Cheap Thrills Getting Harder to Find

"It started with the very biggest acts," Bongiovanni said. "Now it's really all the acts … with the exception being some of the younger rock acts, recognizing the fact that their audiences don't have the same discretionary income to spend on the tickets as an Elton John fan or a Rolling Stones fan."

With increasing player salaries, club-level seating and luxury boxes, and a number of new stadiums and arenas to pay for, baseball, football, basketball and hockey were right behind concerts for ticket price increases over the past decade, according to figures from Major League Baseball and the Team Marketing Report, a sports industry newsletter.

Baseball tickets, which averaged $3.45 in 1976, held almost even with inflation until taking off in the 1990s. In 2001 dollars, the price rose from $11.23 ($8.64 in actual dollars) in 1991 to $18.99 in 2001. Inflation-adjusted football tickets rose from $32.78 ($25.21) to $53.64 over the period and basketball tickets from $29.28 ($22.52) in 1991-92 to $50.10 in 2001-02. Inflation-adjusted hockey tickets rose to $49.86 in 2001-02 from $40.02 ($33.49) in 1994-95, the earliest year for which Team Marketing Report had data.

Ticket Price Changes (in inflation-adjusted 2001 dollars)
  2001 Avg. Price 1996-2001 1991-2001 1986-2001
Arena Concerts (top 50 tours, except *)   $47.66   +57.7%   +71.3%   +78.3%*
Major League Baseball   $18.99   +50.2%   +69.1%   +75.3%
Nat'l Football League   $53.64   +32.9%   +63.6%   n/a
Nat'l Basketball Assn.   $50.10   +29.2%   +70.8%   n/a
Nat'l Hockey League   $49.86   +16.1%   n/a   n/a
Movies   $5.66   +13.4%   +3.5%   -5.5%
Broadway   $58.73   +10.1%   +13.8%   +19.0%
VHS/DVD Rental   $2.81   -3.1%   -6.0%   -23.6%

Broadway Undervalued?

Broadway ticket prices have risen more modestly than sports or concerts, though they have topped inflation more consistently than movies over the years, rising from an average of $7.43 ($33.91 in 2001 dollars) in 1970-71, the earliest season charted by The League of American Theaters and Producers, to $58.73 in 2001-02.

The Producers introduced the $100 theater ticket in April 2001, only to blow that figure away by announcing in October that select tickets would cost $480, partly in an effort to compete with scalpers.

Jed Bernstein, president of The League of American Theaters and Producers, said increasing attendance for Broadway shows — and prices in the hundreds of dollars demanded by scalpers — show tickets were priced "artificially low" for a high-risk medium where less than one show in five breaks even.

"The desire for the product way outstrips inflation and way outstrips the price increases," Bernstein said. "It's a private enterprise, and the people involved do have some responsibility to have some return on investment."

Movies Steady Over Long Haul

Defenders of movie ticket price increases point out that while prices have increased in recent years — to an average of $5.66 in 2001, according to the Motion Picture Association of America and the National Association of Theater Owners — they long lagged behind inflation.

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