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League: B'way Sales Rise, Other Stats Stubbornly Stagnant

The League of American Theatres and Producers has released its annual survey, "The Demographics of the Broadway Audience, 2003-2004," and many key findings will please those who fret over the average age of Broadway audiences or whether ticket prices needlessly tamp down box office sales.

Anyone who works on Broadway or aspires to -- that is, actors, directors, writers, producers -- would be well advised to also note many of the consumer trends the survey documents for a second year.

Overall, according to the report, the past season generated the third-highest attendance in Main Stem history, rising to 11.6 million tickets purchased from 11.4 million during the prior season and nearing the all-time record of 11.9 million achieved during the 2000-01 season. The numbers can be analyzed another way, however: In a sign of just how difficult it has become to mount plays on Broadway, 10.02 million people saw a musical last season, a new record, versus the 1.57 million who saw a play, the lowest figure in almost a decade.

Part of the credit for the ticket-sale rise goes to foreign tourists, who increased to 1.24 million last season, nearly double the 650,000 figure recorded for the prior season.

Part of the credit, too, goes to young people: The League reported 1.30 million tickets used by children under 18, the second-highest number ever recorded; more broadly, the under-18, 18- to 24-, and 25- to 34-year-old sectors totaled 35.6% of the Broadway audience. Overall, this may help explain why the average Broadway theatregoer's age declined a bit last season, from 43 to 42. One statistic proved utterly reliable: 62.8% of the Broadway audience last season was composed of women, which comports with relatively flat data stretching back a decade or two: The 1980-81 statistic was 58.0%; the 1990-91 statistic, 61.8%.

Ethnicity, too, remains a stubbornly and seemingly unmovable statistic on the Broadway scene. In 2002-03, Caucasian audience members composed 82.9% of the whole; last season, the figure fell to 80.1% -- an improvement, but a small one. African-Americans made up 3.2%, versus 3.8% the previous season; Asian-Americans, 3.0% (versus 3.1%); Hispanics/Latinos, 4.7% (versus 4.0%); and all others, 9.0% (versus 6.2%). The report also noted, however, that among attendees under 35, 28% were non-Caucasian, compared with 10% of ticket holders over 50.

In the League's latest study, the ethnic disparities in the Broadway audience were matched only by its economic disparities. Last season, the picture brightened just a bit: The average annual household income was $97,300, roughly a $10,000 drop from last season's record high of $107,400 and $105,000 the season before.

Audience diversity can also be measured quantitatively: How many Broadway shows does a ticket buyer see each season? Here, too, the study shows minimal change, with the average Broadway theatregoer seeing five productions last season, the same figure as the season before and the season before that. Those purchasing tickets for 25 or more shows composed just 2.4% of the whole -- down from 2.9% the previous season -- but accounted for 16.3% of all Broadway theatre visits. Those who bought tickets to between one and nine shows accounted for 60.1% of all Broadway visits, suggesting that while many ticket holders are only occasional Broadway attendees, they are the majority of the audience.

Other results of the survey:

- The percentage of Broadway ticket buyers purchasing via the Internet reached a new high: 19.4%, up from 14.1% the prior season. Sales by telephone decreased to 14.8% from 18.0%, walk-up box office sales dropped to 21.8% from 23.1%, and group or package sales fell to 8.8% from 10.6%.

- Personal recommendation was the most widely cited factor in ticket buyers' selection of a Broadway show.

- Broadway theatregoers are purchasing tickets with very little lead-time: Same-day sales accounted for 23.9% of the whole, up from 21.8% the previous season. Sales booked two to four months in advance, four to six months in advance, and more than six months in advance all declined.

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