Declining Audiences for Live Performances


Here’s something:

“…attendance at [_____] reached an all-time high in 2007.  It has consistently dropped ever since.  In 2011, the [___] posted the lowest total attendance….  At a time when everything else regarding [_____] is growing, [____] has seen its paying customers steadily drop by more than 4.5 percent since 2007.”1

and then this:

“But overall, attendance in the [___] is down for the second straight season…In terms of capacity, the [___] sold 91.1% of their tickets 2008-09. In 2009-10, that figure fell to 89.6%. And this season, [___] teams are drawing just 88.6% of capacity, leaving nearly 12% of all seats empty each night.”2

Various reasons for the decline are given, as well as various remedies to combat it:

“More and more [_____] are basically giving away tickets to [performances], offering free ticket specials or $1 deals on ducats. Several ticket pricing websites are often reduced to selling tickets for literal pocket change on [performance] days, and yet fans still aren’t showing up.”3

And getting an increasingly more connected audience to have options for connecting at live events:

“Bringing in Wi-Fi and a ton of multimedia bling sounds promising. Here’s the catch: Delivering that experience to [_____] fans packed into a relatively small area is extremely tricky.”4

If you think I’m talking about the world of SOBs (Symphonies, Operas, Ballets) well, no–these are all quotes from pieces about the sports world which while having unprecedented gains in broadcast revenue is starting to feel a big crunch in the live audience arena.  But so much of what is being said could just as easily have been read about the problems in the Performing Arts World that it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Cost Disease is very much alive in Sports, which functionally speaking, is no different than any other performing art.

In fact, athletes are simply performers–performing a live and improvised game.  Calling them athletes that play only belies the fact that, from an economic standpoint, they are laborers creating a product in real time, just as dancers, musicians, and singers are.  That there are advocates in the performing arts world looking to the popularity or relevance of Sports (or Pop Music) as having some kind of model that can be used for the success of the performing arts simply means that the performing arts world, if it adopts some of the techniques already used in the “popular entertainment” fields then they will again be one step behind where these fields are moving as they realize the live audience factor is no longer in their favor, or at least becoming a tenuous  prospect at best.

Other similarities to the Performing Arts fields:

The NFL, NBA, and MLB are coming to realize that rising ticket costs might be pricing audiences out of the stadium. Given the rise in television and online viewing/interaction (and the corresponding revenue streams coming in from Broadcast media) this is functionally no different than the NEA studies showing greater online participation in the arts in conjunction with a declining live audience.  Performing Arts institutions simply haven’t found a way to monetize live broadcasts in a meaningful (economic) way as Sports have.  Then again, given policies which favor Sports Broadcasting (the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1964) maybe specific legislation regarding broadcasting and the Performing Arts might make a difference.

While Major League Baseball (MLB) has had record attendance in the past few years, ticket sales are down for the first part of this year and most recognize that the growth in attendance may have been due to variable and dynamic ticket pricing which has only recently been implemented in those years attendance had gone up and the fear is that those initiatives may have hit their limit.  Given the sheer number of events MLB has compared to the other Leagues, ticket revenue is one of the highest, proportionally speaking, of total revenue than what we find in other sports.  MLB also has the lowest percentage/per game of audience attendance (again likely due to the sheer number of games played).

Which brings us to a parallel with, say, Symphony performances–the sheer number of performances by any one full time orchestra comes close to the total number of games any particular league may have in a year.  If the number of events goes up, then the percentage of audience for each individual event goes down as even happens in the sports world.

Lockouts/Strikes in Sports–there have been so many [Lockouts] in recent years in all but MLB that we could wonder how any Sports clubs haven’t declared bankruptcy–that is until we realize that the revenue sharing model of the Leagues means that no particular team ends in the red even if between a third and two thirds of individual teams would absent that sharing.

I’ve already said much in past threads about many of these issues, especially regarding what could be considered the negative externalities in the Sports industries.  Check those out and tell me what you think.  Also take a look at this piece about how Sports Teams lie about attendance!

See also Frank J. Oteri’s post, Winners and Losers, which opens with a quote:

“Regardless of the hand-wringing about dying audiences, we still live in a country where more people go to the symphony than to professional sporting events. In 2009, according to AFTA’s National Arts Index, more than 25 million attended symphony orchestra concerts in the top 81 metro areas of the U.S. The NFL has 17 million in attendance.”
—Rachel Ciprotti, June 28, 2013 comment posted in response to Jesse Rosen’s article, “Provocative Choices for Orchestras”, Huffington Post, June 27, 2013



1. Mike Florio (2012) After peaking in 2007, NFL attendance steadily has declined <<>>

2. Corke Gains (2010) NO ONE CARES ABOUT BASKETBALL: NBA Attendance Is Down – Again Read <<>>

3. Kelly Dwyer (2013) Why can’t NBA teams fill arenas, even after giving away free tickets? <<–nba.html>>

4. David Goldman (2013) NFL dangles apps and Wi-Fi to boost lagging attendance <<>>

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