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Broadway Ticket Sales Are Through the Roof. Damned Plazas!

2:44 PM EST on February 29, 2016

Broadway sales stats aren't exactly slumping. Table: Broadway League via @BrooklynSpoke

In case you missed it, the Broadway theater business is booming.

According to the Broadway League, the 2014-2015 season saw the highest attendance in at least 30 years. In 2009-2010, gross ticket sales topped the billion-dollar mark for the first time in history, and have only gone up since.

Something else happened in 2009. It's when New York City reclaimed a few blocks of Broadway in Times Square for people. But to hear the Broadway League and the Daily News tell it, the Broadway plazas are actually a drag on ticket sales -- or something.

Jennifer Fermino has the scoop:

In 2010 -- the year the pedestrian plazas went up and closed off [sic] huge swaths of Times Square -- some 21% of all ticket sales went to people from Long Island, Westchester and Rockland Counties, and northern New Jersey, according to the Broadway League’s “Demographics of the Broadway Audience” survey.

That number has dropped since then to 15.6% in the 2014-2015 season, which just passed.

New York City ticket sales have remained steady -- 17.1% in for 2010-2011 season going to 17.7% last year -- while domestic and foreign tourists sales have climbed.

Sales to foreigners went from 14.1% to 17.5% during the same time, while attendance by American tourists went from 47.6% to 49.2%.

To recap: Total Broadway ticket sales are up, and so are revenues. Within that context of overall growth, ticket buyers from suburban counties account for a smaller share of sales, while visitors from farther away account for a larger share. There could be any number of reasons for this shift, which if anything seems to be benefitting the industry, but that's not how the Broadway League's Charlotte St. Martin sees it:

Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, said that the suburban dropoff corresponds to the pedestrian plazas creation, which brought traffic jams and a “carnival atmosphere” to the area.

That atmosphere, she said, includes the topless panhandlers known as “desnudas,” aggressive CD hawkers, and money-grubbing costumed characters who take advantage of the pedestrian traffic.

“I call it the misery index,” she said.

She believes the dropoff is seen in suburbanites and not other groups because they tend to drive in, and they are therefore most impacted by the traffic jams that the plazas have brought.

So what's keeping those suburbanites away? Is Times Square so crowded that no one goes there anymore? Fermino called on Bob Sinclair of AAA New York to clear things up.

Since the plazas were installed, "it’s extremely difficult to drive in and see a Broadway show in a car," [Sinclair] said.

Of course. Who doesn't remember how easy it once was to drive right to the door of a theater to catch a show.

If you believe a few car-free blocks at the end of a very long car trip are hurting Broadway's bottom line, I've got a front-row "Hamilton" ticket to sell you.

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