On Sunday, February 2, 2014, the Seattle Seahawks crushed the Denver Broncos, 43-8, winning the National Football League championship at the Super Bowl XLVIII. The game was held just over the Hudson River from New York City at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
As it turns out, the Broncos were not the only ones who could have used a better defense. Though Broadway shows across the board adjusted performance schedules and made promotional efforts to engage the influx of sports fans flocking to the city, theatre ticket sales were at a disappointing low, with weekly box office grosses dropping $2.4 million and with 15,000 fewer tickets sold compared to the previous 7-day period.
Total ticket sales were only $16,714,694 in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, though they reached $19,122,428 in the preceding week. The only shows to reach full audience capacity were The Book of Mormon and the double-bill Mark Rylance-led Shakespeare productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III. Even long-running hits such as The Lion King saw a big drop in sales, decreasing 10 percent since the week before. Although the total weekly gross for all productions was comparable to the total gross in Super Bowl week last year, there are presently four more shows running than this time last year.
In recent history, Broadway producers have seen non-weather related ticket sales slumps, the most recent during the Republican National Convention in 2004, when ticket sales dropped 22%. This time the slump was so severe, that the New York City Mayor may rethink efforts to bring other events to the area, like the Olympics, the World Cup or even the Stanley Cup. It may increase hotel receipts, but do little for the rest of the NYC economy.
In honor of the football event, New York City and the Super Bowl Host Committee joined forces to carry out an unprecedented shutdown of 13 blocks in Midtown Manhattan. As a result, traffic was restricted in the heart of Times Square on Broadway between 34th Street and 47th Street for the four days leading up to the game. The officially dubbed “Super Bowl Boulevard” hosted a slew of events ranging from a toboggan run to an outdoor stage featuring performances by, among others, the Broadway casts of Rock of Ages and Jersey Boys. Other shows – including Rocky, Pippin, Motown, Chicago, Mamma Mia! and Newsies – gave special performances in nearby Bryant Park. Still, it appears the excitement of the game overpowered the convenience of the theatre district welcoming the flood of visitors with open arms. The “Super Bowl Boulevard” festivities felt crushed in the small space on Broadway, especially given that the Javits Center, on the West Side of Manhattan was the original location earmarked , but another event grabbed the booking.
Broadway producers, anticipating the conflict, made significant efforts to take advantage of the tourist traffic. Broadway Week, an annual 2-for-1 ticket promotion, happened to coincide with the shutdowns, and every running production (with the exception of the confident hit The Book of Mormon) participated in the discount program – most likely aiming to attract Super Bowl theatregoers. Furthermore, the Broadway League (calling themselves “the theatrical equivalent of the NFL”) released a press statement welcoming Super Bowl XLVIII to Times Square, providing a user-friendly map for pedestrians to navigate their way to the theatres, and announcing alternate curtain times to accommodate football aficionados.
One show, Rock of Ages, made multiple efforts to attract football fans. The 1980s rock jukebox musical has traditionally done very well with the adult male demographic, which is unusual for Broadway musicals. It therefore makes sense that they would take this opportunity to gain added exposure among sports fans. In addition to performing a half hour set onstage at Super Bowl Boulevard on Thursday afternoon prior to the game, the cast made the journey to MetLife Stadium on game day, performing two sets outside the gates prior to kickoff. In an even greater feat, the producers convinced three NFL stars to join the cast onstage at Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre, playing bartenders in four brief scenes for a temporary stint. However, Rock of Ages was no exception in terms of poor box office performance; their gross was $60,000 less than the previous week.
Overall, despite positive expectations that the event might help rally the crowds to Broadway, the performance week was disappointingly low. Presumably, the grosses might have been even worse had it not been for the Broadway League’s efforts to woo the scant few Super Bowl fans that actually did go to a show. It is likely that the Super Bowl fans also booked all the hotel rooms in New York City, which meant that the normal tourists didn’t have anywhere to stay. Super Bowl Boulevard also served to distract the remaining tourists from going to the theatre, merely adding to the multitude of entertainment options available in Times Square. Still, some of these marketing efforts may prove fruitful in the long run, having possibly increased national awareness of the current Broadway slate.