Saturday, December 12, 2009

Broadway audience, 2008-2009

The Broadway League released its annual demographic report this week for the 2008-2009 theatre season. There weren't too many surprises and I don't think the numbers are all that different from previous years.

Here are some statistics:
  • The average age of the Broadway theatergoer was 42.2.
  • Forty-seven percent of theatergoers at musicals said a personal recommendation was the strongest factor in deciding which show to see.
  • Women comprise 66.2 percent of the audience.
  • International visitors accounted for 21 percent of the 12.5 million ticket-buyers, the highest ever.
  • Overall, tourists bought 63 percent of all tickets for Broadway shows.
  • Broadway theatergoers reported an annual household income of $195,700.
  • Of theatergoers over age 25, 73 percent had completed college.
  • The typical playgoer saw eight shows in the past year, compared with four for musical attendees.
  • Those who saw 15 or more shows comprised 5 percent of the audience but represented 31 percent of all tickets sold.
What interested me most was the racial breakdown: 73.7 percent white; 8.6 percent Hispanic; 3.9 percent Asian; 2.4 percent black; and 11.4 percent other.

In a news release accompanying the report, Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the league, exclaimed:

"Broadway is a national pastime! As there is more of a choice for the theatergoer than ever before, it is exciting to report that we are seeing a wider audience for Broadway. Our shows, and our audience, are more diverse than ever."

Well perhaps the Broadway audience is getting more diverse but if it's three-quarters Caucasian, largely college-educated, with a household income of nearly $200,000, I don't see how you can lay claim to being a national pastime.

Still, I'm a little hopeful that next year's figures will show some improvement.

The percentage of Hispanic theatergoers jumped from 5.7 percent to 8.6 percent in one year. Part of that could be more visitors from Spanish-speaking countries, or the success of musicals like In the Heights, which takes place in a Latino neighborhood in New York City.

Attendance by black theatergoers reached a 10-year high of 6.7 percent in the 2006-2007 season, only to drop to 2.4 percent two years later.

Now, this is my anecdotal evidence from one weekend in New York City but I noticed at Memphis, Race and waiting in the lobby at Fela! that the audiences for these shows with strong black characters seemed a lot more racially diverse than usual.

(And next spring's Broadway revival of Fences, with the box-office cachet of Oscar winner Denzel Washington, will hopefully draw theatergoers of all backgrounds.)

If Broadway truly wants to call itself a national pastime, let's hope that what I saw was part of a growing trend.


Vance said...

An interesting stat I found was looking at the age comparisons throughout the years. Right now Broadway seems more for older, wealthier people, but in the 1980 season, a HUGE bulk was from 25-34 yr olds. Maybe it's because they could afford it back then, worked less, became a "thing to do"?

Esther said...

Wow, that's very interesting. I'm guessing that since 1980, ticket prices have outpaced inflation and wage increases for a lot of people. So affordability is probably part of it. Maybe it's also become less of the "thing to do."

Although I think if you look at theatre as a whole: regional productions, touring companies of Broadway shows, the age and income level would be lower.

I think you have to keep in mind, too, that the income data is for a "household" not for a ticket buyer. In a lot of cases, that includes two people. And salaries are higher in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metro area than in a lot of other parts of the United States.

Plus, just to be able to come to New York as a tourist means in most cases you've got to have money for plane fare, hotel, restaurants.

But yeah, there's a lot of really interesting data. I just skimmed the surface!

Vance said...

It also plays into my theory (although stats do prove it) that salaries in general have increased but not for post-college grads and thus the imbalance in wealth in the economy (basically big fat cats getting richer).

Which thus affects theatre ticket purchasers.
Or visitors to NYC, yah, I totally was thinking of that too.

Another interesting thing was the lack of people wanting ticket prices at discount. They wanted other extras, but discounts was quite low. But the people polled are the current theatregoers who can afford current prices. Not those who they can possibly entice to go (and build a bigger pool as their audience).