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A chart from TRG Arts/Purple Seven's new report.

COVID Theatre Closures Hit U.K. Harder Than U.S. and Canada, New Study Shows

A new report from TRG Arts and Purple Seven finds that the loyalty of North American audiences, particularly subscribers, may be making the difference.

A new study by Colorado-based management consultants TRG Arts and U.K. arts data specialists Purple Seven compares the impact of COVID-19 and venue closures in North America and the United Kingdom, finding theatre in both countries egregiously effected, but the U.K. in far worse shape.

The COVID-19 Sector Benchmark Insight Report for May 2020, the first of a series that will be published during the pandemic crisis and recovery, used almost real-time data from 250 feeds from the box offices of both commercial and not-for-profit venues of all scales in the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada. The findings: that in North America comparative annual ticket sales fell by 71 percent during the week of March 16, and have not recovered. Meanwhile in the U.K., sales collapsed faster and more steeply, with an immediate 92 percent year-on-year fall in the two weeks after venues were closed on March 16. There has been no upturn.

Over the past two months North American year-on-year sales have continued to decline despite the accelerated release of lockdowns in many states, and are projected to dwindle to the levels seen in the U.K. if the current trend continues through June.

The studies also show considerable variation in performance among organizations, finding that the largest and smallest organizations in North America are struggling the most, and in the U.K. the smallest organizations are seeing the biggest proportional reductions in year-on-year sales. A higher proportion of U.K. organizations have made the strategic decision to take all future events off sale, and most organizations with ticketing revenues of less than £1 million sold no tickets in the three weeks from May 4 to 24.

“I am not surprised to see that the initial impact of COVID-19 has been more pronounced in the United Kingdom,” said TRG chief executive officer Jill Robinson in a statement. “Many North American organizations place a far greater emphasis on building a loyal customer base, and our analysis shows that proportionally ‘loyalists’ are booking more during the pandemic. Subscription revenues continue to be the bedrock for many North American arts organizations, and we are hearing of record subscription sales in 2020 from some of our clients despite the virus. Most venues in the U.K. don’t offer subscriptions.”

Robinson added, “With some states planning to reopen movie theatres within weeks, we’d expect to see confidence in and bookings for performances in North America beginning to rise again. However, this has not been the case across our participating venues thus far. Having access to near real-time data in the coming weeks will be crucial to track whether as a sector we are on a pathway to recovery, or if the shadow of the pandemic is continuing to have a major impact on customer behavior.”

Added Purple Seven CEO Stuart Nicolle in a statement, “Through this study we have answered one important question about the relative initial impact of COVID-19 to the arts in the U.K. and North America. By confidentially sharing their data for aggregate analysis, participating venues will allow us to dig far deeper in the coming weeks and see national and international trends emerging over time.”

Nicolle continued, “The next big question we plan to answer is, are increasing philanthropic revenues compensating for a reduction in ticket sales? We also plan to look in detail at what types of patrons who are choosing to book and examine what signals we can see of consumer confidence returning in the longer term.”

Purple Seven and TRG Arts continue to offer free access to the free COVID-19 Benchmark Dashboard to organizations in the U.S., Canada, the U.K..and now the Republic of Ireland. To register visit https://go.trgarts.com/benchmark. The full COVID-19 Sector Benchmark Insight Report is available at https://go.trgarts.com/InsightReportMay2020. TRG Arts and Purple Seven plan to publish further studies on at least a monthly basis while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the arts and culture sector.

ADV – Billboard