These days, it takes a lot of green to paint the town red

Movie ticket prices go up today for the second time in two years.

Thinking of taking the family to the big screen tonight to see a dog pretend to be a federal agent? Get ready to shell out $40 bucks - more if everyone wants their own soda and popcorn. That's right, movie prices in New York officially hit the double digit mark today - the second price hike in two years.

If this story seems like a Hollywood sequel (haven't I read this before?), you're right. Ten years ago, the price of a movie made news when it hit $5, and two years ago New Yorkers were indignant to pay $9.50 a flick - the priciest ticket in the US.

These days, the economics of entertainment is kind of like what appears on the screen - real life doesn't seem to apply. Movies may be leading the "Invasion of the Pocketbook," but (perhaps with the exceptions of bowling and miniature golf) it's hard to find a night out on the town these days for less.

From ball parks to Broadway, tickets are getting more expensive - often rising faster than inflation.

Take movies. Last year, according to a survey by En- tertainment Marketing Letter, the cost of a night out for a family of four rose 5.8 percent (after rising 12.5 percent the year before). The inflation rate last year was only 3.7 percent. So far this year, there are plenty of signs that consumers' wallets will feel the squeeze once more.

Many sports teams are starting the year by hiking prices for season tickets. For example, the World Champion Yankees have raised the price of their most expensive seats by $10 to $65 a seat.

* The Texas Rangers, fresh from paying Alex Rodriguez $250 million, increased average prices by about 10 percent, the fifth year in a row the team has raised prices. The top seats jumped even higher - from $35 to $60.

* Live entertainment, on and off Broadway, is getting more pricey. The top price for a musical ("Stephen Sondheim's Follies"), which previews next week, is $90 per ticket. Other musicals have been charging $85. Some off-Broadway shows are now asking as much as $65 per seat.

* Rock 'n' roll is here for pay. Two years ago, live concert prices hit a high note, rising by 58 percent, according to Entertainment Marketing. Last year, the increase slowed to 1.7 percent. Although it's still too early to tell how this year's prices will fare, there is an early indicator. The Irish group U2 is planning a summer tour, and even in Albany, N.Y., the best seats are going for $130 a pop.

So far, the public is continuing to pay. However, it's not clear how much longer that will continue.

"Have we reached a breaking point?" asks Michael Schaur, executive editor of Entertainment Marketing.

That's certainly true for Bronx resident Yvonne Mangerino. The legal secretary used to take her two children to the movies on the first Friday of every month, since they got out of school early. But now it's gotten too expensive, she says, recalling that the last time she took the children it cost her $40.

"I know it was a big deal for them, but I can't do that anymore," she says.

In New York, some residents are livid about the move to $10 movie tickets. City Council president Peter Vallone has suggested a boycott. However, what may happen instead is that Big Apple residents just become more selective about what they go to see. That's the case with Debbie Toussie, who says she will rent more videos or DVDs. "I'll only pay $10 if I really want to see the movie," she vows.

It's a threat that reverberates through the movie industry.

Terrence Michael, an independent producer, worries that the public will only want to pay to see "some huge roller-coaster ride," to the detriment of smaller films. "There has to be a number where people say, 'I'm fed up and I'm not going to the movies tonight,' " he says.

Movie exhibitors say going to the movies is still a good deal and defend their price hikes.

"It's something necessary to offset operating costs at our theaters," says Mindy Tucker, a spokeswoman for Loews Cineplex Entertainment. Loews is raising prices even though it's in bankruptcy - in part because too few people went to the movies last year.

"It doesn't make sense to raise your prices if you're in bankruptcy," says Mr. Michael. Replies Ms. Tucker, "What's the connection?"

Actually, going to the movies is a bargain compared to the theater - even an off-Broadway show. "The Unexpected Man," which recently closed, had a top price of $65.

For a couple, a night of theater, plus hiring a baby sitter and going out to eat, can easily cost $300.

"People are very discriminating when prices are that high, and that's why a lot of shows don't last," says Jean Doumanian, an independent producer who has worked with Woody Allen. To try to attract young theatergoers to her new production, "Bat Boy the Musical," Ms. Doumanian sent out 100,000 fliers offering to discount $55 tickets to as low as $30.

Some sports marketing experts are concerned about the rising prices to see athletic events. High ticket prices mean more seats purchased by corporations, who can afford the large upfront payments for season tickets.

It's not unusual for 60 to 70 percent of season tickets to be owned by corporations, says Dean Bonham, a sports marketing expert in Denver. He worries that those less well-off will be priced out of the arenas.

"And I don't think fan avidity can be developed if people can only watch a game on television," he says.

In a recent essay in a sports marketing publication, Mr. Bonham speculated that by 2020 there will be two categories of fans: those who can afford to attend an event and those who can only watch it on television or the Internet.

"In the past, it's been said that Americans' appetite for sports is immeasurable," he says, "but I'm not sure that can be maintained if the vast majority are priced out of the market."

If a family can't afford those high- priced tickets, there's always miniature golf. Nine dollars gets you a whole day at the Mount Atlanticus course in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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