Me? Invest in a Broadway Show?!?

By Ken Davenport 
Broadway Producer

I’ve gotten a lot of questions from readers all over the world expressing interest in investing in a Broadway or an Off-Broadway show.

Usually they are unsure about how to get involved and, more importantly, they want to know how to pick their first show.

Since this seemed to be such a hot topic, I thought I’d take a couple of blogs to dispel a few of the nasty rumors associated with investing in Broadway or Off-Broadway shows, and also give you my checklist of how to choose a show to invest in.

Today, we’ll deal with the rumors. Tomorrow, the checklist.

BROADWAY INVESTMENT RUMOR #1: Investing in Broadway shows is only for the super-rich.

Because Broadway capitalizations can range from $2 million for a play up to $20 million for a Broadway Mega-Musical, many people fear that the “entry point,” or the amount of money required for an initial individual investment, must be astronomically high.

Not true.

While the average smaller investment in a big Broadway show is probably about $25,000, I have seen many shows where investors were able to get in for as little as $10,000, and even a few where the entry point was only $5,000! There are a lot of publicly traded mutual funds that don’t allow you to get in at that level. These lower investment thresholds are very common in the Off-Broadway arena.

What determines the lowest investment level? Here’s how it works. Capitalizations are divided into ‘units’, just like shares of a stock. What defines a unit is up to the Producer. Some Producers like to have a round 100 units per show, regardless of the capitalization. Some like to pick the lowest amount they can accept as an investment. Some shows are limited in the number of investors they can have. Some producers just make it up arbitrarily.

Here’s a tip. If you’re considering a show, and you get sticker shock when you hear the price of one unit, ask for a “partial.” Splitting units ain’t like splitting an atom. It can be done with ease. Depending upon a variety of circumstances, including how hot the property is, who the producer is, and whether or not other investors took “round units,” it may be possible for you to invest in a smaller amount than the “ask.”

The key is, of course, never to be pressured into investing more than you’re willing to lose. If the entry point on one project is too high, don’t worry — there are others.

BROADWAY INVESTMENT RUMOR #2: Investing in Broadway shows is only for the super-crazy.

So many people think that it’s bonkers to get involved with Broadway.

The fact is, if you’re an individual of a certain net worth, your traditional financial advisor will probably recommend that you allocate a certain amount of your investment portfolio (usually about 10%) to higher-risk instruments, or so-called Alternative Investments, in order to diversify yourself (most Broadway and other AIs require investors to be “Accredited,” as having a certain net worth, although this is not always the case for shows). Look at the Smith Barney site here to see a description of the Alternative approach.

Why would Broadway, with its high risk but potentially high return, be excluded from that list? In fact, it isn’t. Check out the Wikipedia entry for Alternative Investments here. Recognize anything?

Alternative Investments, including Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, are high risk, without a doubt.

The commonly quoted statistic is that only one out of five Broadway shows recoup their investment (that ratio is even lower for Off-Broadway shows). But it’s not the only high risk instrument on the market, by any means. Investing in Broadway shows is a lot like investing in a restaurant, a piece of art or, frankly, in any entreprenurial start-up. Look at this statistic that puts the success rate of start-ups at the exact same percentage as I just quoted above — 20%! See, it’s not as bad as we thought.

And if you do proper due diligence, as we’ll discuss in Part II, you can increase those odds in your favor.

With big risk can come big rewards. Even if you do end up performing according to the stats, the goal and hope is that the one show out of five ends up paying for previous losses and then some. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Imagine what it would have been like to invest in Annie, or West Side Story, or Cats, or Wicked.

BROADWAY INVESTMENT RUMOR #3: Investors in Broadway shows belong to an exclusive “club” that doesn’t accept new members.

While it is true that there are a lot of investors in the Broadway world who have been in the circle for a long time, it’s not as closed-door a club as you think. While it can be hard for a new investor to get in on the hottest shows coming to town, it’s not impossible, and sometimes producers will let you get in on a ‘sure-thing’ (which doesn’t exist, by the way) if you also agree to come into something a bit more risky.

However, it is a relationship business, and preferential treatment is often given to investors who have been doing it longer, and to those that have been faithful to the producer.

So what does a new investor do?

Start the relationship.

Call a Producer. Email them. Fax them. Simply state that you’re looking to invest in a specific show (if you know one that they are about to do), or ask to be put on the list to be called about their next show. It’s not a commitment for either party, and I don’t know any producer out there who would mind putting you on a “potential” list. Just make sure you are serious about your interest.

Those are three of the biggest obstacles potential Broadway and Off-Broadway investors tell me prevent them from taking the first step and joining the ranks of Broadway investors. In Part II, we’ll talk about just how you choose a project to invest in, once you’ve decided that investing in Broadway is something you definitely want to do.

If you are interested in learning more about investing in Broadway shows, visit my site, Davenport Theatrical Productions. here.


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About Ken Davenport 

Ken Davenport is a Broadway and Off-Broadway producer. Recent Broadway productions include Oleanna starring Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles, Speed-the-Plow starring Raul Esparza, Will Ferrell’s You’re Welcome AmericaBlithe Spirit starring Angela Lansbury, and 13. Ken is the only independent producer to have had three shows running simultaneously Off-Broadway — Altar Boyz, The Awesome 80s Prom and My First Time. He was recently featured on a national commercial for Apple’s iPhone, named one of Crain’s “Forty Under 40″ in 2008, and was dubbed the “P.T. Barnum of Off-Broadway” by The New York Times. He has written articles for Forbes,Mashable, Imedia and others. He blogs about theater at “The Producer’s Perspective–A Broadway Producer’s Perspective on Everything Broadway and Beyond”.

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