Broadway Audience Continues Growth Trend, Boosting Record Year

Joan Marcus
The Book of Mormon

The Broadway League's annual demographics report for 2011-12 examines the strongest 52-week season in history, with more than 12.3 million admissions and total box office of close to $1.14 billion.

NEW YORK -- Taking a closer look at a season that generated record grosses of just under $1.14 billion, the Broadway League's 15th annual demographics report on theatergoing shows the Great White Way continuing its upward trend of recent years, notably in the tourist sector.

Marketing surveys have indicated that seeing a Broadway show is now almost as essential a part of a trip to New York for visitors both from the U.S. and abroad as seeing the Statue of Liberty or riding the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building.

PHOTOS: Broadway Musicals That Have Sung Their Way to the Big Screen

That anecdotal view is supported by the League's findings for the 2011-12 season, which wrapped in April. (Broadway seasons run May through April, coinciding with the eligibility period for the Tony Awards.) Tourists accounted for 63.4 percent of all Broadway tickets, up from 61.7 percent the year before. International tourists made up 18.4 percent of admissions, a number no doubt boosted by the soft U.S. dollar during the period.

"This was our strongest 52-week season in history in terms of attendance and grosses, with over 12.3 million admissions," said Broadway League executive director Charlotte St. Martin. "We are pleased to see growth in international market, as New York City continues to show strong tourism numbers. Word of mouth continues to be the greatest influence for show selection, with a notable uptick in the power of social networking posts."

In addition to long-running hits such as WickedJersey Boys and The Lion King, other major draws on Broadway during the period surveyed included The Book of MormonSpider-Man: Turn Off the DarkHugh Jackman: Back on BroadwayDeath of a SalesmanOnceWar HorseOne Man, Two Guvnors and Evita.

While the number of admissions for 2011-12 was marginally down from the previous year's tally of 12.5 million, grosses jumped from $1.08 billion. That discrepancy is fueled by the growing prevalence of high-priced premium tickets to sell-out shows. (The 2010-11 season covered an extra playing week, an occurrence that happens every few years due to carryover days.)

St. Martin also pointed to an increase in the diversity of Broadway audiences, with non-Caucasian ethnic groups showing a considerable bump from the previous year. However, that growth is attributable largely to a significant drop in non-white audience numbers during the preceding 2010-11 season.

Reflecting the preference of tourists for musicals over plays, playgoers tended to be more frequent theatergoers than musical attendees. Taken from close to 10,000 questionnaires returned in the annual survey, results showed that the typical playgoer saw six shows during the year, while musical attendees averaged four.

Diehard New York theatergoers who saw 15 or more shows during the year comprised 5 percent of the audience, with 3.6 million admissions representing 29 percent of the total.

STORY: 'Chaplin' Makes Early Exit From Broadway

As has been the case for the past few decades, women made up the largest chunk of Broadway audiences, accounting for 67 percent. The study also showed that online ticket purchasing continues to gain in popularity over traditional box office or phone sales, climbing from 44 percent to 47 percent.

A total of 41 new productions opened during the season.