What accounts for this decline? "In the fall, our grosses and attendance numbers were above last fall's numbers until Hurricane Sandy devastated our region," said Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the Broadway League. "The lost performances and the understandable slower return to Broadway by our tri-state-area theatergoers contributed to the decline in both grosses and attendance." Other factors, including early closings of planned open runs, contributed to the decline in attendance.
It should be noted, however, that the decline in attendance (-6.2%), was roughly on par with the decrease in playing weeks stemming from the hurricane and early closings (-6.0%). So it's not that Broadway shows are playing to empty houses: Popular shows regularly sell out while unpopular shows close. There is very little room for a production to do middling business and stay open for an extended run.
That fact seems to bear out in this week's Broadway grosses: Nine shows played over-capacity crowds last week, while a further eight played to houses over 90% full. That's a total of 17 out of 27 shows playing to nearly full houses this week.
Still, considering that 760,000 fewer tickets were sold this year compared to last, how is it that the total gross ($1.14 billion) on Broadway remained relatively unchanged this year? The answer may lie in skyrocketing ticket prices. The average paid admission on Broadway was $103.02 last week. Compare that to $88.22 this time last year. For the week ending May 29, 2011 it was $80.63.
The Book of Mormon, long the show with the highest average-paid Broadway admission, charged an average of $207.13 per ticket last week, blasting past the $200 barrier, as predicted by TheaterMania last month. The lowest average paid admission was $54.90 for Ann, which also played to only 49.17% capacity last week. Having played to less than half-full houses for several weeks, Ann continues to be the biggest outlier on Broadway. Although, the fact that it is a one-woman show with a relatively low overhead probably has something to do with its remarkable longevity in such harsh box office conditions.
Harsh conditions aside, be they from mother nature or tepid ticket sales, the 40 theaters in midtown that constitute "Broadway" still represented over $1 billion in sales last year, and that is not counting all of the vendors, restaurants, and other businesses that benefit from the theatergoing crowd.