Broadway Box Office Grosses And Attendance Are Basically Flat From Last Season. That’s Worse Than It Sounds.

Broadway had been making progress toward an industrywide recovery, but new data shows halted momentum in the most recent season. 

According to data from the industry trade group The Broadway League, overall grosses for the 2023-2024 season were down about 2.5 percent compared to the previous season, reaching $1.54 billion compared to $1.58 billion the prior year. And compared to the 2018-2019 season, the last full season before the pandemic closed all theaters, grosses were down 17 percent.

Even if viewed as largely flat compared to last season, that spells trouble for the industry, given the rising cost of producing a show. 

“Every year our expenses go up at least five percent, if not more, because we so outpace inflation,” says Ken Davenport, producer of the Neil Diamond musical A Beautiful Noise. “So flat is terrible.”  

Attendance was also largely flat compared to this past season, which ran from May to May, coming in at 12,287,708 compared to 12,283,399. There were 39 new productions this season, compared to 40 last season.

One of the factors industry insiders attribute to the slowed recovery is that many suburbanites have not returned to Broadway since theaters reopened in fall 2021. That includes workers who may no longer work fulltime from their offices in the city and those who used to travel on the weekend to see shows. Per Broadway League data from the 2022-2023 season (the most recent data available), the number of theatergoers from the NYC suburbs that season was the lowest on record, with 1.7 million admissions, representing 14 percent of total attendance. 

The industry lineup has also changed. The Phantom of the Opera ended its 35-year-run in April 2023, and was pulling in record $3 million-plus grosses towards the end. This season, Merrily We Roll Along, starring Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe and Lindsay Mendez, and Cabaret, starring Eddie Redmayne, are joining stalwarts Wicked, Lion King and Hamilton at the top of the grosses pack, but still not hitting the big numbers seen in prior seasons.

There are a number of new shows, particularly musicals, now trying to stand out from the pack and appeal to consumers, but no mega hit as of yet. Underscoring that point, the average ticket price this past season was $125.27, lower than the $128.43 recorded last season, despite headline-grabbing ticket prices at Merrily and Cabaret, among others. This suggests other shows are competing for the same audience base by offering discounted and lower-priced tickets, notes Megan O’Keefe, executive vice president of No Guarantees, a co-producer on a number of productions this season.

At the same time, capitalizations, meaning the upfront capital raised from investors for productions, are rising, due to the higher cost of productions, and producers are having to be more aware of how and when they’re spending money

“I think that there is a real hopefulness and optimism that audiences will return, but those costs aren’t going down anytime soon,” says Rachel Sussman, a producer of the new musical Suffs. “So how can we be really strategic about allocating our resources and ensuring that every decision we make will be as effective as possible for the show?”

It’s not all bad news – as Sussman notes Suffs and other Tony-nominated shows, such as Stereophonic and Hell’s Kitchen have seen momentum in recent weeks thanks to the nominations and the press attention on the shows ahead of the June 16 ceremony. And there’s been higher attendance among younger audience members than in seasons past.

Next season will also feature a number of starry and buzzed-about productions, such as Othello with Denzel Washington and Jake Gyllenhaal, George Clooney in Good Night and Good LuckRobert Downey Jr. in the new play McNeal, Nicole Scherzinger in Sunset Boulevard and Audra McDonald in Gypsy. 

A big hit in the 2024-2025 season, or a few, should help garner more national attention and break through some of the industry headwinds, Davenport adds. The goal is to reach the totals of 2018-2019 season, which was a record high for the industry with $1.8 billion brought in across 38 new productions, and then some, given the higher cost of producing shows now. Without a resurgence, the fear is that more productions will have to close early, as has been the case with more than a handful of new musicals this season, and recoupment will become even more difficult. 

“It’s very concerning. That said, we’ve been here before. We will get through. We will figure it out,” Davenport says. “It’s just our recovery is taking much longer than we expected.” 

Broadway Not Back to Pre-COVID Levels

This story first appeared in the June 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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