Foreigners fuel Broadway

Tourists turned out for plays in 2011-12

Broadway ticket sales to international tourists rose by a hefty half a million during the 2011-12 season following a notable decline the prior season, according to a new report on Rialto demographics issued by the Broadway League.

The findings also showed a notably strong percentage of play audiences were bolstered by tourists, who usually tend to overlook nonmusicals in favor of razzle-dazzle tuners.

Otherwise it was mostly business as usual for the League’s annual breakdown of who comes to Broadway and why. In keeping with prior seasons, the typical Main Stem ticketbuyer was a white, wealthy, well-educated woman in her mid-40s. The Internet continued to grow as the Street’s prime sales portal, accounting for 47% of all sales, and word-of-mouth once again trounced critics’ reviews as the most influential factor in ticketbuying decisions, particularly for musicals.

Among the most striking trends to be highlighted by the report is the remarkably consistent number of New Yorkers and suburbanites buying tickets each season. For the last decade, the average number of Gotham inhabitants who bought Broadway tickets hovered between 2 million and 2.25 million, coming in at 2.11 million in 2011-12. Suburban auds have plateaued in recent years around the 2.5 million mark, although there’s more variation in the numbers prior to the 2008-09 season. Last season the suburbs yielded 2.41 million ticket sales.

Such findings could imply that the pool of local theatergoers has been firmly tapped, with little room for growth. But that’s disproven by earlier years, particularly 1998-99, which saw close to 3 million New Yorkers buy tickets alongside 4.15 million from the suburbs.

Since then, though, numbers have been far more stable. One possible explanation: The last decade has cemented a trend that has seen shows, especially popular musicals, stick around longer and longer as producers have become savvier about the run-lengthening benefits of dynamic pricing. With less turnover for mass-appeal tuners, there are fewer new offerings to pull in local auds who may have already seen older shows.

New York City tourism in general has been on the rise, with 40.3 million domestic visitors and 10.6 million from abroad reported during 2011-12. The prior season’s drop in Broadway tickets sales to international tourists, down at the time to 1.77 million, was a surprise given the upward swing of global visitors overall.

In 2011-12, the rebound in international tourists to 2.27 million was countered by a drop of about 500,000 in purchases from domestic out-of-towners, coming in at 5.55 million. But the latter fluctuation seems more in keeping with the trend over the past dozen seasons, which have seen the number of domestic visitor ticket purchases camping out in the 5 million to 6 million range.

Last season the composition of play audiences shifted, with the 65% of tourists accounting for audiences at musicals nearly matched by 59% of out-of-towners at plays. That’s a big change from the prior season, during which only 43% of auds at plays were tourists vs. 65% for tuners, a finding that more closely matches the conventional wisdom that plays are always more likely to draw Gothamites while musicals are tourist-magnets.

Uptick in 2011-12 could perhaps be explained by the increasing prominence of star casting in plays, which can draw an actor’s fans to a title they otherwise wouldn’t consider. Samuel L. Jackson (“The Mountaintop”), Alan Rickman (“Seminar”), Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield (both in “Death of a Salesman”) were among the thesps with film profiles to appear on Broadway during the 2011-12 season.

The ethnic make-up of the Broadway audience remained mostly white, although the ratio of non-white theatergoers rose to 22% vs. the 17% logged in 2010-11. The average age of Main Stem theatergoers downticked, just barely, to 43.5 years old.

Results were compiled from responses to surveys handed out 80 different perfs at around 30 shows including “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” “Clybourne Park,” “The Lion King” and “Wit,” with some 60% of 16,175 surveys returned.

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