Graphs of the past. Let’s hope they don’t tell the future.

Yesterday, we looked at some nasty-a$$ numbers about the first quarter of the Broadway season.

And, as you may recall, it got me a little jittery.

So, I put a whole bunch of numbers into a graph machine and out popped the below.  Because, it’s time to look at some trends to see if the jitters are justified.

First up, let’s look at the Broadway Grosses over the past thirty years (since 1984, when the Broadway League started collecting these numbers).  Graph please!


If only the Dow looked that good, right?

But you can see that every 4 years or so, we go through a plateau period where grosses stay flat or drop a bit.  And it looks like we’re in that now.  However, I also think that the increase we saw over the late 2000s is mostly attributed to our discovery of premium and then variable pricing.  So I often wonder what we’re going to do to get another upward trend . . . other than raising prices, of course (and that’s really what has fueled the upward slope of the last 30 years).

So, gross trend?  Good.

Now, let’s look at attendance . . . if you’re brave enough.


Aaaaaaand . . . not so good.  After a draaaaastic increase in the 90s (which is when I got to NYC, and since I saw so many shows during that period, it may have been partially due to me), we’ve inched up, and from time to time, dropped a few.

But these past three seasons?  Well, we haven’t seen as steep of an attendance decline since 2001.  The 2008 drop wasn’t even this bad.

And that’s what is concerning to me.  We all know what happened in 2001.  And we all know what happened in 2008 (financial crisis, anyone?).  But what’s the historical event that is causing this drop?

There isn’t one.

So what the eff is going on?  Did we reach our audience cap?  Are we losing theatergoers because of the rising cost of tickets?  Are we losing theatergoers because they are watching Netflix?

Let’s take a look at some other graphs and see if we can come up with a conclusion.  Here’s a graph of the number of new productions on Broadway over the past thirty years:


Huh.  Grosses up a teensy bit.  Attendance down a whopping bit.

And New Productions waaaaaaay up?

More shows.  Same dollars.  Less people.

That means the dollars are diluted.  And that means it’s even harder to make money today than it was yesterday.  Grrrr.

Before I wax economic, let’s look at a related graph. Here’s a graph of Broadway playing weeks:

Now come on!

More shows.  Same dollars.  Less people.  Less playing weeks?

More shows, but less weeks???

What does that even mean?

I’ll tell you . . . shows aren’t running as long.  And as costs increase, that means it’s even harder for them to make money.

Some of this drastic decline is due to the limited run phenomenon (and the agents from those three letter agencies shortening up the time they’ll allow their Hollywood stars to spend time with us – remember when all limited runs were 20 weeks?)

We’re getting the shows up.  We’re just not running them long enough.  Or more likely, able  to run them long enough (inflation of our expenses, anyone?)

Ok, one more graph.  And this one is the most upsetting/depressing/makes-me-wonder-if-I-can-still-go-to-law-school.

Here is a graph of the number of tourists in NYC over the last eight years.


NYC annual visitors


So riddle me this, Batman . . . if the majority of folks going to Broadway shows are tourists, then how, tell me how are we losing people, when the city is gaining people?

Alright, so, look, first . . . I’m not going to law school.  Sorry, Mom.

And I’m sorry if the tone of this blog makes you want to cut yourself.

It’s a hard dose of reality.  We’ve got issues, people.  Big ones.

But, put away your sharp instruments.  There are ways to reverse these trends.

Great content is the key.  But keeping up with the other entertainment industries out there in how they market and distribute their content is the chain for that key.

And together you and I will try and come up with some ways to do just that.


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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.