New research from the Audience Agency has suggested that weaker pantomime ticket sales could have a potentially threatening outcome for theatres in the short and long term. 

The report also shows that the longer-term risk of festive sales already slowing down was accelerated by the pandemic. 

The Audience Agency monitors sales in more than 340 English venues, with a particular focus on venues and organisations in smaller towns, outside of major cities like London.

Using data from the agency’s Audience Finder, the report details how in recent weeks there was a 52% drop in ticket sales, a 53% drop in revenue, as well as a 27% drop in performances compared to the equivalent weeks in the two years prior. 

The report called this “concerning” and compared the data to early November in 2019, where 57% of tickets for the panto season had already been sold – 56% had been sold for Christmas shows more broadly. 

Attitudes to attending theatre performances were also measured, with fewer regular customers (40%) willing to return to performances as they were either not comfortable or not interested in attending when the data was collected. The agency’s Cultural Participation Monitor also said that this had remained “fairly constant since February 2021”.

The report said that older audiences are particularly affected, with those aged 65 and above less likely to attend festive performances. 

“This expected drop in panto sales, especially among older groups, also reflects a trend before COVID-19 (although for different reasons),” said the report. “Overall panto sales in Audience Finder venues saw a 7% drop between 2016-17 and 2018-19, with the single greatest drop across that period (of 19%).”

In November, The Insights Alliance published the Missing Audiences report that found frequent theatre and cultural events attendees had not yet fully returned following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Around 74% of those surveyed said that they expected to attend performances and events less often over the next 12 months.

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