What effect will the Super Bowl have on Broadway?

If you think The Return of the Polar Vortex is having a cooling effect on the Broadway Box Office, there could be an even bigger storm a brewin’ that’s set to arrive in two weeks.

Of course, I’m talking about the Super Invasion that takes place not just on Sunday, Feb 2nd, but the entire week before!  That’s when the Super Bowl comes to town in what is going to be the first Super Bowl to be played outdoors in a cold weather environment.

But the game is just the beginning!  If you haven’t heard, the street formerly known as Broadway is going to be shut down from 34th to 48th Street and temporarily renamed Super Bowl Boulevard, where it’ll feature concerts, a field goal kick and a 180 foot toboggan run!  (WTF?)  They are even billing it, “The biggest and brightest show on Broadway!”

Now, I gotta say.  I’m pretty excited about the whole thing, and I’m not even the biggest football fan on the planet.  I like “firsts” and unique events, and I’m also excited for the exposure and revenue that the SB is going to bring to our beloved and expensive city.

But how do I feel it will effect my beloved and expensive industry?

Industry insiders have been freaked about this super week for months, if not longer.  What will happen to sales?

Well, from all of the people I’ve been talking to, Super Week is definitely having an impact on the box office.  Advance sales for  w/e 2/2 are down for all types of shows up and down the street, and all the Broadway Marketers and Advertisers are meeting and scheming to come up with ways to drive sales.  Honestly, people are starting to panic.

And should we?

Here’s my prediction.

Sales are going to be down.  Duh.  Super Bowl Sunday always sucks, and it’s in our backyard.  But the week itself?  Well, I think the week is going to play out exactly like the week in which July 4th occurs every year.  Advance sales are always bad, and there are all sorts of 7/4 offers and discounts to try and minimize the losses.  Why are advance sales so bad?  Locals are out of town, so they don’t provide any foundation, and the tourists that come in are more last minute buyers, like a lot of summer visitors.

Super Bowl week is going to be the same.  A lot of locals may be heading the heck out of Dodge (and renting their apartments for thousands on AirBnB), and the tourists coming in for the game?  Well, they’ve got football on their mind.

But when they get here?

One of the things that people “must” do when the come to town is see a Broadway show.  And that’s going to hold true for that week as well.  So expect advance sales to suck (and again, from my research they do), but expect week of sales to be a lot better than the same period in recent years.

And knowing that, it’s up to you and your shows to come up with initiatives to capitalize on that potential, like . . .

  • Make friends with brokers (who are selling lots of super bowl tickets, and have access to the people that’ll be looking for something to do).
  • Make friends with concierges at the hotels which will be bursting at their occupancy seams.
  • Double or triple your street team presence.
  • Cancel your Sunday night shows.
  • Start advertising in SEATTLE and DENVER now!

It ain’t going to be so great, but that week will be better than previous years.  That’s my prediction.  And even if it isn’t.  Even if we take a big hit.  Well, the emphasis it’s going to put on this city, and on our industry, is going to be super-duper for us long term.

 

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It’s Batting Practice on Broadway.

Growing up as a kid in suburban Massachusetts in the 80s, I took at least two trips a season to the famed Fenway Park to catch BoSox games. (Huh. I wonder if anyone has ever studied my Massachusetts generation for signs of permanent depression after being exposed to so much loss at such a young age).

I loved going to the games. Not only was I a fan of the sport and the team, despite their stubborn determination to let me down, but I played baseball as well from the age of 8 on up to 18.

As I think back on those trips into Beantown, the part of the games that I remember the most aren’t the actual games themselves.

Let me ‘splain.

We always went to the games early. Not to get our seat. Not to make sure we got a fresh hotdog. But to watch batting practice.

There were the players that we idolized and came to see that day. . . stretching, joking,  taking some practice swings, and fielding some grounders. And the famed historic Fenway field was being prepped right before our eyes as well. Watching all this made us feel like insiders.

If you’ve ever worked on a show, you know that there’s a lot going on before those house doors open letting the audience in. There’s a sound check. Moving parts of the set are checked out for safety. Lighting rigs are brought in and repaired. And a few actors are usually on the stage, stretching, joking, taking some practice steps, and fielding some lines.

I was chatting with a Broadway Marketing Pro who wondered with me why we didn’t let certain members of our audience in early to observe this process? Students? Premium Ticket Holders? Contest Winners? Full Price Groups?

Yes, we’d be letting some members of our audience get a peek behind the curtain to see how our magic is made, but we’d be providing our most passionate customers with an “insider” experience that not everyone can have, giving them extra value, and more word-of-mouth talking points to take home with them. And It would probably push them to get more involved with the theater on Broadway or back in their local community.

I know when I got home from those games I would pick up my glove and ball first thing and couldn’t wait to play catch.

And that was usually after the Sox got hammered.

 

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Want to be a leader? Play golf.

So much of the training we receive for our professions has nothing to do with our professions.  It has to do with our lives.

How we were raised, how we spent our childhood, and, yes, our hobbies have a major impact on how we build relationships, how we negotiate, and how we make decisions.

If you’re going to be a successful leader . . . of a company, or a country . . or a big fat Broadway show . . . you’re going to need a specific skill set.  So this past weekend, as I was whacking at a white ball down a fairway in Queens, I started to think about what set of weekend activities, or hobbies, would be the best to help foster the “in-the-driver’s-seat” qualities that I believe are needed.

