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.

Miss Abigail’s Guide opens in October! And guess who is starring?

I used to skip dinner so I could see this girl.

Forget about Marsha, and well, Cindy was just a plain whiner.

For me, it was all about Jan.

And she was in my living room twice a day, from 5-6, on channel 56.  And I loved her.

Yep, I’m talking about none other than everyone’s favorite middle daughter, Jan Brady from The Brady Bunch, also known as the fantastic actress Eve Plumb.

And I couldn’t be more thrilled to announce that Eve will be starring in Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating & Marriage this Fall!  And it just went on sale TODAY!

Miss A will start performances at Sofia’s Downstairs Theater on October 7th and officially open on Sunday, October 24th.

Don’t know what the show’s about?  Here’s a mini-blurb:

Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating & Marriage is the story of Miss Abigail, the most sought-after relationship expert to the stars (think Dr. Ruth meets Emily Post),  and her sexy side-kick Paco, as they travel the world teaching Miss Abigail’s outrageously funny “how-tos” on dating, mating and marriage.

Check out the website for more:  www.MissAbigailsGuide.com.

I hope you’ll join me at the theater in October to welcome Eve to the NY theater scene!  I guarantee lots of fun.

It would be worth you skipping dinner for.

Get tickets.

– – – – –

Speaking of announcements, keep your eyes on the blog next . . . uh . . . Tuesday, I think.  I’ve got something cookin’ that you’re really going to get a kick out of.

Harry Potter and The Elusive Sponsor.

Getting a sponsor for a Broadway show seems like the stuff of fantasy. At every early ad meeting for a show that I’ve worked on, someone usually pipes up that we should find a sponsor to pay for some major expense, and trade away their name in our media, tickets, etc.

It’s always a great idea, and everyone around the table usually nods their head, yes.  Because in theory it makes perfect sense. Broadway shows are a highly visible, high-class product, and other big brands would definitely benefit from associating their wares with ours.

So why is it so rare?

Why, to give you a specific example, did not one of the 15 Marketing Directors for big brands fail to even return my call when I reached out to them with a very unique Broadway branding opportunity?

Here are a few of the excuses I’ve heard over the years from potential sponsors:

  • “It’s hard to associate ourselves with a product, before seeing the product.”
    • Brands don’t like to put their money or their name on something until it has already been introduced to the public.  It makes sense. If a show isn’t well received, does that feeling transfer to the brand? Besides, if a show gets out of the gate and is a hit, we usually don’t need the sponsor.
  • “There are not enough eyeballs.”
    • Even the most sold-out musicals can’t put more than 16,000 bodies (or 32,000 eyeballs) in the seats every week.  A lot of the live event sponsors like to sponsor one-time events that have 20,000 people plus in one night (think concerts, sporting events, etc.) PLUS millions on television.  Thems a lot of eyeballs!
  • “You may close tomorrow.  Then what?”
    • Since we can’t guarantee the length of the run, it’s hard for them to quantify the exposure of their brand.  And at the big brand level, it’s all about dollars and guaranteed impressions.
  • “I can’t advertise in the theater.”
    • Current contractual relationships between most theaters and Playbill, or their program provider, prevent the advertising of other commercial products inside the venue.  No signage, no manned or womanned display booths getting our customers to sign up for services, etc.
  • “It’ll take me too long to get this approved.”
    • Big businesses plan their quarters, their years, and sometimes their decades of underwriting in advance.  Often shows approach potential sponsors just a few months before opening, and at that point, discretionary underwriting funding is gone.

So what are we to do?  Is sponsorship an impossibility?

No.  Of course not.  We’ve got to come up with answers to these “my dog ate my homework” excuses, because there are work-arounds for everything . . . if we’re all willing to do the work.

– Want to know what the product is before you sponsor it?  Try a revival.  Or do you want to come to a reading?

– Not enough eyeballs?  The average Broadway musical probably spends $5 mill a year in paid media.  Get on some of that.  Or try a tour.  And we’ll start working on new media options for you.

– We may close tomorrow?  Put up less money if the risk is greater, but don’t stay on the sidelines.  Or find a show specialist that can tell you what shows have a potential of going down quick and which don’t (we all know, don’t we?).

– You can’t advertise in the theater?  The shows have more ways to reach our customers than ever before, so we can get to them (or start lobbying the theater owners).

– Too long to get approved?  We’ll start coming to you earlier.  We promise.

Everyone wonders why CBS continues to broadcast the Tony Awards every year despite disappointing ratings.  From what I hear, it’s because of the type of viewer that tunes in.  Tony Award watchers and theatergoers are highly educated and usually high-income individuals (Now it makes sense why Lexus, Cadillac, etc. advertise during the telecast, doesn’t it?).  And while there may not be a lot of them watching, they can afford big-ticket items.

Our audiences have significant value to corporations of all shapes and sizes.  We just have to do better at communicating our value, and finding more value for them.

Like Harry P himself, we’ve got to find a way to put them under our spell.

I’m going to cut this post short now, because I’ve got 15 corporations to follow-up with.

I said, “To go!”

I’m a fan of the Classic Italian sandwich from Europa Cafe. Expensive, but tasty.  I usually grab one every Saturday on my way to the office.

Here’s what usually happens when I step to the counter:

Ken:  “I’ll have a Classic Italian to go, please.”

Sandwich Guy:  “Is that for here or to go?”

Ken:  “Uhhh . . . to go, please.”

Sandwich Guy:  “Ok, thanks.”

This happens, oh, at least three times out of four.  And it’s not only at Europa. When I grab a fountain coke from McDonalds (why does their fountain coke taste so dang good?), the cashiers usually ask the same repetitive question, even when I’ve already indicated what my plans are.

Why?

The cashiers are on customer service autopilot.  And that autopilot, which was designed to speed things up, actually slows things down.

You’ve got to tune in to your customer.  You’ve got to listen closely to everything they are saying and everything they are not saying.

So when you’re selling tickets, or selling your script, or selling your show to try and get investors, make sure you listen to every word your potential buyer says.

Because if you’re not listening, they aren’t going to listen to you when you need them to.

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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