What’s the West End doing right that we aren’t?

2009 was a thermometer-bursting year for West End theater.

Despite the world economic crisis, the West End set a record with a yearly gross of £504,765,690 or approximately $786,134,270, which is a 7.6% increase (!) from the previous year.

But that’s not what’s got me curious/burning with envy.

Even us tea partiers can keep the grosses going up year after year, thanks to our yearly price increase.

What’s remarkable about the London figures is that they’ve also managed to increase their attendance at the same time, by a whopping 5.5%, to a 2009 total of 14,257,922 theatergoers.

And this was all in the midst of a monumental recession!

Huh.  An increase in gross and an increase in attendance.  Isn’t that exactly what’s supposed to happen?

But it’s not happening here in the colonies.  We’re on track to see a drop in attendance for the third season in a row, despite slight increases in our grosses.

What is London doing right?

Is it the half price booths on every block?  Is it because they let you eat and drink in the theatres?  Is it because Hollywood stars seem even more willing to do West End productions than Broadway productions?

Is it because they have a Queen and Princes and say things like “bollocks”?

Nica Burns, the President of the Society of London Theatre (their version of our Broadway League), had this to say about the increases:

Britain’s artistic community continues to create exceptional work. The extraordinary quality and breadth of productions available nightly in London explains these record figures in such a difficult year economically.  Excellence is everything – look no further than London’s theatre which adds a great deal more to London’s revenue than just the ticket price.

Well said.  This is a product-driven industry on both sides of the ocean.  My only quibble is that I’d trade the word “excellence” with the phrase, “The Rumpelstiltskin Factor.”  When people are willing to give their first born away to see a show (whether or not it’s any “good”) that’s when numbers are going to increase.

If we had 12 Steady Rain-like shows with 12 Hugh Jackmans, our mercury would be rising, too.  12 Wickeds, 12 Will Ferrell’s and so on and so forth.

Still, it can’t just be that.  These increases suggest a different sort of energy occurring in the West End than is occurring here.  And I’m not quite sure what it is.

But I tell you this . . . I’d almost be willing to give them back one of the colonies in exchange for the secret.

Who came to Broadway this year?

It seems like just yesterday we posted The Broadway League’s summary of “Who Came To Broadway” in the 2007-2008 season.

Well, it’s that time again!

Just in time for the holidays, it’s the Demographics of the Broadway Audience Report for 2008-2009!  As I did last year, I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version of the document here, but try and get your hands on a copy of the complete report if you can. Because despite what we all thought in high school, the Cliff’s Notes version ain’t as educational as the real thing.




  • In the 2008-2009 season, approximately 63% of all Broadway tickets were purchased by tourists.
  • International visitors accounted for 21% of all Broadway admissions, the highest proportion in recorded history.
  • Sixty-six percent of the audiences were female.  This reflects the trend of the past few decades.
  • The average age of the Broadway theatregoer was 42.2 years.
  • The percentage of theatregoers under age 18 dropped slightly from the past few years; however, those aged 25-34 accounted for 16% of all tickets sold, a higher percentage than it has been since the 1999-2000 season.
  • Seventy-four percent of all tickets were purchased by Caucasian theatregoers.  Although still mostly homogeneous, audiences have become slightly more diverse in the past decade.
  • Broadway theatregoers were a very well-educated group.  Of theatregoers over 25 years old, 73% had completed college and 36% had earned a graduate degree.
  • Broadway theatregoers were also quite affluent compared to the general United States population, reporting an annual household income of $195,700.

Ticket Purchasing Habits

  • The average Broadway theatregoer reported attending 4.2 shows in the previous 12 months.  The group of devoted fans who attended 15 or more performances comprised only 5% of the audience, but accounted for 31% of all tickets sold (3.7 million admissions).
  • Playgoers tended to be more frequent theatregoers than musical attendees.  The typical straight play attendee saw eight shows in the past year; the musical attendee, four.
  • The Internet was by far the most popular way to buy Broadway tickets.  In fact, the reported use of the Internet to purchase tickets has grown from 7% in the 1999-2000 season to 40% this season.
  • In the 2008-2009 season, 34% of theatregoers bought their tickets more than one month prior to the show, compared to 39% the previous season, but up from 32% the three prior seasons.
  • More than half the time, women were the ones who decided to attend the show.  Since 66% of all audiences were female, women were the “decision makers” 70% of the time.
  • Forty-seven percent of theatregoers at musicals said that personal recommendation was the most influential factor in deciding to attend the show.  On the other hand, critics’ reviews were the most influential factor for play audiences, cited by one-third of respondents.
  • Twenty percent of respondents overall cited some kind of critical review as a deciding factor, down from 27% in the 2007-2008 season.  Reviews were much more important to playgoers than to musical attendees.
  • Overall, the most effective types of advertising were reported to be the Internet (7.5%), television (6.2%) and print (5.2%).  The New York Times was still the most common advertising source recognized by theatregoers; however, it was less frequently cited this season, compared to last season.
  • Approximately three quarters of the Broadway audience said that some kind of incentive (discounts, freebies, add-ons) would encourage them to attend shows more often.

