Who/What is fueling the Broadway Box Office fire?

Broadway has been on a good run.

According to The Broadway League Seasonal Stats, grosses have been up seven seasons in a row (in truth, one of those seasons remained flat – but hey, flat is not down!).

Unfortunately, attendance has not had the same run.  In the same seven periods of box office growth, there were three seasons where attendance declined (not flat, but definitely down).

So yes, in 3 out of the past 7 seasons, people are paying more, but coming less.

You can see this growth in the graph below of the last ten years of data.

USETHISONE

But honestly, the growth isn’t what is interesting to me.  Why it grew is . . .

The first season of this seven season swing was 2008-09, which had a modest increase despite the economic downturn that began that same year.  And then, slowly we emerged from the era of The Big Short and grosses started to climb.

Some people say that’s the only reason grosses went up . . . that we had a “dead cat bounce” from the very down market.

Think back to 2009 . . . that was also the year that Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig appeared on Broadway in A Steady Rain . . . and people were willing to pay anything to see those two (one theatergoer I met on a beach told me she loved seeing those two on stage together, and when I asked her what she thought about the play, she said, “Who cares?”).

And thus, variable pricing (not just premium pricing, mind you) was born.

According to my research, it was about this time that many successful shows started to adopt the idea of changing their prices as demand warranted, just like our sister industry, the airlines.  By the 2010-11 season, most hit plays were doing it.

And then, boom, The Book of Mormon opened in 2011.  And Scott Rudin et al on that show masterfully proved that it was possible to gross as much as The Lion King or Wicked, in a much smaller theater.

That’s when everyone started doing it.  Almost like it was a race to see who could come up with the highest average ticket price.  Rumors surfaced about a group of experts deep in the Disney offices who spent all their time figuring out an algorithm to make them the most money per butt in seat.  Shows started to do $2mm during holiday weeks.

And the grosses grew year after year, as you can see in that graph.

So if you want to know why we’ve been on such a run . . . it’s because of variable pricing, for sure.

I know, you’re probably saying, “But Ken, aren’t there more shows than there were?  Isn’t that the reason?”

Yes, that is part of it.  There was an average of 41.71 new productions in the last seven seasons versus 37.28 during the previous seven.  It’s responsible for some of the growth.  BUT, just like attendance, the number of new productions DROPPED four times during the last seven seasons . . . and as you can see in the gross graph, the dollars still went up.

And if that wasn’t enough, we did a little more data dissection for you.

We took apart the Broadway grosses and added up the grosses for the TOP FIVE performing shows every week.  You know, the Wickeds, Lion Kings, Hamiltons, etc.

These five shows represent only 16.1% of the number of shows on Broadway.  But they represent 34.0% of the total gross.

Our increase in grosses is a direct result of variable pricing.

So, as long as we keep producing mega hits (Frozen, anyone?) then I’d expect we’d stay on this path.

But the moment we don’t . . . the graphs will go the other direction.

 

(See what the grosses look like without those Top 5 in the graph below.)

Grosses project image

 

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5 Things Broadway can learn from the cruise industry!

Last week, I kidnapped my staff and took them on our yearly retreat.  Last year we went deep into the natural wonder of Mohonk Mountain.  This year?  We took a weekend cruise to the Bahamas!  (Note to self – the Bahamas are much warmer than Mohonk.)

We spent three days digging through the last twelve months of what we’ve done and talking about the next twelve months and where we want to be.  Oh, and yes, we laid in the sun, ate at a lot of buffets and talked about which members of the staff had tattoos (they were all shocked when I admitted that I had one too).

Of course, as I wandered from deck to deck trying to find my (tiny) stateroom, I couldn’t help but notice a few things that Broadway could learn from this multi-billion dollar industry.  And now I’m going to share them with you (and the IRS so they don’t give me any crap for deducting a cruise).

1.  Having fun?  Then come back.  Here’s how.

About 3-5 times per cruise day, I was served an impression on the boat with an offer to book my next cruise and save $500.  The cruise industry knows that if I’m on the boat, I’m probably having a good time.  And they want to capitalize on that positive sentiment.  Boy oh boy do I wish we could sell tickets to our shows at intermission even . . . never mind after the show.  Or what about selling ticket gift cards at the merch booth?  (That’s probably the easiest solution to action.)   Passion for a product is at its highest when the customer is enjoying that product.  So we should give them a chance to buy it again for themselves, or for others.

2.  Want Some Insurance With Your Order?

Everyone, and I mean everyone, living in 2016 is busy.  There are 8 year olds out there with a more packed Google calendar than mine.  And that means plans change, a lot.  The cruise industry recognizes this and offers you insurance to change your plans . . . subject to a small fee, of course.  Offering ticket insurance for our customers would be a great way to reduce the fear of making such an expensive commitment so far in advance.  And we might make a few bucks in the process.

