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U.S. Main Season Box Office Revenue Rises 11% over Five-Year Period; Ticket Gap Widens
Larry Bomback, Director of Finance and Operations, OPERA America
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Original Content10/7/2009

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Given the state of the economy, it is not surprising that the most common question asked of OPERA America staff members nowadays is some variant on: “How is the field doing?” This brief article seeks to clarify some points using data extracted from the most recent Annual Field Report, covering fiscal years 2004 through 2008.

Through the Professional Opera Survey, OPERA America has collected extensive financial and operational data on professional companies dating back more than two decades. Companies that have participated in five consecutive annual surveys comprise the Constant Sample Groups of the Annual Field Report. In the 2008 Annual Field Report, there were 63 professional companies (excluding the Metropolitan Opera) in the U.S. Constant Sample Group and 11 professional companies in the Canadian Constant Sample Group. These numbers make up approximately 55% of OPERA America professional company membership, but using a constant sample group rather than the entire field universe (which changes every year) allows for a more reliable and accurate data analysis.

On average, the U.S. Constant Sample Group posted an 11% gain in main season box office revenue from 2004 to 2008. After a sharp drop-off in main season attendance from 2004 to 2005, audiences were growing for three consecutive seasons until the onset of the recession.

U.S. Constant Sample Group of 63 Companies:
Average Main Season Box Office Revenue
U.S. Constant Sample Group of 63 Companies:
Average Main Season Attendance

The Canadian Constant Sample Group saw a 45% rise in main season box office revenue from 2004 to 2008, and attendance over this time period increased, on average, by 4%.

CA Constant Sample Group of 11 Companies:
Average Main Season Box Office Revenue
(In Canadian Dollars)
CA Constant Sample Group of 11 Companies:
Average Main Season Attendance

The Metropolitan Opera recorded a 26% increase in box office revenue from 2004 to 2008 and 8% growth in main season attendance.

The Metropolitan Opera:
Main Season Box Office Revenue
The Metropolitan Opera:
Main Season Attendance

All three groups reported a rise in ticket revenue, and this might be the result of a pricing model that many companies have adopted in recent seasons. In both the U.S. and Canadian Constant Sample Groups, and at the Met, the highest-priced single ticket and subscription package has risen significantly over five seasons, while the lowest-priced tickets have remained practically fixed. The average U.S. company in the sample group raised its highest-priced single ticket by 31% since 2004, compared to 7% on the low end; Canadian companies, on average, raised single ticket prices at the high-end by 37% versus only 12% on the low-end; and at the Metropolitan Opera, the highest-priced single ticket rose by 27% while the lowest-priced ticket actually decreased by 25%.

U.S. Constant Sample Group
Average Single Ticket Price
Blue = Highest; Red = Lowest

U.S. Constant Sample Group
Average Subscription Price
Blue = Highest; Red = Lowest

CA Constant Sample Group
Average Single Ticket Price
Blue = Highest; Red = Lowest

CA Constant Sample Group
Average Subscription Price
Blue = Highest; Red = Lowest

Metropolitan Opera Average Single Ticket Price
Blue = Highest; Red = Lowest

Metropolitan Opera Average Subscription Price
Blue = Highest; Red = Lowest


For most opera companies, the 2008 fiscal year ended in the second quarter of calendar year 2008, so much of the data in the 2008 Annual Field Report reflects companies’ reactions to the initial shocks of the recession, including the government-assisted takeover of Bear Stearns, soaring energy prices and signs of decline in home values, production and consumption. A few companies in the data set had 2008 fiscal years ending in September or later, and operations were no doubt affected by the late summer takeovers of Wachovia, Washington Mutual, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Merrill Lynch, and the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The 2009 Annual Field Report will reveal what happened to opera companies as they were all fully entrenched in the global economic morass. Many companies reported layoffs, furloughs, benefits reductions and shortened performance schedules during the 2008-2009 season. In the worst cases, established companies such as Opera Pacific, Opera Orlando, Connecticut Opera and Baltimore Opera suspended operations entirely. Still, when taken in aggregate, over three million people attended a main season production at a U.S. or Canadian Constant Sample Group Company in FY08, and indications from general directors suggest that major declines in ticket sales in FY09 were not common. Furthermore, several small, artist-driven companies like Center City Opera and Opera Vivente joined the professional company ranks of OPERA America during the past year, and many long-standing associate member companies, like Opera New Jersey and Fresno Grand Opera, will soon be eligible for professional status as well. Since OPERA America does not collect long-term data on these members yet, the growing audiences at their productions are not reflected in reports.

The entire 2008 Annual Field Report will be inc
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