenses.

Here’s what I predict will be the response, if you’ve done your homework:

Silence.

Because there is no response to the right set of numbers.

Want a practical example?  When I was negotiating contracts for Altar Boyz and an agent or someone asked for something that didn’t fit in the model, my response was, “If you can tell me the name of an Off-Broadway book musical that recouped its investment in the last 10 years, I’ll give you double what you want.”

Silence.

There’s a bet I knew I wouldn’t lose.

Again, it wasn’t a tactic or me trying to bully anyone.  It was the unfortunate truth.  To make it up to the people who were making sacrifices for the show we bonused them with a portion of profits post-recoupment.  We kept costs down trying to get us to this seemingly impossible feat, and if we got there, everyone would win . . . and most likely they will earn more than they wanted in the first place. 

And we’ll get to recoupment.  I’m going to make damn sure that no other Producer can use that same question in a future negotiation.  Sorry, guys.  🙂

Even if you think you’re a great negotiator, always let the figures talk first and last.  Because numbers are the best negotiators.

Putting What Broadway Bears Into A Box.

When you sit down and prepare to budget a show, what’s the first thing you do?

Figure out how much the theater is going to cost?  Figure out how much the creative fees are going to be?  Or how much you’re going to spend on hair styling bills for a star that submits a receipt for reimbursement every time she steps outside? (true story)

It makes sense to start off with this stuff. But I recommend that before you work on your own show . . . work on everyone else’s first.

For example, I’ve got a bee in my you-know-what about reviving a certain Broadway musical.  So I’m looking at all the other revivals of the last 20+ years first.

And by looking at their numbers, I can create the beginnings of a budgetary box that I can fit my show into based on hard empirical data on what the market can bear.

What’s the first thing I looked for in this search?  Length of run.  Here, exclusive to you, oh faithful blog reader, are the results of numbers crunched by me and my assistant Nicole, thanks to raw data provided by the 

Broadway League.

The following is the average length of runs of productions on Broadway since 1984 (note: some of the productions included in these calculations may still be running)

New Musical                         52.67 weeks

Revival of a Musical               51.59 weeks

New Play                              24.40 weeks  

Revival of a Play                     15.65 weeks

Interesting stuff, huh?  Now, if I know that an average revival only runs 51.59 weeks, I know I better figure out how to recoup the investment in that short period of time.

But Nicole and I are not done yet.  The next figure that will help me build my budgetary box?  Average price of a ticket.  For a revival.  Of a musical. 

Stay tuned.

Give away tickets, sure, but don’t paper.

Every smart company knows that with any product launch, you’ve got to give away some product to start the snowball of word of mouth marketing rolling down the
hill.   

What separates the great marketers from the mass marketers is who that product is given to. 

Ten years ago, there were one or two “papering” organizations in the theater business that had a list of people who were interested in seeing theater that could be
mobilized quickly to fill a house.

Now, there are at least four major papering companies that charge their members a service fee of a few dollars for getting these tickets.  Shows, big and small, give these organizations free tickets, and then these companies profit from being able to get rid of them.  And they’re growing.  One company recently sent me a direct mail offer to sign up.  They are spending more media dollars than my shows.

The hope for the shows is that the members help spread the word of mouth and turn their friends into paying customers.

And maybe that happened ten years ago.  But do you know what’s really happening now?

Word of mouth is spreading about these companies and a way to get a $4 ticket to a show, rather than the show itself!  How do I know this?  Simple . . . the  growth of the number of companies engaging in this activity proves the growth in the market.  Where there are competitors, there is a market share to be had.  And that’s bad news for the theater.  We’re increasing the size of an audience looking for free or extremely discounted tickets.

On top of that . . . does anyone really think that this is the best way to spread word of mouth?  These people that use these services are now trained to expect free tickets.  There is no reciprocity factor any more.  There is no feeling of “Wow, I got a free ticket to a show and can’t wait to see it.”  And if you were one of these people and actually saw a great show, wouldn’t one of the first things you said to a friend be “I saw a great show and I only paid $4!” 

Giving away product is fine, but choose wisely.  It may be easier to call a papering company to get rid of 100 tickets to a preview, but you’ll be much better
served seeking out corporations and hair dressers and banks and anywhere where they don’t usually get this sort of offer (and you can pick specific geographic
locations where you think your demographic may be hiding).  These people will be super-excited to get the offer (and therefore more inclined to talk ositively about the experience) and since they are hand picked by you, more inclined to enjoy your product.  And, by avoiding these companies that profit off our paper, you’ll be helping to prevent the disintegration of our paying audience. 

Avoid papering companies like they are vampire musicals.

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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