3.  Don’t Worry, Everyone is Happy.

When we stepped on the gangplank, we were greeted by a Julie McCoy-like cruise director and her staff.  And you’d think they’d mainlined a rainbow they were so excited to see us!  But it didn’t stop there.  Every single staff member on that boat from the cabin stewards to the bartenders to the guys and gals who “swab the deck” said hello to me, asked me if I was having fun, wished me a pleasant day, and offered to help me find my stateroom.  Customer service on Broadway has improved over the last few years, but I wouldn’t mind injecting our theater staff with some of that cruisin’ energy.

4.  Food, Glorious Food.

People effin’ love food.  And our days are actually built around meals.  They are the tent poles of our schedule.  Cruises take eating to the extreme because they understand how much people love to eat and how great eating experiences enhance everything also around those experiences.  What does this have to do with us?  No, I’m not suggesting that Broadway becomes dinner theater . . . but we can do a lot more promotions with our sister industry, the restaurants.  Dinner and a show is a cliché for a reason.  If your show isn’t partnering with restaurants in your area, then you’re ignoring one of the major components of the theatergoing experience for your audience.

5.  Want To See How We Steer The Ship?

You know what I said most often while on the ship?  No, it was not, “Where is my @#$%ing stateroom???”  That was second.  My most common uttered phrase was, “How the @#$% are we staying afloat?”  Well, wouldn’t you know it, not only did the cruise offer to explain the science of how a mega ton ship floats, but they offered to give me a tour of the bridge.  They pulled back the curtain to show me the wizards that steered this mammoth vessel and parked it in the port like it was a Hyundai.  If you know someone in our industry, you might, might be able to get a backstage tour.  Why are we so private about it?  Every show should offer this to its audience.  There is nothing like a little education and understanding to turn a fan into a superfan.  (Oh, and BTW, it’s all about water displacement apparently . . . although I still like to think there were a bunch of Daryl Hannah-like mermaids holding us up from the bottom.)

The cruise industry exists solely for people to have a good time.  That’s it.  And that means it could vanish in an instant (and especially in an economic downturn).  That’s why its marketing has to be on point.  And that’s why we can learn a lot from it.  Although we’re not as vulnerable in my opinion (we are entertainment and art), theatergoing would be and has been one of the first things cut from a family budget when things are tight.

Ever taken a cruise?  Anything you remember that we could learn from?

 

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The ONE thing the Academy Awards MUST learn from the Tony Awards.

There has been a lot said about this year’s Oscars.

On Monday morning alone, I did two interviews asking me my thoughts on everything from the diversity issue and why Broadway is better (but not perfect) at embracing all types of people (see the MSNBC article here) to the “Thank You Crawl” (see the New York Post article here).

And usually after a big event like the Oscars, I do a “Things WE can learn from the Oscars” type post (see this one).

But this time, it’s the Oscars that can learn from us.

And yeah, the diversity issue is the big one . . . just wait until our nominations come out this year.  With shows like Hamilton, The Color Purple, Spring Awakening and On Your Feet! on the boards, that Tony Nominee luncheon certainly ain’t going to look like your grandma’s country club.

So much has been said about the Oscars’ lack of diversity that I wanted to talk about the other glaring problem with the awards telecast.

The damn length.

Clocking in at almost 3:30 is killing the movie industry’s big fête, and I’m not surprised to see the ratings drop to the lowest they’ve been in 8 years (and nope, according to this article, the 8% drop wasn’t because of the Will Smith/Al Sharpton inspired boycott).

Today’s audience, especially that all important to the TV/Film world 18-49 younger demographic, demands more “efficient” entertainment.  So much of their daily intake is in short bursts . . . from blogs instead of articles to tweets instead of blogs to status updates to video clips, etc.  Everything has been distilled down.  I sloppily refer to this as the “YouTube-ization Of The Entertainment Seeker.”

To put up a 3.5 hour show and expect an audience to tune in and stay tuned in?

Prepare ye to lose your audience.

Although I really did appreciate the work that sports Producer David Hill did with the show (it was an inspired move to bring him in to shepard this sucker), the response I got from most of the friends I polled about the show?

“Boring.”

You know what boring is code for 97% of the time?  Too long.

It’s time to trim the Academy Awards back and fit it into the 3 hour block that they force the Tony Awards into.  If we can do it, they can too.  Heck, the Oscars should just hire our fantastic long term multi-Emmy Award winning producing team of Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss to take a shot at it one year.  I bet they make them bring that sucker in on budget and on time, like good Producers are supposed to.

I know, I know, people have a lot to say on Awards shows . . . ours included.  But we’ve got to adapt to what the modern audience wants if we want them to keep watching.

And that goes for your shows too, by the way.  And no, I’m not saying that your show has to be short, but if it’s on the long side, well, your degree of difficulty goes way up.

Because if a show, any show, says something, and there’s no audience there to hear it . . . does it actually make a sound?