Interesting stuff as always, right?

Just remember.  Data is like a pile of bricks.  It can be the foundation of something great, but only if you do something with it.

Advice from an Expert: Vol. XIII. What is The Broadway League?

I mentioned The Broadway League in a post recently, and a new reader dropped me a note asking just what the heck “The League” was.

I was in the middle of composing my own response, when I realized that I had a few questions about the League and its history myself.  So I decided to call in an Expert for all the answers!

So, here she is, Ms. Charlotte St. Martin, the Executive Director of The Broadway League (and #19 on BroadwaySpace.com’s list of Broadway’s Most Powerful People) with a guest blog on The League.

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In 1930 the brand new League of NY Theatres stated in a document called “The Primer of the League of NY Theatres”  that “a new stimulus is being given to the Theatre in general as a result of the formation of the League.  While that was 79 years ago, it would be safe to say that the League still does that.  And the purpose of the League at that time, “that the public may be assured of better theatrical conditions, greater convenience in purchasing theatre tickets and a vigorous policy by the Members of the League to place the American theatre in that high position which it deserves to hold in the community” would still hold true today and would be a great mission statement today, as well as then.

Other stated purposes at that time are still quite relevant today.

– To eliminate theatre ticket speculation and to protect the public from the exorbitant charges made by ticket brokers for desirable locations.
– To make theatre going easy for the public.
– To make it possible for the public to buy tickets for good seats at theatre box offices.

Even though our name was different then, it is not without merit to mention that one of the key goals of The Broadway League today is not so dissimilar. We have a committee that has been working on an initiative to educate consumers on a national level about “How to buy a ticket from the official sources of Broadway” to insure that our theatregoers are getting what they pay for!

In addition to New York producers and theatre owners,  members of The Broadway League also include the presenters of Broadway in over 150 cities and 250 venues across the country. The organization is a member-driven trade association representing the commercial theatre industry in those areas most important to them including:

1.  Labor

We negotiate with the 14 unions representing Broadway in NYC.

2.  Marketing and Branding 

Through audience development programs such as Broadway on Broadway, Kids’ Night on Broadway and Back 2 Broadway, one of our key goals is to introduce new audiences to theatre through education and opportunities to experience live theatre.  In addition, another key goal is to differentiate a Broadway show from other forms of live entertainment, and the branding campaign launched last year entitled “Now that’s Broadway” is the face of that initiative.

3.  Government Relations

We communicate the needs of commercial theatre with our local, state and national elected officials.  Whether we are working on improving the traffic pattern for NYC, or fighting the attack on our wireless devices with the FCC, we are there to represent the needs of our members. A key new initiative is to work with our lobbyists in Washington D.C. to create tax incentives for the producers of commercial theatre, which ultimately creates a significant number of jobs across the country.

4.  Conferences and Forums

We host meetings, conferences, forums, and other types of events which are opportunities for our members to learn, network and solve industry challenges.

5.  Research

We maintain historical data on individual playhouses and productions – the Internet Broadway Database (www.IBDB.com). The League is “the” source of information about commercial theatre that is important to our members. We collect weekly box office grosses for Broadway and Touring Broadway, and provide research reports on the demographics of the Broadway and Touring Broadway audiences as well as Broadway’s economic impact.

6.  Tony Awards

As co-presenter of the annual Tony Awards which are aired on CBS-TV, the awards recognize excellence and provide national exposure for Broadway.

Over the years we have been quite active in a variety of issues. We convinced the N.Y. State Legislature to drop proposed draconian censorship laws, spearheaded a boycott of segregated playhouses, fought McCarthyism and the Hollywood blacklist by refusing to shutter productions because of artists’ political views,  collaborated with the theatrical unions and the City of New York to create a pension plan for Broadway employees, plus so much more.

The more things change, the more they remain the same? No!  Perhaps our mission in fulfilling the needs of our members and theatregoers has remained the same.  But as those needs became more complex and diverse, so has the evolution of our organization into a modern way of thinking and one that yields positive results to better our industry.

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For more information on The League, including how to become a member, visit www.BroadwayLeague.com 



Exactly who goes to Broadway TOURING shows anyway? Survey says . . .

Back in Feb., I posted a summary of the Broadway League’s annual survey of the Broadway audience.  Well guess, what?  The League also surveys touring audiences in their member theaters all over the country.

