Sports Columns

April 11, 2014

Tom Lindley: Managing dollars at the ballpark can be an exercise in good sense

Attending an Opening Day game at a Major League Baseball stadium is one of life’s little pleasures. Everyone should get to experience it at least once.

It’s different from the other dozens of home games each season. Optimism runs high and dreams of a late-season pennant race don’t seem too far-fetched. The stadium is nearly jammed. Most fans are decked out in their team’s colors. Even those wearing the opponent’s jerseys don’t seem too objectionable.

It’s just good to be back at the ballpark. It’s the birth of another season.

For me, this year’s scene was the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, with its configuration that has the cozy feel of stadiums from a bygone day, as well as the modern touches and conveniences of a new home. Close to perfect.

After a long, snowy winter, we were greeted by blue skies and the warm sun shining upon us in our seats behind home plate. The emerald expanse of lush turf pushed recent warnings of another winter storm into the recesses of our minds. If it wasn’t summer yet, it would be soon.

The trip to Cincinnati coincided with the release of the annual “Fan Cost Index,” a survey by the publisher Team Marketing Report that gives an idea of how much a family of four spends at a game.

The average cost across the big leagues: $212.46. For that investment a family would get four average-price tickets for adults, four small soft drinks, two small beers, four hot dogs, two programs, parking and two adult-sized caps.

It would be easy to spend more. On the other hand, with some planning a family could cut corners and conserve on game-day expenses.

My trip for a late afternoon game went something like this: Parking was $14. An all-beef hot dog and a soft drink shortly after I entered the stadium was $11.50. In the third inning, it was time for a sack of popcorn at $5.50. An inning later, a 16 oz. drink served by a guy chanting “cold beer here” took another $8.50. Toss in a few dollars in tips, and the bill for me was close to $45. It was hard to put a price on the tickets because the guy who organized the trip was a season ticket holder. Individual game tickets for those seats go for $91 each.

In Cincinnati, the Fan Cost Index said the average price of a ticket is $22.03 — which seemed low — while the average premium-priced ticket is $61.60.

For me there was no need to buy a program because the giant scoreboard in left field supplied all the information a fan could need. On this trip no one bought souvenirs, but any game involving kids guarantees a trip to the gift shop, where even the items on sale are costly. Top-of-the-line goods, like official caps and jerseys, can get very pricey.

And Cincinnati is at the lower end of the range for cost. Those hoping to see a game in Boston or New York can expect to pay more — a lot more. In Boston — where the Fan Cost Index puts a family’s bill at $350.78 per outing — is the most expensive park in America to take in  an MLB game. Yankee Stadium is slightly less at $337.20. By comparison, Cincinnati is $168.12.

Average premium ticket costs are a different matter. The cost for a good ticket at Yankee Stadium is $305.39; at Fenway Park the average is $176.96.

There are ways to attend a game without breaking the bank, but it requires a little work. Ticket prices can vary according to the day of the week — weekend tickets often cost more — and depending on the opposition. Seeing heated rivals or some interleague series can drive up the price. Good deals, however, are available on a team’s website.

Most clubs allow fans to bring in concessions, including drinks, as long as they meet packaging requirements. (No glass bottles.) Also, team T-shirts and caps usually are much cheaper at a local grocery store or sporting goods outlet.

Teams also love giveaways, so fans should check out upcoming promotions and pick a game that offers something to their liking. It’s akin to getting the toys that come with a McDonald’s Happy Meal, but these can appeal to adults, as well.

Me? I’m anxious for Joey Votto Bobblehead Night. That’s a deal.

Tom Lindley is a sports columnist for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. You can write to him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

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