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I think we can all agree that going to a live sporting event is pretty impressive. Especially if you love sports.
But it’s getting so expensive that it’s becoming unaffordable for many families.
A recent study showed that Americans spend about $56 billion annually at sporting events. That’s more than double the spending on gym memberships.
The study also found that the average family of four spend about $500 to attend a professional football game. Yuck.
In this article, I’ll show you some easy tips for saving big money at sporting events. This way, you can enjoy the fun of attending sporting events but not break the bank.
1. Use sports-sponsored credit cards for massive savings
Before you make any of the money-saving moves below, make sure you set yourself up with a sports-sponsored credit card to get massive discounts and bonuses.
We recently did an in-depth look at credit cards by the NFL, NASCAR, MLB, and NHL to see which ones are best for die-hard fans. So before going through this list of tips, I recommend looking into one of these credit cards so you can stack your savings exponentially.
NHL® Discover it®
The NHL® Discover it® offers a lot more than a card with your favorite team’s logo on it.
You’ll get a 10 percent discount when you shop at Shop.NHL.com and 10 percent off a NHL.TV subscription. Plus, you’ll get the usual round of Discover it® benefits, including:
- Five percent cash back on up to $1,500 on featured categories when you activate
- One percent cash back on all other purchases
- No annual fee
- A cash back match at the end of your first year as a new card member
- Great customer service
NASCAR® Credit Card from Credit One®
Credit One® offers cards for those with poor credit (as well as any other credit score). You’ll also receive the following benefits:
- One percent cash back on eligible gas and automotive purchases
- Applicants who have excellent credit may qualify for a version that offers owner percent cash back on all purchases
- Double cash back at the NASCAR.com superstore
- An annual fee from $0 for those with excellent credit to up to $99 for those with poor credit
MLB™ Credit Card from Bank of America®
Like the NHL® card, Bank of America® offers a credit card with the logo of your favorite Major League Baseball team.
You’ll also get the following benefits:
- Three percent cash back on gas
- Two percent cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs on your first $2,500 spent in combined purchases each quarter
- One percent cash back on all other purchases
- A $150 sign-up bonus when you make $500 in new purchases within 90 days of account opening
- No annual fee
2. Check out family nights
Many professional sports teams offer a family night every once in a while. These games are designed to be more family-friendly and typically include discounted tickets when you buy four or more. Many ticket packages come with food and drinks, as well as some giveaway or show (like fireworks).
A great example of this is Major League Baseball doing Faith and Family Nights in 2018. For example, the Arizona Diamondbacks are offering the following:
- Discounted tickets
- VIP on-field passes
- Player testimonials/Q&A
- Opportunity for your church to sing the National Anthem
- Postgame concert by MercyMe
- $1 for every ticket sold to a charity
If you can’t find anything online, call the ticket office of your favorite team and ask when they are having a family night and what the discounts are. If they don’t have one upcoming, ask them if they’d honor a family discount (say you are a parent who would like to bring your kids and many times they’ll hook you up anyway).
3. Don’t be afraid of the nosebleeds
In case you’ve been living under a rock, they call the highest seats in the stadium the nosebleed seats, since they’re so high up you can get a nosebleed.
Let’s face it; we’ve all sat in the nosebleed section at one point or another. But the fact is, these seats are almost always available and tend to be the most affordable.
And it’s worth it, too. Even though you may not be able to read the names on the back of the players’ jerseys, you’re still physically at the event. Being at the game and in the atmosphere is far better than sitting on your couch and watching it—for most people at least. Plus, if your team is terrible, you can almost certainly move up to a closer seat as the game draws on.
4. Go online for awesome deals
Buying tickets online from a third party vendor is almost always the way to go. If you want to get cheap seats, you should buy from another person who’s looking to offload them.
Now, there are a few things to look out for. First, know that companies buy up tickets for sporting events (especially popular ones) the moment they go on sale, with the hope to sell them to you for an upcharge. These are not the games you want to go to (see below on avoiding big games).
Instead, find games that nobody wants to go to. Sound crazy? It’s not—and think about why you’re reading this article. You want to save money!
The best way to do this is to wait until the day of the game. People wait until the last minute to sell tickets, or they have something come up and can’t attend, so they’ll typically sell you theirs at a deep discount.
One of my best sporting event hacks is to wait until a few hours before the game (if you can swing it) and then buy the tickets online at a place like FlashSeats or StubHub. The tickets that are left for sale at that point will go for next to nothing because people want to get every dollar they can without losing out completely.
25 great places to buy tickets online
There are plenty of places you can go online to scoop up some cheap seats. Here’s a list of 25 different places you can get tickets online (in no particular order—but you might want to check all of them for the best prices):
- Coast to Coast Tickets
- Vivid Seats
- Bargain Seats Online
- Best Tickets
- Front Row Seats
- Tickets for Less
5. Don’t go to big games
Not going to the big game is a catch-22. You could miss out on seeing one of the greatest rivalries ever, or simply one of the greatest games of all time (like when my Cavs finally won it in 2016 in a Game seven by a mere four points). But on the other hand, you could spend a fortune to see the game.
If your goal is to save money, then save the big games for watching at home on your couch. Or, if you need to get out, you’d still spend significantly less by going to a bar with your friends to watch it.
By going to the games that nobody cares about, you’ll save a bunch of money and still get to see the live sporting event. I had some of my best memories going to Cavs games when I was younger, and they were terrible. The stadium was empty, but we were able to sit just a few rows behind the bench and talk to our favorite players. That’s an experience you’ll almost never get at a major rivalry game.
