How to monetize a Broadway show

By Felix Salmon
December 15, 2010
Catherine Rampell has an interesting post today on the economics of Spider-Man, the most expensive musical that Broadway has ever seen.

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Catherine Rampell has an interesting post today on the economics of Spider-Man, the most expensive musical that Broadway has ever seen. Even assuming it’s a massive hit, she says, it’ll make its producers no more than $313,489.80 a week—which means it will be “about 4 years before the show even begins to make up its initial investment.”

But this calculation misses the elephant in the room: the absolutely enormous upside tail risk for a hit musical. Remember, after all, Taymor’s last foray onto Broadway:

If your reference point is The Lion King, all bets are off. Mounted at a cost of about $25 million in 1997, it has so far grossed $4.2 billion worldwide.

Of course, you can’t do that on Broadway alone: at $313,489.80 a week it would take over 250 years to gross $4.2 billion.* But a global franchise can make money in dozens of cities around the world simultaneously: once you’ve done all the initial work of putting the Broadway production together, it can become a license to print money—just ask Andrew Lloyd Webber. What’s more, Spider-Man already has a lot of the global reputation needed to get to that stage, as we’ve seen with the success of the movies.

It’s easy to see how a Spider-Man musical, especially if it has music by Bono and The Edge, could more or less sell itself in just about any global market — which means that the possible profit, here, is in the billions. Broadway is just a place to develop the concept: it’s not where the real money is made.

*Update: Thanks to Kyle Maclean, who points out that I’m confusing box-office gross with profit here. Rampell’s figures assume a gross of $1,646,991 per week, at which rate it would take a mere 49 years to gross $4.2 billion.

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4 comments so far

On the other hand, Spider-Man has got to be one of the hardest shows to transfer to another theater. It would be very hard to do as a touring show, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a semi-permanent show in Vegas, Chicago, Tokyo, etc.

Seeing it on Sunday. Hopefully they have the major kinks worked out.

Posted by AndrewNYC | Report as abusive

I stopped reading at “$313,489.80.” Still scratching my head over where those darn 80 cents come from.

Posted by kaiser_soze | Report as abusive

Good luck Andrew. Be sure to pack a lunch.

It almost seems like they would have to build their own traveling theatre if they wanted to tour this show. I can’t imagine them trying to squeeze it into all the strangely unique houses across the country.

Posted by travisacreman | Report as abusive

When I originally commented I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I recieve four emails with the exact same comment. Is there a way you are able to remove me from that service? Cheers!

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