By most measures, 2015 was a down year for Broadway.
- Total gross revenue for the calendar year was down $8.2M.
- Total attendance was down 153,000 people.
- Total potential gross revenue realized was 72%, down 2.4% from 2014.
All despite having 78 different shows running throughout 2015 – the highest number of Broadway shows over a calendar year in over 15 years.
Does that mean we should panic? Not at all. 2015 was down, but only marginally down from a historic, record-breaking 2014.
Below are Broadway’s annual gross over time and annual attendance over time, to give you context on how huge 2014 was and how minimally 2015 was down:
Given this, what can we learn from 2015? Here are our three key takeaways:
1. 2015 WAS THE YEAR OF THE PLAY
Broadway made $231,052,789 from Plays last year (up $17M from 2014). Plays made up 17% of Broadway’s annual revenue, when plays usually comprise 14% on average.
This increase happened thanks to longer-running plays (Curious Incident brought in $39M in 2015) and strong star-driven plays (Fish in the Dark brought in $28M, The Audience brought in $22M, and It’s Only A Play brought in $14M in 2015, in addition to $23M in sales in 2014!).
However, plays did not sell more efficiently – percentage of houses filled was down 2% from 2014 and the percentage of potential gross realized was down 0.5%. In the end, plays had more inventory (186,000 additional seats compared to 2014), yielding more revenue to Broadway.
On the flip side…
2. MUSICALS WERE DOWN $37 MILLION FROM 2014
And we had 44 musicals on Broadway (up 8 from 2014) – so what gives?! Let’s start with a visual:
The top blue bars illustrate shows that added new revenue to Broadway or additional revenue to what they contributed in 2014. The red bars are shows that either closed (so their 2014 revenue was not realized) or shows that were down year over year.
Here is another way of looking at this:
This quickly shows us how Broadway had too many losses (red bars) of $10M or more per show and not enough gains (blue bars) of $10M or more.
While Broadway replaced some high-grossing musicals with more high-grossing musicals, the “middle” musicals saw a decline in grosses that wasn’t made up elsewhere. 2015 was a year of greater disparity among musicals.
Of the 24 musicals that added new or additional revenue, the top 5 musicals made up 58% of the total revenue gains for the year.
This entire discussion may be premature, as some new musicals like School of Rock, Fiddler on the Roof, and The Color Purple may contribute strong revenue in 2016, but didn’t have enough time in 2015 to make the impact needed. We will continue to monitor this disparity and see if it continues in 2016.
3. THE SPRING SQUEEZE
Most of the decline in 2015 revenue was seen during the spring, which was down $26M from 2014. At first, we thought – blame the Tonys. There was all the fuss around too many shows opening too close to the Tonys, so we looked to see if new shows during the spring returned lower grosses compared to new shows opening in previous years.
In short – not really. There were 26 shows that were running spring 2014 and either closed before or during spring 2015. To replace those, there were 24 new shows compared to spring 2014. With two fewer shows in the spring compared to 2014, Broadway was down $15M year over year.
As for the other $10M in lost revenue compared to spring 2014, Broadway’s long-running shows accounted for that, with decreases in their grosses year over year. 8 of 13 long-running shows last spring were down from 2014 and the average decrease year over year was $2.2M.
In the end, 2015 wasn’t a bad year for Broadway. While down from 2014, we learned that there are plays that can sustain longer runs and produce responsible returns (Curious Incident, It’s Only A Play, Fish in the Dark). We saw some musicals that sold well in 2014 experience decreases in 2015, and greater disparity among revenue for new musicals. We learned that the majority of the deficit was accumulated in the spring, when new shows took business away from long-runners and didn’t match the same sales volume as spring 2014’s lineup.
With spring 2016 right around the corner, along with another swell of new product, we will be closely monitoring Broadway’s progress to see if we are repeating any 2015 trends.