Inflation boosts Broadway B.O.

Fewer theatergoers pay more for tix

The year-end holidays lavished their traditional bounty on Broadway, with the week between Christmas and New Year’s bringing an annual influx of tourists to Times Square.

But legit box office observers, always on the lookout for sales trends and causes for optimism and/or concern, wondered: How’d 2009 stack up to 2008?

A significant jump in ticket prices this winter made up for the drop in admissions vs. 2008.

For week 32 — the seven-day sesh stretching from the final days of December into early January — the year’s cume of $28.1 million for 31 shows on the boards is just a bit higher than the gross-gross of $27.8 million logged for 32 shows during the same frame in ’08.

Last winter 11 shows posted weekly sales of more than $1 million each (including “Wicked,” topping the $2 million mark). 2008? Also 11.

One difference between the two seasons can be spotted in the fact that this winter’s overall attendance hit about 90% of capacity, or 272,864. That’s robust, but not quite the 97% capacity hit in 2008 (when theatergoers tallied 281,018). That season 24 productions played to capacities of 90% capacity or more, while only 19 shows did this winter.

That discrepancy is likely attributable in part to the fact that at this time last year, the Broadway lineup featured several more long-runnings musicals that had built up the kind of high profile that would attract tourist auds. A number of them, including “Hairspray” and “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” shuttered in January 2009.

This winter, receipts were kept plenty high by ticket prices that, while always inching upward, stretch even higher during in-demand holiday frames. Last winter the price paid per ticket averaged about $91.50; this winter it spiked up to a whopping $103.

That’s a significant jump that will surely fuel continued worries about the price of theater tickets rising high enough to ward off some consumers.

Nonetheless, optimists can argue that it can only be a good thing that so many consumers are willing to shell out so much money during a recession-era climate of frugality.

Legiters pay the most attention to comparisons between seasons as opposed to calendar years, and so far the season’s cume of $622 million only slightly trails the $623 million achieved by this time in the 2008-09 frame. This season seems likely to catch up with last, but observers will be keeping a careful eye on attendance and average ticket price when the final numbers come out in the spring.

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