Foreigners flock to Broadway

New report outlines purchasing trends

International tourists accounted for a hefty 21% of Main Stem ticket sales during the 2008-09 season, according to a new demographic survey issued by the Broadway League, which also touted the highest percentage of auds aged 25-34 reported since 1999-2000.

Many of the 2008-09 statistics saw a continuation of trends established in prior years, with the average theatergoer still well educated, well off, over 40, white and female. With the Internet on the rise as the most popular method of buying tickets, Web ads were tagged by surveyed auds this year as the most effective form of legit advertising.

The bump in international visitor numbers reflects the expanding global reach of Broadway brands (including worldwide hits such as “Wicked,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Mamma Mia!” and “The Lion King”) as well as the rising tide of overseas tourists that has flooded Gotham since 2003. In 2008-09, about 2.5 million tickets were purchased by foreigners, while the city’s overall foreign tourism tally climbed to 9.5 million travelers.

The percentage of tickets bought by domestic visitors was down to 42% or 5.1 million, the lowest tally since the 2000-01 season. General belt-tightening in an economy-challenged America could account for the dip, although theatergoers from the New York area, both city (17.8% or 2.2 million) and suburbs (19.4% or 2.4 million), remained about the same.

Also bucking recession fears was the fact that the number of shows attended per theatergoer over the season — 4.2 — was about the same as in past seasons. As usual, playgoers generally saw more productions than musical attendees.

The influx of foreign ticketbuyers proved more likely to buy tickets the day of a performance, whereas domestic visitors more often secured their ducats in advance.

The average age of the Rialto visitor was up slightly to 42.2 years old, and the percentage of under-18s (10% or 1.2 million) was off compared to the past couple of years. Meanwhile, the desirable 25-34 demo was up to 15.8% (1.9 million) and senior theatergoers (11.7% or 1.4 million) came out in numbers that about tied the previous high logged over the past 20 years.

In a media landscape much concerned over the floundering of print, the effectiveness of traditional print ads and criticism continued to decline, although critics still remain predominantly influential for play auds, who tend to be older and more local than tuner crowds.

For musical auds, word of mouth remains the most-cited factor in purchasing decisions, followed by the criteria of liking the music featured in a show. Critics and Tony noms trailed in their influence.

Ads that logged the highest awareness tally were those on the Internet (cited by 7.5% of people surveyed), although unsurprisingly, these were more effective with younger auds than older ones.

The 2008-09 season featured 43 new productions (including “Billy Elliot,” “God of Carnage,” “Hair” and “You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W Bush”) as well as 35 continuing shows such as “Avenue Q,” “In the Heights” and “Rent.” Attendance hovered at just over 12 million, as it has over the past couple of seasons. Surveys, 6,365 of which were returned (or about 52%), were distributed to auds at 24 productions and 72 individual performances.

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