Marketing / 05.28.19
Are the Tonys the First Name in Increased Ticket Sales?
The Tony Awards are coming up on Sunday, June 9, and Broadway and the rest of the theater world is eagerly anticipating who will win, who will lose and what will host James Corden’s opening number be like. But there is a whole other question many with ties to stage in New York and elsewhere will be asking. How will the Tonys and their outcome affect ticket sales?
Crystal Brewe, Senior Vice President of Strategic Marketing & Communications on the Kimmel Center Cultural Campus in Philadelphia, shares her insights. “Do the Tonys affect ticket sales? The short answer is ‘Yes.’ … A show that is hard to explain, but can display as the biggest text on an advertisement, ‘Winner of the 2019 Tony Award for,’ has a leg up on a show that can’t say the same. A Tony Award is a stamp of approval that gives ticket buyers a sort of quality assurance.”
“Even shows that are nominated but don’t win enjoy the ripple effect of this stamp of approval,” she says. “You can see this play out in the New York Times’ Arts section all spring. The look and feel of the advertisements transform entirely. Nominations are displayed prominently across full-page, four-color ads as awareness-building to potential ticket buyers. Just like an Academy Award nomination for a movie, this honor puts a show front and center on ticket buyers’ ‘must see’ lists.”
Brewe’s venue welcomes over 1 million visitors a year across its three buildings, including the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, the Academy of Music and the Merriam Theater. The campus is home to Broadway Philadelphia, along with eight world-class resident companies such as The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Pennsylvania Ballet. Brewe, who serves on the INTIX Board of Directors, is responsible for the organization’s key strategic initiatives involving revenue opportunities as well as community-driven programs.
“We see the Tonys as a unique opportunity to build more awareness in our own market,” she says. “We send out information to our existing ticket buyers and subscribers on what to look for on the show. We sometimes celebrate with a watch party, we create themed drinks, and we use the energy and glamour to extend the excitement for our own Broadway season. We also make sure to air our own season advertisements locally during the commercial breaks, knowing that potential ticket buyers are tuned in.”
Blumenthal Performing Arts CEO Tom Gabbard has his own insights on the topic at hand. “The nominations are a nice bump for a number of shows that have only done modest business prior to the nominations,” the Charlotte-based theater vet says. “Doing a musical number on the show is a terrific chance to share who they are with an international audience. It’s always interesting to see which shows effectively and authentically convey who they are to attract a wider audience.”
Of course, there’s a flipside to all of this. Thus, the question becomes: For shows that do not have success at the Tonys, is there a corresponding negative effect on their box office?
“I’ve not noticed a negative effect,” Gabbard says. “In some cases, if it was a show that desperately needed the Tony nomination or award, it may hasten the internal discussion about closing and lining up the next tenant, though.”
“People like what they like, and this is illustrated time and time again by some of the longest-running shows in Broadway history,” Brewe adds. “Awards help, but in this social media-driven world, word of mouth is king.”
Nowhere is that more evident than with Be More Chill, a Broadway phenomenon that first garnered a huge following on social media. Yet it was not nominated this year for Best Musical or in other major categories. “Everything about this show is contrary to what’s typical,” Gabbard says, “so we’re all watching it carefully. Without question, this show will have a life beyond Broadway with or without the Tonys. An extraordinary number of people around the world have listened to or downloaded the score. As a touring show, so long as they manage the cost to keep it affordable, I have no doubt it will successfully tour. Licensing had already begun, but was put on pause, due to Broadway.”
“Shows like Be More Chill definitely have a life after the Tony Awards, nomination or not,” Brewe says. “I’m reminded of shows upcoming on our 2019-20 Broadway Philadelphia season that may not have swept the Tonys, but still have massive, almost cult-like followings. Think about Jonathan Larson’s Rent, which won four of its 10 nominated Tony Awards and has kept strong popularity for over 20 years. Or Waitress, critically acclaimed and featuring a hit songstress like Sara Bareilles. It didn’t win any Tony Awards, though it was nominated four times, and it has been running on Broadway for three-plus years. In Philadelphia, we are fortunate to bring the best of Broadway to audiences through touring productions that keep a show alive long after it has closed on Broadway.”
Both agree that there is no doubt some shows get extended as a result of their success at the Tonys. Gabbard, a Tony Awards voter for 23 years now and a member of the Broadway League Board for most of the past 18 years, says, “Even a big show that already feels like a hit will likely generate an added year or more thanks to the lift from the Tonys.”
Brewe, meanwhile, offers her outsider’s perspective. “The Tony Awards give our industry an opportunity to build bigger fan bases across the country,” she says. “In Philadelphia, we plan our season nearly two years in advance and have Tony voters on our team. We take a number of things into consideration when determining how long of a run Philadelphia audiences will see.”
“Here in Philadelphia, we rely upon the Tony Awards stats to create brand awareness and foster trust and interest among not only our subscribers, but also burgeoning Broadway fans and single-ticket buyers,” Brewe says. “A show like The Band’s Visit that will be playing in our market in early 2020 swept the Tony Awards last year, winning 10 total awards and nominated for 11. But the show isn’t a traditional title or storyline and will require some additional educating for audiences to make a purchase decision. Being able to say that this show was the winner of 10 Tonys, including Best Musical, will do the trick.”
“The only shows that don’t need a boost from the Tonys are the ones that have closed,” Gabbard says. “Otherwise, it’s a fragile business, and every show can benefit.”
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Tags: Music , Theater , Musicals