What's The Deal With Airline Peanuts?: Consistently rising ticket prices result in lagging interest, attendance

I was excited last month when I found out that Jerry Seinfeld, my favorite comedian, was coming to the Murat in Indianapolis on Jan. 11. Then I looked at the ticket prices: $76.50, $61.50, $46.50.

So much for sitting in the front row.

The era of cheap thrills, it seems, is over. It's not just concerts, but also movies, theme parks, ball games and almost every other sort of diversion that has been sucking wallets dry.

Want to treat your family to an Indianapolis Colts game at the RCA Dome? Be prepared to shell out at least $60 for four tickets; twice that if you want decent seats. That's not including parking, concessions or foam fingers.

Money won't buy happiness, but for $50 you can enjoy a single day at Disney World. Take your American Express card if you plan to bring the kids.

Even reading material now poses a financial burden. Though most magazines still come for less than $5, you won't have much luck finding the latest hardcover best-seller for less than $25.

According to music industry research firm Pollstar, the average ticket price for the top 50 touring acts this year hovered at just more than $50, or double that of a decade earlier. In the past five years prices have risen 61 percent, compared with 13 percent for the Consumer Price Index.

Somebody out there has plenty of disposable income, though. Tickets for Paul McCartney's recent tour ran as high as $250 and consistently sold out. Other acts such as The Who and the Rolling Stones (which are charging as much as $135 and $350 respectively) are also filling venues.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 loosened restriction on radio station ownership, more than 1,200 stations have been consolidated under the guise of Clear Channel. In 2000 the company acquired SFX Entertainment, which promotes two-thirds of all concerts, by dollar sales, according to a recent article in The New York Times.

The article addressed concerns that the company is monopolizing the business and cited Rep. Howard L. Berman of California, who has urged the Justice Department to investigate whether Clear Channel is punishing artists by burying radio ads for those who refuse to cooperate with SFX.

But ultimately the forces of supply and demand may be responsible. In part, ticket prices are so high because that's what consumers are willing to pay for them.

"We're selling out concerts in 17 minutes, so somebody must think the prices are reasonable," McCartney said in a Dallas Morning News article. "We're not twisting anyone's arm."

However a backlash is rising. Though revenues are up, attendance was actually down 3 percent (to 10.6 million among the top 50 acts) in the first six months of this year, over the same period last year. Last summer, The Who actually had to cancel some performances because of disappointing sales (tickets for their shows ranged from $55 to $150).

But some artists have given fans a break.

"I'm staggered by it," singer James Taylor ( who maintains a $50 ceiling) said about skyrocketing prices in an interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "It seems like gouging to me. It's certainly not worth $75 to sit 100 yards away from the stage and watch my show. It may be worth it for somebody else's show."

That's not to say there aren't good deals out there. The last concert I went to, Rush, only set me back $36 including service charges (though I felt I should have brought my binoculars). This summer I also saw Wilco, one of the most innovative groups on the scenes, on the floor at Bogart's in Cincinnati for only $22.

As for Jerry Seinfeld, his shows at the Murat sold out. He recently announced a third show, though, but I have yet to decide if I want to add an extra $50 to my already hefty credit card bill.

Maybe I'll just pay nothing and see him on the free cable TV I have here at school.

Write to Robert at text you want linked


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