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Broadway Season Summed Up. Record-breaking, or song-and-dance statistics?

The 2017-2018 Broadway season was “the best attended and highest grossing season in Broadway recorded history,” according to The Broadway League, which presented its annual statistics Tuesday. Some 13.7 million people shelled out nearly $1.7 billion.

Each year when the League, the trade association of the Broadway theater industry, releases these statistics, I wonder whether the song-and-dance of Broadway is limited to the stage.

Here are the League’s statistics:

Number of shows that opened during 2017-18 season: 33
(ten musicals and 20 plays, plus three special engagements)
This is down from 45 in 2016-2017

Attendance at all shows: 13,792,614 visitors
This is up 3.9 percent from 2016-2017

Revenue: $1,697,458,795
This is up 17.1 percent

Playing weeks: 1,624 (for all new and continuing Broadway productions)
This is up 2.8 percent.

But here’s a catch: The League counts the season as having 53 weeks, while last season was comprised of only 52 weeks.*

To make the comparison more accurate, the League points out that attendance through week 52 of this season was still up 1.6 percent over last year’s 52-week season, and grosses were up 14.4 percent.

In other words, the increase in gross income was nine times greater than the increase in attendance.  The reason — higher ticket prices.

One can believe that the grosses in the 2017-2018 season were the highest in Broadway history. That’s because the ticket prices have become astronomical
Top ticket prices in 2017 for the most expensive shows:

Hamilton: $998
Hello, Dolly: $996
Springsteen on Broadway: $850

The Broadway League chooses to emphasize the average paid admission rather than the top ticket price, but they do a little razzmatazz in presenting these statistics this year: “Over 80% of the shows on Broadway had an average paid admission of under $130 and more than half of the shows that played this season (60%) had an average paid admission of less than $101.”
A possible translation: A ticket will cost you a mere $100 unless it’s to a show that people want to see.

The League was much more straightforward last year: The average ticket price in 2016-2017 was $109, the League said, up from $103 the year before.
According to this chart on Broadway World (which gets its statistics from the Broadway League), the average ticket price in 2018 is $123 — a marked increase.

If the unprecedented increase in grosses is easily explained by the greater ticket prices, the claim of record-shattering attendance gives one pause.

Look at a history book about Broadway, such as Broadway Black by Stewart Lane. In it, Lane writes that in 1928, more than 20 million people attended 264 shows on Broadway.

In 2017-2018, says the League, fewer than 14 million attended the 67 shows that ran on Broadway over the last season, including both the new and continuing shows. (This is down from 81 last season.)

How can the League claim that 2017-2018 was “the best attended….in Broadway recorded history?” Did the history book get it wrong? Or is this trick phrasing: The history of Broadway wasn’t officially “recorded” in 1928?

 

*The League explains why 2017-2018 lasted 53 weeks: “The Broadway season is a 52-week period, running approximately from the beginning of June through the end of May; it is comprised of 364 days, as opposed to the 365-day calendar year. In order to keep consistent with the calendar, every seven years, a week must be added to the Broadway season.”

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About New York Theater
Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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