3 Reasons Why May Sales on Broadway Are Mediocre (at best!)

“Beware the Ides of March May!”

Getting through the winter on Broadway is tough.  Once you do emerge from the frozen box office tundras of January, February (and even March), it’s easy to think it’s smooth sailing to the summer.

Then you get to May.  

Talk to anyone about the “worst” times of the year for Broadway sales, and you’ll hear the above-mentioned winter months and September.  And it’s true.  Those months suck.  Great grossing shows on their way to recoupment can take a few steps backwards during these tricky times (especially these days, when fewer people are coming to Broadway.)

But if you’ve been following the Broadway grosses over the last few weeks, you may be surprised at how shows, new and old, have been underperforming.   (If you want to get the Broadway grosses emailed to you each week, click here.)

And that’s because . . . May sucks too. 

But why?  And what can we do about it?  

Here are three reasons why May sales underperform other months of the year:

#1 – The Competition

Everyone is talking about the number of new shows on Broadway this year, and how many opened this spring.  It’s true, this year is unlike others.  But every season is backloaded, as more shows open closer to The Tony cutoff.  

That means there are more shows to see in May than at other times of the year.  That means whatever dollars are coming into Broadway are spread out over more product.  Because what we know about theatergoers and their habits, just because there are more shows, doesn’t mean they are going to come more often.  Nope.  They see shows once a year, once every few months, etc.  Pump a bunch of more product on the boards and it doesn’t equal more sales and more bodies.  

This is especially true when the shows are new.  

#2 – The Competition for A Consumer’s Time

Talk to any local families in May and they’re all running from one event to another.  There are:


Dance Recitals

First Communions


And more . . .

We often forget that seeing a show on Broadway is a MULTIPLE step process:

  1. What show do I want to see?
  2. Who do I want to see it with?
  3. When can ALL of the people I listed in the answer to #2 go!

And it’s that 3rd question that stalls so many of our local consumers . . . especially in May.

#3 – May is a Transition Time.

May is like a tween, stuck in between two specific periods.

It’s not the beginning of spring, and it’s not the summer yet either.

People vacation in Spring.  People vacation in Summer.  So if they just took a vacation, they’re not going to take another one.  And if they’re gearing up for a vacation, they’re not going to take another one.  

That’s why tourist traffic to NYC is low in May . . . as the tourists gear up for those later June and July weeks, when they will flood the streets of Times Square. 

Broadway’s fiscal health depends on tourist traffic.  65% of our audience is made up of theatergoers OUTSIDE the tri-state area.  If they’re not coming, our numbers are going to be depressed . . . and so will a lot of Producers.

May FEELS like it should sell much better than it does.  The lack of people coming to shows, and more product on the streets, creates for one of the most challenging times of the year for new shows to get their footing, and for the season holders to keep their head above their weekly nut.  

What do we do during this period if we know it’s coming?

I’m a fan of hunkering down and decreasing advertising.  If you know people aren’t going to come, why spend money trying to force them to?

Oh, and maybe this is another reason we should look at not opening so many shows in the spring . . . 

What times of year do YOU like going to see shows?

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.