Scott Hardie | July 19, 2022
I just read an article about the rising costs of middle-class family outings far outpacing inflation. They use a baseball game, a theatrical movie, and a day at Disneyland for price comparisons, considering 1960 prices versus today.

Interesting idea, but there's one big flaw in their reasoning: While demand for all three has gone up, one has a very restricted supply by necessity.

Want to take your family out to a movie? There are movie theaters everywhere. Unless you live in a rural area, you should have no trouble finding any first-run movie playing all afternoon and evening somewhere near you.

Want to take your family out to a baseball game? There are 30 major-league teams playing across the U.S. (almost double the number in 1960), plus countless minor-league teams scattered around that offer nearly as much excitement for a fraction of the ticket price.

Disneyland, though, is a whole different story. Except for the California Adventure expansion in 2001, the park's capacity has stayed the same since 1960, and cannot increase further because it's surrounded by the city of Anaheim on all sides. Setting aside Disney's notorious corporate avarice for a moment, they really only have two options: Charge the same low prices and turn away tens of thousands of angry visitors at the gates every day, or charge higher prices so that there are only as many paying customers as the parks can serve. If you were in charge, which of the two would you choose?

This is a bit of a sore spot with me, because Kelly and I used to enjoy going to Disney's Florida parks before capacity crowds made them unbearable, especially post-COVID with so many families having pent-up desire to travel. There's a smart and entertaining video essay about Disney's attempts to fix the problem of long lines over the decade, but since I don't expect that anyone else here is as much of a theme-park nerd as I am to sit through a feature-length video on the subject, let me cut to the chase: The company's high-tech attempts to solve the problem have actually made it worse, but it doesn't matter, because there are just way, way, way too many people to solve the problem properly. Kelly and I have tried numerous thought experiments in the last few years, trying to brainstorm solutions to this if we were in charge, and it always comes down to reducing attendance; there's just no other way to improve the experience of being at the parks than to eliminate a significant number of other guests. And since turning away paying customers would be unacceptable to shareholders, Disney's only other way to do that is to raise prices until fewer people want to visit, which inevitably results in endless complaints about how expensive Disney parks are. Personally, although I can't afford to visit as often as I once did, I'd still occasionally pay a premium to visit if there were guaranteed to be smaller crowds and I didn't have to stand around waiting in the sun for most of the day. :-(

Anyway, what's your opinion of inflation, the higher costs of entertainment these days, basic economic concepts, theme park lines, or long Internet videos?


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