Baseball season is in full swing, and football season kicks off in September. While sports fans may be excited to cheer on their favorite teams, seeing the game in person comes with a hefty price tag.
Chicago-based ticket reseller VividSeats.com reports that the average ticket price across all NFL games for the 2013 season is $203.75, which doesn't include extras like stadium parking, beer, food or team swag. Tickets to the New England Patriots - the team with the most expensive tickets in the league - average $431 apiece.
That news doesn't bode well for fans on a budget, so here's a look at several strategies for saving money on sports tickets.
1. Join the fan club. Join the fan club of whatever team you support so you'll be among the first to hear about ticket offers. Sometimes membership has a nominal fee attached, but that fee can pay off if you attend several games in a season. Qiana Martin, an athlete and global soccer ambassador, has bought tickets through a soccer club's ticket exchange program, which she paid about $20 to join. "I purchased third-row seats, which is literally unheard of," she says. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
2. Search for presale passwords. Companies that sponsor sports teams may give out presale passwords for purchasing tickets before they go on sale to the general public, and the passwords sometimes include discounts. Tony Knopp, co-founder and CEO of Spotlight Ticket Management, advises to search online for a presale password. "You can usually find it by Googling," he says.
3. Shop the secondary market. Ticket agents or season-ticket holders who can't make a game often resell their tickets on websites like StubHub.com, TicketCity.com or eBay. According to Russ D'Souza, co-founder of SeatGeek.com, which aggregates tickets available online and rates their value, online tickets are often sold for under face value because the seller simply wants to get rid of them.
While tickets might be priced even lower on Craigslist, D'Souza encourages consumers to stick to marketplaces with a money-back guarantee in case the tickets turn out to be fraudulent or don't arrive in time for the game. "Yes, the seats on Craigslist may be cheaper, but there's no recourse for you to get your money back," he says. Wronged eBay buyers can use the site's dispute resolution center, but sellers' own fear of a negative feedback rating is often enough to prevent fraud, according to D'Souza.
[Read: Secrets of Successful eBay Sellers.]
The secondary marketplace also comes in handy if you have tickets you need to unload because of a change in schedule. Rather than eating that cost, you could sell them to someone else and recoup some or all of the money you paid.
4. Visit the scalp-free zone. Instead of leaving fans to buy from scalpers on the street and potentially get ripped off, several sports venues, including Fenway Park, have a designated area called a scalp-free zone where ticket transactions between fans are regulated. Generally in scalp-free zones, tickets cannot be sold above face value and personnel affiliated with the team will scan your ticket "to make sure it's not a phony," Knopp says.
5. Go on a weeknight. Most major football teams play on weekends, but other sports such as baseball, hockey and basketball play on weeknights. Choosing a weeknight game could save you money because those tickets are often less popular, according to Will Flaherty, a SeatGeek.com spokesman. "There's a lot of variance in ticket prices by day of the week," he says.
6. Buy singles. Sporting events are often a social activity, so single tickets aren't as popular. "Single tickets tends to be cheaper on a per ticket basis," D'Souza says. "There's less demand for people who want to sit by themselves." If you're going with a friend, look for seats in the same section or piggyback seats where you're sitting directly behind each other.
7. Wait until game day. According to SeatGeek.com, Major League Baseball tickets purchased on game day are 33.5 percent less expensive, on average, than those bought two weeks prior to the game, and 43.2 percent less expensive compared to 30 days prior to the game. Flaherty says tickets are "like a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk. [They have] a shelf life and an expiration date."
If you wait until the day of the game, you'll have less selection on seats, but resellers will be eager to sell those tickets and you can often do the transaction on the fly using your tablet or smartphone. Waiting until the last minute also reduces the chance of weather issues or scheduling conflicts that make you miss the game.
8. Factor in fees. Ticketing fees can easily add $10 or more per ticket. Sometimes you can avoid ticketing fees by buying at the stadium box office in person and bypassing third-party ticketing agencies. If you have to pay for parking and gas, that could negate the savings. However, if you live or work near the stadium, buying in person might make financial sense. If you're buying multiple tickets, those savings can add up quickly.
[See: 8 Painless Ways to Save Money.]
Nowadays with e-tickets, fewer people pay shipping fees to receive paper tickets, according to D'Souza. Some ticketing websites like ScoreBig.com sell tickets below box office prices without ticketing fees, but they may not have tickets to the most popular games.
9. Go with a group. If you can get together a big enough group of friends or co-workers, you might be able to negotiate a discount with the box office, according to Martin. "Or they might be able to roll you in with an existing group order," she adds.
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