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Broadway Box Office Ends Record-Breaking Streak

The 2012-13 season reports the lowest attendance since 2004-05

Broadway left its B.O. records unbroken in the 2012-13 season, logging drops both in cumulative gross and, more notably, in attendance.

It’s been a while since a Main Stem season didn’t break a sales record, and even attendance has largely been on the upswing for the last several years. The 2012-13 box office tally came in at $1,138,734,331, down a negligible $600,000 from the $1.139 billion reported for the 2011-12 season.

But the attendance figure of 11.57 million was down to its lowest level since 2004-05, when 11.53 million theatergoers turned out for shows. The 2011-12 season posted an attendance of 12.33 million; the highest tally reported since the Broadway League began collecting data was 12.53 million in 2010-11.

Another notable decline came in playing weeks, a figure derived by adding together the total number of weeks performed by each individual title over the course of a single season (usually 52 weeks, like the 2012-13 sesh). The 1,430 frames totaled in 2012-13 were the fewest since 1996-97, when the tally came in at 1,349.

The significant drop from 1,522 playing weeks in 2011-12 down to 1,430 this past season means theaters were dark longer, and there were fewer performances overall to which auds could buy tickets. But grosses managed to stay about on par with the 2011-12 tally because premium ticket prices remain prevalent for popular shows and regular admission pricetags are always inching upward.

That phenomenon has long prompted observers to note that Rialto prices are so high — $175 at ultra-hot tuner “The Book of Mormon” last week, for instance — that they’re pushing many theatergoers out of the market. But as sold-out late-May weeks at musicals “Kinky Boots” and “Matilda” and plays “Lucky Guy” and “I’ll Eat You Last” indicate, there doesn’t appear to be a shortage of auds willing to pony up for pricey shows they want to see.

As the League noted in its report on the season-end tallies, the fallout of Hurricane Sandy may have been a factor in declining attendance, as Broadway visits by suburban and tri-state auds — an important component of a production’s success, especially for newer titles — were hampered by lingering damage to area transit options.

But the dips in sales and attendance could perhaps be more compellingly attributed to the fact that the new shows to really stir aud excitement in 2012-13 didn’t bow til later in the season. In last week’s B.O. charts, no fewer than five titles in the Top 10 — “Lucky Guy” ($1,385,399), “Motown” ($1,371,341), “Kinky Boots” ($1,367,891), “Matilda” ($1,105,554) and “Cinderella” ($1,066,129) — are from the 2012-13 lineup, but not one of them opened before March.

Last week’s B.O. cume was up less than $1 million to $25.5 million for 27 shows on the boards, while attendance ticked down, barely, to 240,878. That’s about the norm for this time of year, since the long weekend of Memorial Day is usually so packed with outdoor distractions that Broadway doesn’t much benefit from the holiday. Nonetheless, the week logged a healthy overall attendance of 92% of all available seats.

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