A gross statistical seasonal wrap up. Part I

The official Broadway season finished up on Sunday, and with that comes the release of the highly anticipated season stats.

How did Broadway do during the last 12 months?

Total gross was $943.3 million, up 5.8 million or an itsy-bitsy .6% from last year’s tally of $937.5 million.  Not so bad, in light of the current economic climate (my favorite hackneyed expression).

But don’t stop at the dollars.  Let’s look deeper.

Attendance at Broadway houses was 12.15 million, down 120k or 1% from the prior year’s 12.27 million.

So there was more cash in the till, thanks to our usual increase in full price tickets, no doubt, but our audience got smaller.

Should we celebrate?  Or should be be concerned?

While I am thrilled that we managed to pull out a squeaker last year, despite a gas crisis, a stock market crisis, and a credit crisis, and a crisis on the overuse of the word crisis, there’s a trend emerging that has me a bit on edge.

As I wrote about in this post regarding whether or not discounts are eroding our full price sales, we’ve been on an attendance plateau of the last 8 years, despite an increasing gross.  And this year that trend continued, as we slipped backwards another 1% in attendance, while the gross barely inched forward.

But more importantly, this is the second slip in attendance we’ve had in a row.

In the 25 years of seasonal statistics available, a decrease in attendance over 2 seasons has only happened once before.  The last time we’ve seen this sort of negative pattern started with the 1988-’89 season . . .  and continued for three seasons in a row.

And I’ll predict that in the upcoming season, 2009-’10, we will see yet another decline in attendance.

While it is true that one of the current ‘seasons of slippage’ included the stagehands strike when we went dark for 19 days, which explains the drop that season . . . how do we explain how we’ve fallen from there???

In my opinion, these statistics and this trending plateau are continued evidence that we’ve hit a ceiling for the Broadway audience.  My concern is that if the attendance remains flat (or slips), and our expenses increase (which they automatically do, thanks to labor contracts, etc.), it means that prices must go higher in order for shows to operate.  We all know that the answer to economic challenges can never be as simple as raising prices, which could lead to even more attendance attrition, etc.

These trends mean that just as every other industry in America is examining how they operate efficiently in this new economy, we must do the same . . . or our real crisis may be yet to come.

We can break through this ceiling. There is more growth that can occur.  But just like the last steps up a mountain, it is going to require a new set of tools and a lot more effort than ever before.

Tomorrow we’re going to break down the last 11 weeks of the season, to see if we can make a prognosis for the summer tourist traffic.

Until then . . .

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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.