6. Try a preseason game
A few years ago, NFL Preseason game tickets were sold at up to an 81 percent discount by some teams, according to Forbes. Depending on the sport and where you live, this might be an excellent opportunity to check out a game and see some of the players you may not see during the regular season.
NFL preseason games tend to be much cheaper, especially if you’re in a cold-weather city and your team is awful (*cough* Browns). Where you’ll have to watch your spending, though, is on food, drink, and parking. Those are almost never discounted, and that’s how they still can afford to reduce the price of tickets. Once you’re in the stadium, sports teams know you’ll want food and drink (see below on partying beforehand).
Basketball is another sport where you’ll see significant discounts for preseason games. The season is long and goes through the winter, so you won’t see many fans chomping at the bit to see a watered-down roster before the real season begins. The NBA also does a series of summer leagues that you can attend and see mostly rookies play.
Where you may not see much of a discount is with baseball. Since the pre-season is spring training, fans flock to the stadiums in Arizona and Florida to see their favorite teams playing beautiful spring weather. A relative of mine lives near Tampa and tells me that tickets are nearly the same price during spring training as they are during the regular season—so it’s not even worth it. Now, this depends on the team of course, but be aware that there may not be a substantial cost savings.
7. Hit up friends who are season ticket holders
This is probably my second favorite sporting event ticket hack. Find friends who have season tickets, or who have a game plan (i.e., 25 games) and see if they’ll let you bum along when their significant other can’t attend.
Almost always, people buy season tickets in pairs or groups. Someone is bound to miss a game or two, so that’s when you can swoop in and take their spot. A good friend won’t charge you, but you should always offer to take them out for dinner and buy them a beer at the stadium.
This may seem like a crazy idea, but it works. I had a good friend who bought season tickets for him and his wife. His wife hated going to the games but went just for something to do (and to get away from the four kids they have for a night). But many times she couldn’t go or didn’t want to go, so I’d often get to reap the reward of attending the game in her place. That way my friend had someone to go with, and he knew he’d get a free meal out of it.
8. Use public transportation
A few years ago, the median cost of parking for a professional sports event was around $17. And that doesn’t even take into account the amount you’ll spend on gas picking everyone up and driving to the stadium. Or the lines you’ll have to wait in to get out after the game has ended.
To save money, use public transportation any time you can. Depending on where you live, public transportation can be as little as $2 each way. I do this for Cavs games, and it ends up being a fraction of the cost and a portion of the hassle of driving and parking. Plus, I don’t have to worry about driving home after I’ve had a couple of drinks.
9. Try a minor league, college, or high school event instead
While it won’t be the same as a professional sports event, you can still have a lot of fun at a minor league baseball game, a college football game, or a high school basketball game. I’ve been to all three (none of them were wildly popular teams), and it was as enjoyable as a pro game.
Minor league baseball is excellent because you get to see players who could one day become stars. I’ve seen a few myself. That in itself creates a lasting memory. Also, most minor league stadiums are smaller, so you will be closer to the action.
College sports are great, too. Unless you are trying to go to a major, Division I game (like Ohio State—then forget about saving any money
) you can get a great experience for next to nothing. For example, I saw Bowling Green State University (a Division I school) play a pretty competitive game. The crowd was screaming, and the experience was one I’ll never forget. And it cost me $8.
High school games are another great option that won’t cost you much. And you can see elite teams in your area that may feature future professionals. The 2017 NFL Draft had two players drafted (and are starters now) that played high school football not five miles from my hometown. To say that you’ve seen those types of players play when they were in high school is a great story.
10. Find cheap team merchandise before the game
Never buy team merchandise at the stadium. It’s always marked up at a dramatic rate. I worked for a minor league team when I was in college and saw the absurd profit margins their merchandise shop had.
Teams bank on you bringing kids into those places and buying something on impulse. Check out places like eBay, Target, Walmart, Old Navy, or even a local thrift store before you go to the game so you can get merchandise like shirts and hats much cheaper.
11. Get a job at the stadium
A friend of mine is a photographer but decided to take a summer job with the Cleveland Indians. She not only got to see all the home games for free, but she was able to be on the field taking up-close photographs of the team. She even got a behind the scenes look at everything, such as the locker room and executive offices.
Whether you’re looking for a career, a side hustle, or a volunteer experience, getting a job at the stadium is a great way to see at least some of the game for free. The easiest way to do this is by going to Google and searching “[Your favorite team] + jobs.” So for example, San Francisco Giants + jobs.
12. Look for employee discounts
Many employers now offer employee discounts on all types of things—including sporting events. In fact, a study done by SHRM in 2017 showed that 33 percent of organizations now offer a discount on tickets. Most likely they’ll have a web portal or website for you to browse the rebates, but if they don’t call your Human Resources department and they should be able to point you in the right direction.
13. Make sure to party beforehand
I touched on this above, but do your best not to buy food or drink at the stadium if you’re looking to save money at a sporting event. You should consider tailgating or just going out to eat before you get into the stadium. This infographic, produced by Sports-Management-Degrees.com, shows just how crazy the world of food and drink is at sporting events.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to save even a buck or two at sporting events if you do a little planning ahead. You shouldn’t have to watch every game from home, and you also shouldn’t have to tap into your emergency fund just to take your family to a game. Follow these tips, and get an awesome sports-sponsored credit card, to maximize your sporting event savings right away.