Some might argue that you need “team” skills . . . and sure, there’s no question that you need to know how to work well with others (especially if you’re collaborating on a musical), but the problem with team activities is that you don’t feel the full weight of the success/failure/live/die results on your shoulders.

When you’re in charge, it’s all you, baby.

That’s why I advocate a regimen of individual competitive activities to help prep you for producing shows and leading a company.  Golf (ever feel what it’s like to step up at a first tee and have a whole gallery staring at you?), Chess (ever been seated a foot away from someone and have to strategize how to “kill” him/her?), Poker (ever know you have “the nuts,” and have to keep your composure when money is on the line?), Tennis, Running Marathons, Cooking, Acting (!) etc.

Anything where you are on the line.  No one else.

Because once you are numb to the stress and the pressure of complete responsibility, you’re actually able to free yourself up to use more of your mind on making the best decision, instead of trying to quiet your nerves.

There are natural leaders.  And then there are the rest of us.  And we could use as much practice as possible.

And besides, the above is a great excuse for taking off on a Friday and playing 18 holes.

 

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The NBA . . . aka The National Bush League.

Have you seen this ad on a phone kiosk near you?

Sorry if the photo isn’t as clear as it should be, but my hands were shaking from irritation when I took it.

It features a photo of a Knick and the text reads . . .

It’s Friday night.  You can either see a Broadway harness malfunction or you can watch real men fly.

Really guys?  Really?  You’re going to take a pot-shot at another industry in your own hometown?  When that industry brings in a lot more bodies and a lot more buckaroos than you do?  (And you even admit its power by making the word Broadway bigger than the rest, because you know it’ll get attention?)

Second, uh, I’m usually not this sensitive, but that “real men” comment is on the edge of being offensive.  So Broadway actors aren’t real men, huh?  Let me remind you that our men and women have trained for a greater part of their lives to do what they do, and they perform 8 times a week, 52 weeks a year . . . all for a minimum salary that ain’t anywhere near the millions that you guys pay.  And you tell me the last time a Broadway actor got a shoe deal, had a chartered flight to get them to their next show.  So don’t tell me who “real men” are.

In fact, I’d put ours against yours in a Battle of the Network Stars-like Broadway versus Basketball competition any day of the week.

But, you know what?  None of the above is what really colored me confused.

What has me really scratching my head at the copywriter who dashed this off is . . . pot-shot or not . . . it’s just not a very effective ad . . . because the target audience is all wrong.

Ok, ok, you made a pop culture reference.  Big whoop.  Come on, my friend.  Spider-Man jokes may still get a bit of a chuckle, but they’re so 2010.

More importantly, do you really think that you have the potential to convert someone who was interested in seeing a Broadway show to a basketball game?  I’m not sure you understand who you’re shooting for.

They may have gotten some attention with this ad, but getting attention is only half of the battle of advertising.  I can hire a gorilla to do back handsprings down 42nd Street to get eyeballs.  But that doesn’t mean anyone is going to buy a ticket.

And after seeing this ad, I know I won’t be buying any tickets to a basketball game anytime soon.

(Upon further investigation, it looks like MSG placed this this ad, as opposed to the NBA, although I think the NBA has a responsibility here, just like the Broadway League supervises and comments on what we do.  And I’m hoping the Broadway League has some strong comments for MSG as well.)

 

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Foul ball!

When I was a kid and used to go to Red Sox games . . . (I know, I just lost all my NY readers, to whom I say . . . bite me!  How many more World Series rings do you want?) . . .  ok, back on track, when I was a kid and used to go to Red Sox games, one of my hopes and dreams was to catch a foul ball.  We used to bring baseball gloves to the game just in case!

Oh, the elusive foul ball!  Would my seats be close enough to get one?  Or forget a foul, what if I actually caught a home run!

All of these memories came a flyin’ back the other night when I watched the Sox get clobbered by the Yankees . . . and I watched the crowd go nuts when a couple of balls went into the cheap seats.  (And the folks that walked away with those round pieces of leather probably have them displayed on a mantle somewhere and are telling all their friends about their big catch.)

What is it about the foul?  It’s rare.  It’s a piece of the big time.  And there’s a bit of a game in getting one (you ever catch a ball coming at your face that fast?).

Hopefully, you don’t have flying tap shoes or runaway top hats in your shows, but I did wonder if there was a way for some shows/theaters to give their audience a similar feeling about a literal “takeaway.”

Sure, we have Playbills . . . but everyone gets those, like matchbooks at restaurants.  Is there something more rare, which would make some audience member feel more special?

At Godspell, we had “Bless The Lord” beads which were tossed into the audience each night.  We also stocked our guitarist with Godspell branded guitar picks to hand out to the folks nearby.

It could be a prop or two handed out at the stage door, or a mystery item handed out at merch, or the conductor’s baton handed to the person in the front row at the end of the curtain call (ooh, that sounds fun, celebratory, and not-intrusive on the actual production).

This concept can be applied a hundred different ways, in whatever suits your specific show or theater . . . but it’s guaranteed to make a few audience members feel special.  And when people feel special, they like to tell people they’re special.

Which means your foul ball just hit a word of mouth home run.

 

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