The press has shown a propensity to write about problems with sales on Broadway, often writing about the Fabulous Invalid (Broadway). At one time they wrote about Broadway attendance inevitably slipping because the audience was old and dying off. The funny thing is the audience that supported Broadway 30 years ago may not still be with us, but they have been replaced by people of the same age. If you are 55-60 today and a regular attendee of Broadway, thirty years ago you were 25-30. Isn’t that audience development?
Back to numbers. Season to date grosses are down 5.6%, but attendance is only down 1.5%. That suggests ticket prices are not keeping people away. Playing weeks are down 3%. What is the average attendance for a playing week? Last season it was 8,453 people; this season, it is 8,506; that is very close. Broadway has had 32 fewer playing weeks this year than last, and 132,000 fewer people seeing shows this season than last. The average decline per week over 32 weeks is 4,140 people, which is less than the average attendance for a playing week.
In short, the small 1.5% decline in attendance is more than accounted for by having 3% fewer playing weeks this season than last. Why are there fewer playing weeks? This season there have been theatres with dark time between bookings, including large musical houses.
For those focused on the decline in gross, a significant percentage of the decline can be attributed to three theatres that enjoyed $1M grossing shows in the 2018-19 season but have not been generating the same grosses for all of this season: the Neil Simon, the Nederlander, and the Broadway. These three theatres are large musical houses that have been dark much of the season; there were a few weeks with short run bookings and starting with the Broadway Theater last month there are bookings on the horizon. The Walter Kerr had Springsteen last season and Hadestown this season; for many weeks this season the theatre generated a gross of $1M or more that was down $1M from last season. Additionally, the Palace Theatre, undergoing construction currently, accounted for $15M over the first 16 weeks of the 2018-19 season (last season); adjusting for the loss of the Palace Theatre reduces the decline in the gross by a full percentage point, to 4.4%. If we were to look at the whole of Broadway, without the 5 theatres above (which account for 54% of the lost grosses), the story of the decline in the gross is more positive: only a 2.9% drop year over year. Maybe the sky is not falling.
Below is a chart showing the percentage difference by week between the 2018-19 and the 2019-20 seasons. There are three lines on the graph: one shows the percentage change for all of Broadway from this year to last. Another line, the black line, shows the percentage change in gross for five Broadway theatres: the Broadway, Neil Simon, Walter Kerr, Nederlander and the Palace. The third line shows the percentage change in gross for all of Broadway minus the five theatres. Four of the five theatres are musical houses and even the fifth, the Walter Kerr, had weeks where the gross was down $1M from the previous year (and they grossed over $1M this year).
click the image below to expand