Seeing my favorite team play would be fun, but can I afford it?
Sometimes, this is one of those discretionary spending categories we want to spend money on. Still, we are unsure if it is in the budget or what the priorities should be regarding non-mandatory spending categories. That category is live sports for me. Very few people can afford the money and/or time to see every pro or college game of their favorite team, but most passionate or even casual fans would welcome seeing at least a game or two live. If you have debated seeing a game live but are hesitant about costs, read along for the best way to see your favorite team.
The first step in deciding if you can even afford to explore your options of attending in-person sports is making sure there are actual discretionary dollars in the budget to go at all. After you have answered yes and thought through other ways to spend your money and decide to prioritize going to a big game, let’s explore ways to make it more affordable.
Money-saving tips that work in each of these categories for virtually any live game you attend:
Once you have selected a game or two you want to see, almost always your most significant expense is the tickets themselves, so exploring all your options to get the best price for tickets is always the best policy. Just like the stock market, you have two broad categories for buying tickets: the primary and secondary market. Buying directly from the team is the equivalent of buying in the primary market, and purchasing through a ticket broker or someone “off the street” is the same as going to the secondary market or buying through a stock broker or financial advisor.
Similarly to stocks, you sometimes get a better deal on the primary market, or sometimes the secondary market will provide a cheaper ticket to go to the game, more affordable than many others at the same game. The primary market will only have one option, but the secondary market will have several. Shopping through Stub Hub, Seat Geek, eBay, and the team-endorsed secondary markets is best, as sometimes the prices vary a fair amount. It is always good to do your homework and check all options. If it is a high-demand game, going directly to the team (primary market) will probably be a lower price. If it is not likely a sell-out and is a lower-demand game, then you likely can find prices well below the face value of the ticket the team sets.
One fun, entrepreneurial way to reduce your cost of tickets if you want to go to multiple games is to buy season tickets. Usually, you will receive a little discount without fees for a more significant upfront cost. Then, you can sell some of the highest-demand games at a profit, reducing the overall cost of the games you attend. This strategy usually works well if your team is very good and in a larger market. If your team is one of the worst in the league and in a smaller market city, this strategy is riskier and could make the tickets more expensive and sap more out of your discretionary budget than you intended.
The night of the week or the team your team plays
If the top priority is seeing your favorite team live, with the when and who they play as secondary concerns, then seeing them on an “off” day/night could be a possible option and should save you anywhere from 10% up to 100% of the cost compared to playing a good and popular team on the weekend. A random Tuesday game against a small market team will provide significant savings versus a game on a Saturday against the best team in the league.
Avoiding National Followings
Every sports league has teams with a national following, but some teams have larger followings than others. This means there will be fans who live in or near your city that will watch the opposing team, which drives up ticket prices for a game against your “home team” and the opposing out-of-town team.
Some examples of teams with a larger national following are the Celtics, Lakers, and Knicks in the NBA, the Cowboys, Raiders, and Steelers in the NFL, and the Yankees, Dodgers, and Cubs in the MLB.
So, if you want to see your team at a reasonable price, we suggest avoiding games against these larger (national following) teams, especially on the weekend. You usually pay significantly less for your game during the week against a less popular team.
*Sidenote: Going along with this idea, a top-rated player in whatever league your team is competing in will drive up the cost of tickets, so you may want to avoid having to pay that premium.
This expense will rarely be as expensive as the game tickets, but similarly, the prices vary, and you are wise to do your homework on your options. This can be trickier to shop for because not all costs can be found online.
Most of the time, parking garage prices can be found online, but there are sometimes cheaper options. On a side note, parking garages usually take the longest to get in and out of, so if you are pressed for time or impatient, you likely want to shop for an alternative.
One general principle to apply is the further away from the stadium you park, the cheaper it will be, and as you get closer, the cost goes up. If you are not in a rush and don’t mind walking a distance, you may find spots on the street for free or need to put a few dollars in a meter. Finding an off-street lot medium distance (a quarter to half a mile) from the arena is the best value for many games.
The best decision is usually the combination of a fairly safe, easy to get in and out of, and lower cost than right by the arena or in a parking garage. The cost range can vary by city and cost of living there, but generally, on the low end, it is $10 for a decent walk on a lower-demand game and as high as $60 for a high-demand or playoff game near the arena.
Another universal cost saving to sporting events that usually applies is to use public transportation. Taking a bus or train usually costs only a few dollars and prevents you from sitting in traffic or driving around to find a parking spot. In some cities, this may be a better option than others. Still, this is usually an excellent option if you don’t have several young children or are uncomfortable with public transportation.
If you are not experienced with going to pro or big college games, this cost can sneak up on you. If you think it will cost similarly to going to the high school cafeteria for your son or daughter’s high school game, you are in for a rude awakening. Buying just a hot dog and soda to wash it down will cost at least $10. Going to a game hungry with a family of four could easily set you back $100 or more.
One obvious cost savings is eating a hearty meal before taking off for your game, so buying concessions is unnecessary. Attending the game is to cheer on your team, not to sample average-tasting fast food. Coolers and book bags are not allowed to be brought into a game, but in most arenas, having a protein bar in your pocket and water or juice in a clear plastic bag is acceptable. This can have the same effect as enjoying a snack and not being overly hungry while providing significant savings. Occasionally, electronic tickets have loaded food voucher credits, so checking to see if they are loaded on your purchase tickets is worth checking.
Go in a big group or look for discount or promo nights
Most teams will offer group rates for at least ten people or more. Going in a big group may be more fun and save everyone some cost off their ticket. Some games may target specific demographics, so if it applies to you, look for family, ladies, or college night as examples of teams offering a discount.
Watch your team’s minor-league affiliate
If a pro game isn’t in your budget today, going to an affiliate (minor league) game could be a good alternative for a more reasonable cost for a similar experience.
Baseball, basketball, and hockey all have minor league teams, usually reasonably close to the parent team you cheer for, making this a viable option for most fans. Watching your team's future stars while young could be a neat option and allow you to be more vested in watching their development.
This can also be a good option for getting “good” seats for once because the stadiums are smaller, and you will likely be pretty close to the action regardless of where you sit. After all, even if it is in minor leagues, these are pro athletes who will display considerable size, speed, and talent, which is even more impressive from the closer view.
Although football does not have direct minor leagues, they have alternative leagues, like the USFL and Arena football, which, although they may not be affiliated with your long-time team, for sports junkies, these games can still be fun and provide significant savings.
Enjoying the Experience at a Reasonable Cost
Of course, having friends or family over to watch a game on TV is the best savings, but going to just one game can help you feel even more connected to your team and bring the games you watch on TV even more to life. Like any other activity or item you want to save money on, getting the best pricing takes effort, research, and planning. The more times you go through the process, especially for the same teams and arenas, you will become more efficient and add more savings strategies. For those who take the time to implement these tips, the savings can easily be in the hundreds of dollars for families, leaving them even more satisfied with their pro sporting event experience.
Outside of trying to cut down costs of the experience, if you are trying to budget and still enjoy a sporting event, perhaps some of these tips could be of some use to you. If you are trying to be more aware of how much you are spending each month, we have a financial coach who specializes in creating tailored budgets. Schedule a meeting with her today if you are interested in becoming more aware and understanding of how your dollars are being spent.
The best cost-saving tips to experience an in-person sporting event
November 2, 2023
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