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Impact of COVID-19 on UK arts organisations more pronounced than in North America

A new report has highlighted that the immediate and ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the performing arts fell more in the UK than in North America.

According to the report titled Real-Time Intelligence on the Impact of COVID-19 by TRG Arts and Purple Seven, annual ticket sales collapsed by 71 per cent in North America during the week of March 16, 2020 and have not recovered.

In the same week, UK sales fell by 87 per cent and then by 94 per cent the following week and have remained flat since then.

The study has found that the gap between the two markets is shrinking as there is no sign yet of recovery in the North American market, despite the accelerated easing of lockdowns in many states.

TRG chief executive Jill Robinson said: “I am not surprised to see that the initial impact of COVID-19 has been more pronounced in the United Kingdom. Many North American organisations 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 organisations, and we are hearing of record subscription sales in 2020 from some of our clients despite the virus. Most venues in the UK don’t offer subscriptions.

“With some states planning to re-open 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.

“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 behaviour.”

According to the report, it is the largest and smallest organisations in North America that are seeing sales decline most amid the COVID-19 shutdown. Meanwhile in the UK, larger organisations are marginally outperforming smaller ones in “an extremely difficult market.”

It also noted that a higher proportion of smaller UK organisations are choosing to shut their box offices for all sales.

Prior to theatres shutting their doors on March 16 in the UK, ticket sales for the first two weeks of March were down by over 25 per cent compared to the equivalent weeks in 2019. The report notes that reductions in revenue were greater, meaning that the average price paid for tickets dropped.

Ticket sales during the first two months of this year for North America saw sales rise by three-per-cent and revenues increase by eight-per-cent compared with 2019, while the UK saw a seven-per-cent drop in sales and nine-per-cent in revenues.

Initial analysis from TRG Arts and Purple Seven suggests that a higher proportion of tickets in 2020 are being purchased by ”loyalists” and that on average North American audiences have higher proportions of ”loyal” audience segments. However, it now suggests that North American organisations may be exhausting that pool of more loyal audiences and is not seeing confidence return from other segments.

Purple Seven chief executive Stuart Nicolle said: “Through this study we have answered one important question about the relative initial impact of COVID-19 to the arts in the UK 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.

“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.”

In 2019, the 52 North American arts organisations collectively generated over $450m in box office revenue, while the 196 in the UK brought in $1.1bn (£866m).

Image: Andrew Dupont