There's more to the competitive dancing in North America than NDCA hotel-based competitions.
But let me address them first.
Yes, I would agree that Pro/Am entry fees are the bread and butter of these competitions. I also think there's a delicate line to walk between milking the cash cow and killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Oh god I'm full of cliches today. Anyway, even though Pro/Ams bring the most money in, the low-level events (below Gold) also take a LOT OF TIME and are quite boring. And I'm saying this as someone who has been doing Pro/Am (Bronze then Silver) for the past three and a half years!
My point is that these events are run during the day and are for the competitors, and you should probably never expect there to be much of an audience at all for them. Just like you don't see Pee Wee Baseball games sold out and full of the general public -- it's parents and friends -- people want to see the Major League games.
As a Pro/Am dancer I don't actually mind being in the minor league. And getting to dance later in the day is a great big incentive for working my way up in the syllabus levels!
I think some competitions are better than others for "making much of" the Pro/Am competitors. I was just in the City Lights ball, which had reasonable entry fees (slightly less than the other local Pro/Am comps). As a very nice touch every competitor was given a "City Lights" sports bottle, a picture frame, and a coupon for a free dance picture taken of them during the event. The organizers managed to do this and still keep the entry fees right in line with the local market.
I'm going to dance Pro/Am in the upcoming San Francisco Open. This competition, like some others, has ways of giving breaks to Pro/Am competitors. Aside from the regular hotel/food packages for travelling competitors, they have a special non-hotel package that includes an entry ticket and a $10 discount off of each of your Pro/Am entries. I think I remember figuring out that if you do 6 or more Pro/Am entries anyway, you'll come out ahead by being on the package.
Most NDCA competitions now have web sites where you can get information about this stuff, so students don't have to go into competitions blindly.
About the Amateurs being in the middle...yes they are and they're lucky. At most NDCA competitions they get to dance at night, yet they have nominal (or sometimes no) entry fees. Getting an amateur partner is the number one best way to save money over Pro/Am, that's for sure!
When I pay $25-$45 for a nighttime ticket to a competition, I expect to see Pros and at least Pre-Champ and Championship level amateurs. Some competitions shunt the Rising Star Pros off to afternoon sessions, and some put everyone below Championship level Amateur in the afternoon, so depending on what competition you go to and who you are, everyone gets shifted from the 'main event' at one time or another. If you really hate dancing in the afternoon, just don't enter competitions that have you dance then. Again, most NDCA competitions have this kind of info on web sites so you can check in advance.
If you are lucky enough to find an amateur partner, there's more to competing than just the NCDA competitions. Local USABDA chapters put on competitions throughout the year. The entry fees for these are generally about $15-$20, which gives you general admission plus you can enter as many dance events are you are eligible for. Colleges and Universities also put on dance competitions, sometimes even for lower prices. The local universities in my area allow any amateurs to enter, you don't have to be a student or a member of a University dance club or team.
What I'm saying is that there's something for everyone if they look around for it. Yes Pro/Am is expensive but I don't expect it to ever get any cheaper. Although I do wonder if more people would do more Pro/Am entries if the costs were low enough? But I don't have the data to do that kind of cost/benefit analysis, so I don't know.