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Stratford Festival Budget Cut Ahead

By Keith Tomasek, March 27, 2024

Editorial Correction:
A previous version of this story incorrectly suggested that tickets sold to the Meighen Forum were included in the 443,000 “attendance” reported in the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail and the Festival’s press release. Meighen Forum sales were not included in the total attendance number of 443,000.

As earlier reported, The Stratford Festival concluded the 2023 season with attendance of more than 443,000.

In most news coverage of the Festival’s annual general meeting, little was written about its announcement that it is planning a budget cut.

The number of people attending theatre productions sharply decreased from the 600,000 attendees the Festival attracted in the early 2000s. In 2011 attendance dipped below 500,000 and didn’t surpass that number until 2016 when it hit 512,016.

Looking ahead, according to a report in the Toronto Star, the Festival’s executive director Anita Gaffney said ticket sales for the 2024 season have been “a little softer” than expected. She added that purchasing habits have changed recently, with many people opting to wait until the last minute before buying a ticket.

One can only wonder about the long-term impact of dynamic pricing and the other discounts on last-minute purchasing habits. This marketing strategy was not prevalent in the the early 2000s when attendance was around 600,000. Now, it seems, people opt to wait until the last minute because they’ve been trained to wait by the reward of a discounted ticket price. It’s also possible the pandemic had an impact on some consumers who may remain trigger-shy about long term travel plans.

Although it’s tough to prove a correlation, research by the Tony Award-winning producer Ken Davenport suggests that discounting ticket prices has hurt Broadway ticket sales and grosses.

It’s worth noting that in 2012, Gaffnney used those exact words “a little softer” to describe low attendance, attributing that dip in sales to “a universal trend and largely linked to the challenges of the economy.”

Meanwhile, according to a recent Globe and Mail report, Gaffney says the Festival will endeavour to cut costs.

Gaffney said the Festival plans to cut about 5 percent of its 2023 budget, “mostly in terms of reducing administrative costs…”

The paradox I see is the challenge of reducing administrative costs at a time when the Meighen Forum and Stratfest@Home are becoming increasingly vital to the Stratford experience. Add to that the need for a refreshed website and the launch of the new Stratford Festival mobile app, and it seems like the administration will be busier than ever!

Each of the over 150 Meighen Forum events required administrative duties, including planning, marketing, sales, etc., to sell the 15,000 tickets. Add all the additional administrative and production work for the Stratford@home streaming service, and one can only wonder how the already beleaguered Festival staff will cope with the cuts.

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Stratford Festival Budget Cut Ahead

Keith Tomasek
27 March 2024
News and Rumors

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