Where the @$&# is Broadway anyway?

If you asked a NYer where Broadway was, they’d probably point you to the street that runs the length of Manhattan.

If you said, “No, where’s the Broadway they talk about in books,” they’d probably look at you funny,  maybe point you to Times Square and say that’s where most of the theaters are.

They’d have to explain that Broadway doesn’t have an exact physical destination.

Which is why I think it’s time we give it one.

I did something I’ve always wanted to do this weekend and made the drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, two tourist destinations that do a very good job of telling you exactly where you are and making a tourist attraction out of it.

How do they do it?  The old-fasioned way.  With a sign.

The Hollywood sign is one of the most famous landmarks in the LA area.  It screams from the hills that you have entered the land of the silver screen.  It even has a website!  And on that website the sign is described by Hugh Hefner as “not simply a sign but a symbol of inspiration.”

In Vegas, when you’re driving down the strip towards the man-made mecca in the desert, you are first greeted by the infamous Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas sign which was put up in 1959.  It even has a Wikipedia entry!  And more importantly it has a place where you can stop your car, get out, and have your picture taken next to it.

On Broadway . . . we’ve got . . . eh . . . uh . . . huh.

We don’t seem to have a symbol or sign that we’ve entered the theatrical capital of the world.  Sure there are street signs that say Broadway, and there’s the statue of George M. Cohan in Duffy Square, and maybe even the Red Steps and the TKTS booth (but I’m not sure we want a discount destination representing where Broadway begins).  But nothing that says, “Broadway is here!”

So if we don’t have one, maybe we should make one. Maybe it’s a marquis that sits in Times Square.  Or a lit sign on 42nd St.  Or maybe the sign is written in the sidewalks (which reminds me of this blog I wrote about our own Walk of Fame).

Is this cheap?  Or even practical?  Probably not.

But I guarantee that we’d have a ton of tourists taking their pictures in front of it, and it might even inspire a few more to actually take in a show while they are in town.

And maybe, if we’re lucky, it would even have its own Wikipedia page.

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5 Signs that Broadway is becoming more like Vegas.

I’ve been in New York for just shy of two decades now, and to say things have changed in the theater district is as obvious as saying Wicked is a big hit.

The transformation of Times Square into a Vegas Strip-like scene seems to have had an effect on what’s happening inside our theaters as well.

Here are 5 things I’ve noticed that indicate we’re getting Vegas-ized:

1.  WHO IS THE HEADLINER?

We’re becoming increasingly dependent on the names in our shows, just like the casinos have depended on Wayne Newton and friends for years.  In some cases (A Steady Rain, anyone?), Shakespeare has gotten a rewrite because now, “the star’s the thing.”

2.  A TRIBUTE TO TRIBUTES.

When Love Never Dies canceled its Fall NYC opening, the show that took its place wasn’t a limited run play revival.  Instead it was Rain, a Beatles tribute show that has been touring the nation.  If it succeeds, expect more of this type of entertainment to be coming down the long and winding road.

3.  BROKERS ARE NOT GOING BROKE.

In Vegas, the Brokers mean business.  If you don’t have them on your side, you’re gonna get Bugsy Siegeled in no time.  In NYC, they don’t wield that much power . . . yet.  But as they continue to out-spend us on advertising, and continue to organize, we may find ourselves not wanting to sit with our backs to the door, if you know what I mean.  My suggestion?  We all have a sit-down.

4.  PARDON ME, I DON’T SPEAK AMERICAN.

International audiences have been slowly increasing here in NYC, with the Broadway League reporting that 21% of our audience was from around the globe in 2008-2009.  21%!  That means more than 1 in 5 people that see a show many not speak English as their first language!  You’d have to be high on glue to not think that stat has an effect on what runs.  If it increases, expect more and more non-verbal entertainment or spectacular events to take over our boards, like, oh, I don’t know, Spider-Man?

5.  ADVANCE = DAY OF.

It used to be that our tourist audiences picked up a paper before they came into town and bought their tickets in advance.  When my Mom bought my fam Phantom tickets we waited EIGHT months. And we sat in the 2nd row from the back. (Side note: when I went to see it a second time, I bought tickets from a broker because I wanted a great seat.)  Our audiences are becoming more like Vegas audiences, and waiting until they get here to decide, causing most shows to have more availability, requiring more discounting, etc.  So much of our marketing dollars now have to be spent on converting the customer when they get here, instead of before.

Will Broadway become the U.S’s second Strip?  I doubt it.  Great plays and great musicals will always have a place here, whereas I can’t imagine that The Pitmen Painters or Next to Normal will ever play The Mirage.

But we do have more in common with Vegas than ever before.

And you can place a big bet that this trend concerns me.

Could destination advertising work?

I was at the airport in Burbank, CA a few weeks ago (which is the best kept secret in airline travel to LA, by the way), and on my walk towards baggage claim, I noticed a lot of advertisements for . . .  Las Vegas.

Burbank airport must get a lot of travelers to Sin City, I thought, to justify ad after ad for the hotels, shows and restaurants of this vacation destination.

Since 65% of the Broadway audience depends on tourists visiting New York, could Broadway shows be helped by identifying the key states that send us the most traffic (California, Texas, Illinois) and advertising locally? Could we attempt to get a customer closer to a purchase decision before they get to the city (and before they face a lot more of our competition’s ads)?  And because these locations are outside of NYC, wouldn’t the media actually cost us less?

Shows have been advertising in in-flight magazines for years, and at the NY airports as well.  But as the NY market gets more and more cluttered with shows competing for the short-term attention of the customer, perhaps it’s time to try and get to them earlier.

Whether taking ads in or near airports in other cities would work totally depends on the cost of the media in those locations.  Without a doubt, you’re not going to be visible to as many potential customers as a billboard in NY, so the ad is less valuable . . . but with the amount of inventory available all over the country, perhaps there are deals to be made.

Or perhaps this shouldn’t be a specific show-driven campaign . . . perhaps it should be a Broadway campaign, with the goal of making sure that every person that gets on a plane, train or automobile on their way to NY takes in a show or two or three, during their stay.

To ensure our survival, we have to make sure Broadway is at the top of our customers’ minds.  Getting to them before our competitors do gives us a head start.

 

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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