And guess what?  I’m going to summarize those results for you here:
  • In the 2007-2008 season, 15.3 million tickets were to sold.  This number has been declining for the last six years.
  • 70% of the tickets sold were purchased by women.
  • Average of of the theatergoer was 50 years old.
  • The vast majority of the theatergoers were Caucasian.
  • 73% of the audience held a college degree and 32% held a graduate degree.
  • 43% of the audience reported an annual income of more than $100,000.
  • 44% were “subscribers” to the local Broadway Series.
  • The average theatergoer saw 6 shows per season.
  • Local newspaper was still the primary source of information, but 40% of the audience looked online at the venue’s website for information.
  • The internet has surpassed phone sales and is now the most popular way to purchase tickets.
  • Single-ticket buyers (non-subscribers), generally bought their tickets a few weeks prior to a performance.
  • Personal recommendation was the most influential source for show selection (other than simply being included in the subscription series).
  • Television commercials were the most noted form of advertising.
  • 27% of the audience also attended a Broadway show in New York City.
So why are these numbers important to the NY producer?
Look at that last bullet point:
27% of the audience seeing shows at theaters across the country came to Broadway to see a show as well.  27% of 15.3 million is over 4.1 million people.  Last season, Broadway only had 12.1 million attendees.  That means that about 35% of our audience, or more than 1/3 is coming from these theaters.
Our relationship with the touring houses is a significant one (which is why the road presenter is a part of the Broaday League in the first place).  The touring audience is a stream that represents more than 1/3 of our audience here on Broadway, and the theaters where they see shows in their hometown is like a dam.
If that dam gets clogged up, and it looks like it has been for the last 6 years, then you’re going to hear a lot of producers (and the mayor of NYC) using the word “damn.”
Thanks to the League for their continued excellent quantitative analysis of what’s happening here in NYC and all over the country.
Now, if only we could survey the international tourist in their hometowns, since they represent another 16% of our Broadway audience.

What’s grosser than gross?

Why gross gross of course!

In yesterday’s box office gross posting, I alluded to a change in the box office figures as reported by the League.  After six months of deliberations about the reporting of grosses, including the fundamental question of whether or not they should be reported at all (yes, they should, btw), the League made some modifications to its policies.  Here are the basic changes:
  • Figures reported will now be “gross gross” rather than NAGBOR (Net Adjusted Gross Box Office Receipts).  The NAGBOR totals were after credit card deductions, group sales commissions, and a whole lot of other expenses from ticket printing and so on.
  • Total Attendance will now be what I’m calling Total Total Attendance.  Rather than just report paid attendance, the TT Attendance will include any and all complimentary tickets.
What does this mean?  Well, it doesn’t take a David Merrick to know that grosses and attendance are about to go up.
Bigger numbers are always better, and this will enable us to present our industry as an even bigger economic force.  The deductions that come off the Gross Gross vary per show, but it can easily be 10%+ of the total.  Another 10% tacked on to last year’s season’s totals would have put us well over 1 billion buckaroos.  In a year when we’ll be lucky to see an increase, and in an era when our flat lining gross could have put that billion dollar mark well out of our reach for another decade, modifying this reporting virtually guarantees that we’ll get there.
And why shouldn’t we?  As the League has rightly justified, this change puts us in line with other industries, most notably our big brother, Hollywood.  Do you think Hollywood’s grosses are reduced by every credit card surcharge from Fandango?  Nope.  And what about sales of video games, books, etc.?  In fact, I can’t think of any industry, entertainment related or not, that would reduce their sales by credit card service fees?  Do you?  And if there is one, they should change that up pronto.
The attendance modification, while not as justifiable as the reporting of the Gross Gross, still makes sense to me.  Frankly, the release of numbers in any private industry depends solely on how that industry wants to present itself, and the League has decided that the number of bodies present rather than just the number of paid bodies present is a better number to show.  Does it make us look better?  You bet.  That’s why press is all about.  Think about it this way, if you had to give a presentation to a big group of people, wouldn’t you comb your hair, put on some makeup, and make yourself look as good as possible so you would make a good impression?
For those that feel they’re getting an artificial financial perspective of the figures, don’t worry, the average paid admission is still being released, so you’ll still be able to get a sense of the ‘value of the experience’ for those Total Total attendees.
The only thing that concerns me is the inability for us to compare year over year over year of figures. Thankfully, the League has made some adjustments to last year’s figures, but any comparisons beyond that will be skewed.
But, the change had to be made, and so it was.  To those whose feathers may be ruffled, I ask them . . . if it had been this way from the beginning, would you have ever thought it to be odd?
And more importantly, would you ever have asked for it to be changed?
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