Revenue and Attendance At Regional Theatre Is Down, Don’t Wait…Act Now!


I did a podcast with Rob Cressy about 2 weeks back and he congratulated me on being willing to “live in action.”

That was on my mind this morning as I read an article from the UK about the decline in revenue and average attendance at regional theatre in the United Kingdom.

The quote that really set me off was from Fiona Allen that stated something to the effect that “if a trend develops, we should have concern.”

That’s the wrong attitude to take as we have seen with the state of many nonprofits in the US now facing extreme challenges to their business models as they were relying too heavily on government contracts or funding from grants, foundations, or other means that aren’t in their control.

The challenge here is acute at the moment because you have an approximate decline in revenue of 2%, coupled with the average attendance down about 10%.

That isn’t the time to take a wait and see approach, but one that you need to be cognizant of immediately and take corrective action on before it becomes worse.

This challenge of waiting for trends to develop is one of the missed opportunities in any business. As Peter Drucker said, “we are often not aware of the future that has already happened.”

While decidedly different, the theatre in the US and the UK are both being impacted by a number of trends that have emerged over the past few years and that will likely continue to be impactful for the next years or decade…to different degrees, but still important to notice and deal.

Here are 3 to start with:

Squeezing of the middle class: 

Tom Goodwin has been writing and posting about one of the most undercovered trends being the disappearance of the middle class.

This is a trend that many businesses seem to either want to ignore or have just not noticed.

But in America and an extent other Western countries, we have seen the middle class be eroded due to the implications of mass globalization;  and, slow to adopt policies around taxes, labor, and other important issues…plus, there are likely many other reasons for this impact like aging populations, etc.

The overall theme being that disposable income is decreasing for large percentages of the population.

This means that in the short term and the near term, all things being the same, a trend in declining revenue and attendance is likely to continue because the demographics are going to continue to be problematic and, at least, in the US and, seemingly, the UK, the trends in the way the government deals with its issues are likely to hold for the next 4-6 years.

Changing cultural and entertainment tastes: 

It has become a bit of a cliche to state that people consume entertainment in a different way than they have in the past.

That doesn’t mean that this isn’t true.

We have seen a lot of the way we consume entertainment move to mobile devices. We’ve seen that more of our cultural spending happens around experiences.

This means that there is the challenge of pushing people to disconnect from their devices, but also creating an experience that will pull people away from other entertainment options.

Funding has and will continue to be a bigger issue: 

Government funding of the arts has been on a declining path for quite some time.

The change is much starker in the UK because the public is much more aware of the investment the government makes in the arts, but in many countries cultural funding is going down….even as we likely need the arts more than ever to help us understand and cope with a world of constant change.

Combine this with a private sector that has curtailed a lot of its investments and public expenditures after the 2008 financial crisis and you have an environment where developing new revenue streams or revenue ideas is going to continue to be a top priority.

When you look at all of these issues together, you see that Ms. Allan should be taking the opposite approach, not telling people to wait, but asking, “Why have you waited so long?”



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