Cheap Thrills Getting Harder to Find

Looking for an entertainment bargain? Rent a video or DVD.

If you want an evening out, you may have to dig for some extra cash. Entertainment is one of the most rapidly rising costs in America. Since December 1997, the cost of admission to entertainment and sporting events in cities easily has outpaced inflation and the escalating cost of medical care.

"Sports is about as bad as it gets" for cost increases, says Malik Crawford, an economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to the Consumer Price Index's latest data cycle, the cost of sports admission rose an average of 6.1 percent annually from December 1997 to April 2002, while the city average admission to movies, theaters and concerts rose 4.5 percent annually. Inflation was just 2.5 percent over the period, below its historical 3.3 percent average annual rate, and medical costs rose an average of 4.2 percent annually.

$10 Movies Taken in Stride?

In New York City, the nation's most expensive market, rising ticket prices in 2001 reached new milestones — $10 for movies and $100 for some Broadway shows. The media took note, but people kept coming, judging by a nationwide rise in movie attendance last year and the current hot summer at the box office.

Protests have been few. But a Los Angeles-area man who organized a one-day boycott over the Internet says families are fed up.

"Box office was down that weekend," said the activist, Mark Jonathan Davis, who runs "Families across the United States are finding it harder to invest $50 for movie tickets and popcorn for their family, when they could probably just go home and make it a Blockbuster night for a couple bucks."

Davis plans to organize another boycott for a full weekend in August. But former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, a noted movie buff, has observed most people seem not to have the energy to protest, and instead just grin and bear the increases.

"People are addicted," Koch said. "If the price of heroin goes up, I don't think it reduces usage. If the price of movies or sports goes up, I don't believe people stop going. They just stop spending money on other items that are more important if you look at them rationally."

Koch learned his lesson years ago when he got fired up over a movie ticket price increase from $6 to $7 and called for a boycott and picket. Nobody showed up but him.

"I was mayor and I could command a lot of attention, but I couldn't command any people to get into the picket line with me," Koch said. "The minute I looked back and there were no picket people behind me, I walked into the movie."

Concerts, Sports Are Main Offenders

Perhaps the apparent apathy can be explained partially by the fact that while the movies and Broadway recently have outpaced inflation, other entertainment ticket options have risen far more quickly, according to an analysis of various annual average ticket prices.

Arena concerts had the steepest rise. The top 50 tours charged an average of $47.66 in 2001, up from 1988's average of $19.18, or $28.71 in 2001 dollars.

Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar, a concert industry trade magazine, said he is not very surprised the price of arena concerts has risen fastest. He added that high rates charged by scalpers led some within the concert industry to feel prime seats were underpriced.

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