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How Much is a TONY Worth to a Broadway Show?

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In the week following the announcement of the TONY awards, the winner for best musical, Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, enjoyed its best week ever, bringing in more than $100,000 than the week before. The winner for best play, All The Way, seems to have been helped even more by the award, bringing in $200,000 more than the previous week. If it ever was in doubt, a TONY award is clearly good for business. At least if you win the big one.

After Midnight, which was nominated for Best Musical (and won for Best Choreography) has already posted closing notices, and The Bridges of Madison County, which won for Best Score but was not nominated for Best Musical, closed shortly after the nominations were announced. Awards like “Best Score” and “Best Choreography” likely benefit the careers of the those responsible for those parts of the show, but do they have any affect at all on the fortunes of the production?

To investigate this question, I compared the reported sales of tickets for Broadway shows between 1997 and 2013 on the last week in April (the week before the nominations are usually announced) and the third week in June (usually 1-2 weeks after the awards themselves are given). For each award category (e.g. Best Score, Best Lighting Design), I calculated the average difference in sold capacity for the shows represented by the winner and for the nominations; the results are shown in the chart below.

It’s a difficult to interpret these results, causation and correlation being as loosely connected as they are, but they do reveal some interesting trends and avenues for future research. First, though, it’s important to note that the data reminds us of a few facts from recent Tony history. First, many of the design awards (Costume, Lighting, and Scenic) did not differentiate between plays and musicals until 2005. Thus, on the chart, “Lighting Designer” covers plays and musicals from 1997 to 2005, and “Lighting Design (Musical)” covers only the years from 2006-2013. Similarly, the (just recently discontinued) awards for “Best Sound Design” in both categories were only given since 2008 and the award for Best Theatrical Event was only given six times between 2001 and 2009. Thus, in each of these categories, the specific details of a single year affect the average more than they do, for instance, in the acting and directing categories.

Until the design awards were split, the audience for the winners and nominees decreased after the Tony Awards. After the split, the winner of the design award for musicals tended to gain audience, but a win did not help the winner of the best design for plays. In part, this may be a symptom of somewhat smaller audiences for non-musical dramas during the summer tourist season, but the winners of the awards for “Costume Design” and “Sound Design” did tend to sell more tickets. In fact, “Costume Design”, for both plays and musicals, seems more correlated with success than any of the other design awards (interesting because, since 2005, the winner in the “Play” category only won the “Best Play” or “Best Revival of a Play” twice (in 2006 for Awake and Sing and in 2007 for Coast of Utopia). Likewise, in the 6 years between it’s inception in 2008 and 2013, the “Sound Design” award was only given to the winner of “Best Play” twice (Red in 2010 and War Horse in 2011). It is possible that the short 5 year history of the sound design award is not representative of the history of the awards in general, but limiting the data to 2008-2013 for all awards does not change the results significantly. Although it’s hard to imagine that the award for sound design draws audiences, perhaps a good sound design is often correlated with a good play (or, even, a good experience at a play).

There are other interesting (and sometimes hard to explain) trends. The award for “Best Play” means more to the winner than the award for “best musical”, but this may be because nominated musicals are generally selling fairly well even before the Tony Season. “Winning Best Score” is correlated with a greater positive change in box office receipts than winning “Best Musical” (something producers of musicals like The Bridges of Madison County may wish to take note of in the future). While sales for shows with the winner for best actress in a musical improve more than shows with the winner for best actor, the reverse is true for plays. The cult of the “Broadway Diva” for musicals may be stronger than that for the male broadway star, but its not clear (to me anyway) why male stars in plays would help the box office more than female ones. To repeat at the risk of reaching naseum, these correlations may all be entirely coincidental, but they do provoke more questions.

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