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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– Listen to Podcast Episode #61 with President of Actors’ Equity Association, Kate Shindle! Click here.

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What to do when people don’t like your show . . . or you.

One of the questions I always ask Writers pitching me shows in my Get Your Show Off The Ground seminar is, “Who do you think is the audience for your show?”

You know what answer I hear too often?

“Everyone!”

Insert game show buzzer here.

WRONG.

There is no show for everyone.  Not a one.  Even the most successful shows of all time have haters.  I’ve got a friend who thinks Les Miz is boring.  Another who has never even been to Wicked.  And wait for it . . . someone who just “doesn’t get” Hamilton.

So whatever your show is, and whether it is successful or not, expect there to be some audience members who can’t stand it, expect there to be some reviewers who don’t get it, and expect there to be some chat board groupies who throw e-tomatoes at it (anonymously, of course).

And unfortunately, this applies to people as well as shows.  Expect someone out there to not like your work and to be vocal about it, whether it be to their families, their friends, or more aptly today, their followers.

What do you do when you read something negative about your show or yourself?  Well, here’s what I do (cuz oh yeah, it happens to me too . . . ):

  • First, remember that it happens to everyone.  In fact, the more successful you are, the more likely you’re going to draw public criticism.  You’ve heard the expression “Imitation is a form of flattery,” right?  I like to say that “E-Hating is a form of flattery.”
  • Second, ask yourself . . . and more importantly, people that you trust . . . “Is there truth in this statement?”  Take every opportunity to learn from whatever you read or hear.  Some of the reviewers or commenters are going to be bat-guano crazy . . . but others may speak the truth.  Sort through the guano and find the gold nuggets.
  • Lastly, forget the haters and focus on the lovers.  Your job as a Producer, Marketer, or Writer is NOT to take people who don’t like your show (or you) and change their opinion.  That’s a nearly impossible task.  So why waste your time and energy on it?  Find the people who like your show and get them to love your show.  Find the people that love your show and get them to tell more people about your show.  The more lovers you have, the more they’ll drown out the haters.

Anyone who creates art for the public to consume is going to face criticism.  How you deal with that criticism can define how long and how successful of a career you will have.  So it’s best to learn how to deal with it early in your career.

You know who I use as a role model for dealing with criticism and still leading the charge?

Presidents.

Barack Obama won the last election with only 51.1% of the popular vote.

Bill Clinton took office with only 43.0% of the popular vote!

These people take charge . . . knowing that half or more than half of the country doesn’t like them!

So what should we care if there are a few folks who don’t like what we do?

It’s not only possible to be a success with detractors in your market, but it’s natural.  It’s what you do (or don’t do) with those detractors that separates the successes from the massive superstar successes.

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

– – – – –

FUN STUFF:

– Listen to Podcast Episode #61 with President of Actors’ Equity Association, Kate Shindle! Click here.

– Win two tickets to That Physics Show Off Broadway!  Click here.

– Need help getting your show off the ground?  Sign up for my seminar on 3/19!  Click here.

Negative ads aren’t just for politicians, unfortunately.

Just about every politician swears they won’t do it.

And then, when their backs are against the primary walls and they get a little desperate, they pull out the negative ads, taking pot shots at their competitors.

Why do they do it?  Because, well, they work, as evidenced in this CNN article.

Broadway doesn’t talk about its competitors much.  You don’t see print ads with The King and I making cracks about An American in Paris or TV commercials with the kids in Matilda bullying their counterparts in School of Rock.

We keep it pretty clean.

Mostly.

I’ve been hearing rumors about a street team that operates on the TKTS island that has been trash talking other shows.  This “promotional team” has come up at advertising meetings and is known for pushing people away from shows that aren’t paying them by saying how “bad” they are, and trying to get those same people to buy tickets for the shows that are paying them.  Gross.  Apparently, like politicians feeling like they are running out of time, they’re so desperate that they’ll cut another show down in the hopes of getting a sale.

And while I don’t have any data, it probably works, just like it does for the politicians.

But it’s really bad form.

Negative advertising in any industry shows a serious lack of confidence and faith in what you’re doing.  You’ve run out of your own virtues to extol, so you get defensive and go after others.

It may get you some quick cash, but it won’t get you to your long term goals.

You know what my sales people do when a client asks them about another show?  We answer honestly . . . and positively.  We encourage them to get tickets for the other show . . . and instantly, we gain serious amounts of trust because the customer knows we’re not making any more on this deal, but are recommending the show regardless.

Boom.  Instant loyalty.  So guess what show they’ll want to see next?  (Cialdini talks about this in his “waiter study” in Influence . . . where waiters have increased their tips by suggesting items on the menu that are NOT the most expensive.)

Bad mouthing other shows is simply a sign of bad sales technique.  Your show deserves better than that.  And if it doesn’t, well then, get yourself another show.

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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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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