Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Got concert tickets? If so, you probably have a big hole in your wallet, too. The summer concert season begins in the Washington area on Sunday when Madonna performs the first of two shows at the MCI Center downtown.

Tickets went on sale April 3 and cost between $48 and $303 — but that doesn’t include the extra fees tacked onto the base prices.

For example, Ticketmaster, the nation’s largest ticket retailer, charges Madonna’s fans a $24.25 “convenience” fee if they purchase tickets online, by telephone or at one of the company’s outlets inside local Hecht’s department stores.

Tickets are available at their face value only at MCI Center’s box office, Ticketmaster officials said.

Fans who buy tickets to Jessica Simpson’s June 19 show at the Nissan Pavilion will pay a $3.50 “building charge.”

If Ms. Simpson’s fans don’t want to travel to the pavilion’s box office in Bristow, Va., to buy their tickets, they can get them online, by telephone or at Hecht’s, but they’ll have to pay an $8.80 convenience fee.

The face value of tickets to Ms. Simpson’s show range from $28.50 to $51.50.

“It all adds up rather quickly,” said Alan B. Krueger, a Princeton University professor who studies ticket prices.

The average ticket price to one of the top 100 tours last year was $50.35 — almost twice as much as the average price in 1996 of $25.81, according to Pollstar, an industry trade publication.

The Consumer Price Index increased 17 percent between 1996 and 2003, Mr. Krueger said.

The ticket price averages reflect only the face value of a ticket, not the extra fees. Mr. Krueger and Pollstar editors said they are unaware of research on whether the extra fees are rising along with base ticket prices.

One key to determining how much a fan pays for a ticket is the performer’s salary. Once a performer such as Madonna or Ms. Simpson names their price, the concert promoters, venues and ticket sellers determine their rates.

“Ticketmaster does not determine the face value of a ticket. The service fees are negotiated by the artist or the promoter,” said Larry Solters, a Ticketmaster spokesman.

Because each performer is paid a different salary, the extra fees can vary.

For example, Ticketmaster will add a $24.25 convenience fee to the tickets to Madonna’s MCI Center show. But the company’s convenience fee to process tickets to Prince’s performance at the same venue in August is just $10.

The different prices do not mean it’s less convenient to process an order for Madonna tickets than Prince tickets, Ticketmaster officials said. It’s just that Madonna and Prince are paid different salaries to perform, which affects the formula used to determine the extra fees, the officials said.

Similarly, the building charge to see Ms. Simpson perform June 19 at Nissan Pavilion is $3.50. But the pavilion will charge Ozzy Osborne fans a $4.50 building fee to attend his July 18 concert in Bristow.

A pavilion spokeswoman said the building charge covers its parking costs. The reason it will charge Mr. Osborne’s fans an extra $1 is because his show lasts longer than four hours, she said.

The face value of concert tickets generally matched the cost of tickets to movies and sporting events until 1997, when concert ticket prices began soaring, Mr. Krueger said.

The average cost of a movie ticket was $6.03 last year, up from $4.42 in 1996, according to the National Association of Theater Owners.

The average cost of a ticket to a Major League Baseball game rose from $11.32 in 1996 to $19.82 last year, while the average National Football League ticket increased from $35.75 to $52.95 during the same period.

Concert attendance generally has fallen as prices have risen, Mr. Krueger said.

The North American concert industry generated $2.5 billion in revenue in 2003, a 20 percent increase from 2002 and the fifth consecutive year that sales reached record levels, according to Pollstar.

The concert industry used to treat the distribution of tickets as a cost of doing business, said Gary Bongiovanni, Pollstar’s editor. “Now it’s become another revenue center. It’s no longer an expense,” he said.

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