NEW YORK – There's a reason she's called the Material Girl. If you want to see Madonna (search) up close in concert on her "Re-Invention Tour" this summer, it'll cost you $300 for the best seats.
And it's not only Madonna whose concert costs are through the roof.
Reuniting with classic acts like Elton John (search) or the Rolling Stones (search) will each set you back a couple hundred bucks. For a real splurge, Simon & Garfunkel (search) fans can sit in terrace or garden boxes at the Hollywood Bowl for $504.50 each — before taxes and fees.
"If you are trying to see some of the old dinosaurs, you are paying $200 and some dollars," said Jeff Bierig of Chicago, who skipped the Paul McCartney (search) and Rolling Stones shows because ticket prices topped out at about $250. "I find that ridiculous."
The average ticket price for the 100 top-selling concerts was up 8 percent from 2002 to 2003, to $50.35, according to Pollstar, a music industry magazine that tracks concert prices.
While some music fans find the increasing prices outrageous, concert experts have discovered there are always people willing to shell out for a song.
“We basically found that for the right acts like Paul McCartney and Simon & Garfunkel $250 is not a price barrier,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar. “There is definitely a market for good seats. They are the first ones to be taken if people deem it to be something very special.”
That special quality motivated Jacinthe Babin, 32, of New York City to pay $330 for a ticket to see Madonna at Madison Square Garden this summer.
"When you really, really like the performer why not? It may just be once in your lifetime," she said. "Madonna is a legend, her shows are amazing — the music, the dancing. It's a great night.”
Yet for Babin it's not a once-in-a-lifetime event. She saw the Material Girl's concert in 2001 and paid $250 to a scalper, which she said "was worth it."
"This time I wanted to pay $150, but I didn't mind ... I thought, ‘Good, we have the best seat in the house!’" she said.
But what about teens who long to see their idols like Britney Spears and John Mayer? Actually, tickets for many younger performers have a lower price range, from $40 to $75 depending on the market and the seats — though that's still high for adolescents on an allowance.
Britney concert tickets at the New Orleans Arena in July, for instance, can be purchased for $38.50 (third level off the floor) to $68.50 (floor level). These prices are before fees or taxes though, which can spike the total.
Bierig said he didn't mind buying a $50 ticket for his 15-year-old daughter to see Mayer.
“Assuming most kids are only going to one or two concerts over the summer that they really want to see, parents are going to help," he said.
Still, Bierig said the pricey tickets can be a stretch even for mom and dad.
"It can put [parents] in a tight spot when they can't afford the ticket and the kid really wants to go," he said.
As the music industry suffers from flagging album sales, revenue from major U.S. concert ticket sales have climbed. They rose nearly 20 percent between 2002 and 2003 to generate $2.5 billion, according to Pollstar.
Ticketmaster, the service that handles most concerts, is often maligned for its fees, but musicians control the base cost of tickets to their shows, said Bongiovanni.
“It’s a reflection of how much money they want to make. A popular artist will sell far more on one concert ticket than on one CD,” he said.
For older artists whose fans can afford more, the high-priced tickets are money in the bank.
Many of the top-priced concerts are “acts that appeal to baby boomers who grew up on that music,” said Bongiovanni. “They’re not nearly as active concert goers as they used to be and when they go, they’re going to get the best seats. They’re driving BMWs now instead of Volkswagen buses.”
Four acts of Pollstar's top 10 earners in 2003 — Celine Dion, the Eagles, Simon & Garfunkel and the Billy Joel-Elton John double bill — charged more than $100 per ticket on average in 2003.
Bierig, who has skipped seeing some high-priced acts, said he respects bands that keep ticket costs down. He attended a Wilco concert at a major venue in Chicago that was $25 for every seat in the house. Pearl Jam and James Taylor are also known for budget tickets, selling below $38, said Bongiovanni.
Still, for some fans, seeing a beloved performer in person is worth just about any price — especially if the performer may never tour again.
"I'm afraid it could be one of her last ones," Babin said of Madonna's tour. "She has other interests like children's books and opening Kabbalah centers. I think singing could be on the side for her soon."