The 1st Quarter Results are in! How are we doing?

Summer is winding down, which means the first quarter of the Broadway fiscal year has come to a close as well.

Big businesses take their financial temperature with quarterly earnings, so, as I mentioned in this post, we’re going to assess our Broadway season as the season goes along, with quarterly updates on how we’re doing, and yes, a few predictions as well.
Unfortunately, despite a few articles touting the strength of our box office this summer, we’re down against last year’s numbers.

Here are the cold, hard, figures:

The total gross for the first 13 weeks of the ’09-10 season was $258,159,343 which is 3.2% less than last season’s first quarter results of $266,617,631.
Many would argue (and I’m one of them), that this isn’t so bad, in light of the financial hurricane that we’ve been in for the past 11-12 months (and yes, it has been that long).
However, the more alarming first quarter statistic has to do with attendance.

During the first 13 weeks of this season, 2,960,615 people went to see a Broadway show as opposed to last season’s 3,273,453.  That’s down a whopping 9.6%.

Economy or not, this is something to be concerned about, especially when our first quarter includes some of the strongest weeks of the year.

(Looking long term, what’s even a bit scarier is the spread between the drop in attendance and the drop in gross.  We’ve been making up for the drop in attendance that has occured over the past two years by simply charging more for our tickets (not to mention our ‘premium prices’).  At some point soon, this is going to catch up with us, and we’ll be unable to keep charging more to make up for the attendance drop and the low profitability ration we have now, will drop even further.)

To recap?

Broadway’s first quarter results of ’09-10 = Grosses down 3.2%.  Attendance down 9.6%.

What do I see coming in the second quarter?

Unfortunately, more of the same.  Comparing this season over last, I count an average of 25 shows running on Broadway per week over the 2nd quarter, compared to last year’s average of 28 shows per week.  Those missing three shows are going to drop the grosses on their own. Add that to the economic downturn, and the lack of a big, heavily anticipated musical, and I’m predicting at least a 5% drop in gross and an attendance drop that pushes 10%.

Unfortunately, all of this means that my earlier 2009-2010 season prediction is on target.  We’re looking at posting a drop in grosses for the first time since the 2004-2005 season, and another drop in attendance, our third year in a row.

And that will be the first time in 20 years that the attendance has dropped over three seasons in a row.

Enough doom and gloom . . . what do you as a Producer do staring at these quarterly results?

  • Be picky.  There will be hits.  Shows will recoup.  But it will be harder.  Make sure you show has plenty of compelling reasons to stand out from the clutter.
  • Don’t rush.  If your show isn’t ready right now, don’t rush it in. I don’t care if the perfect theater becomes available.  There just aren’t as many people going to the theater right now.  Adding another show to the fray and getting the majority of the audience is going to be hard.
  • Squeeze pennies.  Don’t pinch ’em, but give ’em a squeeze to make sure you’re not paying for any pork.  Now is not the time for fat.  Make sure your budget has a lean, lithe, runner’s body.

Could I be wrong?  Could the year turn around?  Could we end up with a gain in both grosses and attendance?

Sure, we could.  But it may take a superhero to make it happen.

See you in 13!

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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.