Broadway Discounts Make Winter Cozy

Well-spaced deals alleviate off-season box office blues

Is winter getting warmer on Broadway?

The post-holiday B.O. slump that used to paralyze the Main Stem every January just doesn’t seem as dramatic as it used to. A key reason behind the box office thaw is the ongoing refinement of winter discount programs rolled out over the years to help keep sales and attendance aloft.

Timing is an important factor. As more discount programs have launched — Kids’ Night more than 15 years ago, Season of Savings in the weeks after 9/11, and Broadway Week in 2011 — their dates have been honed so that they’re increasingly well spaced between the tentpole holidays that always boost the chilled winter biz.

Take the Broadway League’s Broadway Week, piggybacking off the dining deals of New York City’s Restaurant Week, and stretching to more than a fortnight of two-for-one ticket offers. It tends to fall between the tourist-magnet of the long Martin Luther King Jr. weekend and the date-night spike of Valentine’s Day. According to the League, the trade association of legit producers and presenters, the winter session of Broadway Week this year accounted for nearly 100,000 tickets sold. That number hit 125,000 in 2012, when there were three more shows on the boards.

It can be tough to chart a single indicator of success for such an initiative, since overall Rialto health is a balance of B.O., attendance and the number of shows running at any given time. But it’s certainly true that average attendance for the late January/early February weeks in question have steadily risen over the past few years, with a range that hovered around 77% in 2011, climbed to 80% in 2012 and hit 82% this year.

A look at the annual fall edition of Broadway Week, skedded to goose sales during the post-Labor Day slowdown, offers another barometer of the program’s effectiveness. In 2012, the first September frame of the discount scheme logged attendance of 182,000, or about 85% of total capacity. Compare that with the same week in 2011 — not part of that year’s Broadway Week, which started a bit later in the month: That year, attendance came in at just 164,000, or 71% of total seats filled. Both years had 21 shows running at the time, suggesting it was those discounts that helped raise average attendance 14% closer to capacity.

Better still, discount programs report that between 30% and 40% of sales tend to be first-time purchasers, with the hope that those new auds might be inspired by what they see to attend more shows at other times of the year.

That’s certainly the guiding logic behind Kids’ Night, which offers deals on tyke tickets in an effort create a new generation of Broadway regulars. Season of Savings, the brainchild of veteran Main Stem marketer Nancy Coyne, turns heads with a similar discount program, encouraging ticketbuyers to come out at traditionally slower times. “It’s just one more channel for the discounting that’s necessary in slower weeks,” Coyne says.

Such initiatives work in part because producers, once so loathe to offer discounts beyond the TKTS booth, have in the past decade begun to recognize the value of matching price to seasonal demand. With all signs pointing to the effectiveness of programs like Broadway Week, they’ve found the idea a lot easier to support, says League topper Charlotte St. Martin.

“Most everybody needs the business in the winter,” she says.

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