War Likely to Dampen Box Office Business
NEW YORK (Variety) – Now that bombs are falling in Iraq, turnstiles are sure to slow down at the multiplexes, on Broadway and in concert halls.
But exactly how far receipts fall and for how long is hard to pinpoint.
The movie business is typically in the doldrums this time of year, so it is tough to quantify the effect of war. During the Gulf War in 1991, grosses stalled for a day or two after the midweek hostilities began, but the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend spiked up 58 percent over the previous year’s frame. “Home Alone” claimed a 10th straight No. 1 crown, with $11.1 million.
Overtly militaristic films like “Flight of the Intruder,” “Eve of Destruction” and “Not Without My Daughter” suffered perhaps a bit more than they would have in a different climate.
Sept. 11 offers some different lessons for films with tough themes during tough times.
“Training Day” opened at No. 1 in October 2001, just a couple of weeks after the attacks. “Black Hawk Down” did likewise in January.
As for the Great White Way, the first Gulf War brought a 20 percent drop at Broadway wickets during the initial week of conflict. The second session saw an additional 5 percent decline, with an 18 percent recovery beginning in the third week.
This time around, war fallout could be worse for a number of reasons.
— With advances still off from Sept. 11, few shows can rely on a deep cushion to help buoy box office as non-ticketholders stay glued to the tube.
— Broadway remains groggy from the musicians’ strike.
— Unlike the January start of the Persian Gulf War, the Iraq invasion comes at a crucial time in the Broadway season: “Urban Cowboy,” “Life (x) 3” and “The Play What I Wrote” open in the next few days, and 10 productions premiere in April and May.
— And while a quick perusal of the January 1991 newspapers shows real concerns over possible terrorism, no one had ever heard of a Code Orange alert back then.
War jitters have no doubt affected Broadway attendance for weeks. Strike week aside (March 3-9), post-Valentine’s Day business has suffered not only in comparison to 1998 and 1999 but the troubled winter of 2002, which continued to reel from the after-effects of the World Trade Center attack.
Box office in mid-March is off $1.2 million from just a year ago, with paid attendance down 30,000.
Meanwhile, the $2 billion live-music business is in a holding pattern, with many big concert promoters waiting to shop touring plans until the contours of the conflict — both at home and abroad — become clearer.
“There’s been virtually no movement — everybody’s just kind of sitting tight to see what happens for now,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the live-entertainment publication Pollstar. “It’s tough to get any interest in what you’re doing when there’s a war on.”
At least one show that does appear to have been put on ice is a Rolling Stones appearance in the Middle Eastern nation of Dubai.
But there has been little else in the way of specific cancellations, and current tours shouldn’t be too drastically affected because most tickets are pre-sold months in advance.
Club tours and other small events could be harder hit if the war heats up or Americans suffer any terror attacks at home, since clubs tend to do a much larger portion of their revenues at the door — and the bar, Bongiovanni noted.
As for comparisons to the first Gulf War in winter of 1991, the effects were tough to assess. The touring business, smack in the middle of an economic recession, was already in the dumps, and the timing of the war coincided with a typically slow season for touring anyway.
Forecasts for record sales are equally tough to make: Hard sales data for the prior conflict is hard to come by because it predated the establishment of SoundScan, the industry’s counter-of-record.
However, record sales did take a significant dip in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, indicating that the industry could suffer if music fans’ minds are occupied with more important matters.
War Likely to Dampen Box Office Business