Get The Quarter Back: Saving Money at a Stadium

It’s an exciting time for professional sports in Saskatchewan right now! The Riders home opener is kicking off on Canada Day, Saskatoon has two brand new sports franchises in the Rush and the Rattlers and the NHL is hosting the Heritage Classic at Mosaic Stadium in the fall. But be careful – not only can it be expensive to buy a ticket to the game, the game day atmosphere may have you whipping out your wallet a little more than you’d expect. Let’s get you set up with some spending hacks from a former sports marketer for how to save some green when cheering for the green and white or attending any other sporting event.


According to a CNBC article, Americans spend $56 billion USD on sporting events each year. For comparison, that’s more than double than what they spend on book purchases. We’re not immune to this fanatic spending north of the border, and in some instances, we go above and beyond. We just witnessed how ridiculously expensive seats can become during a playoff run when the Raptors entered the NBA Championships and seat prices in Toronto STARTED at $800 and topped out at $60,000! It’s just not fair that I could have given up my chocolate milk addiction for an entire year and I STILL wouldn’t have been able to afford a seat in the nosebleeds.

That’s a grandiose example, but you can easily rack up a pretty large bill at a local sporting event if you aren’t careful. Berkeley Data Science produced an in-depth report that breaks down the cost of attending a game (ticket, parking, hot dog and a beer) for every team in each of the four major professional leagues (MLB, NBA, NHL and NFL) and measures them against winning percentages, fan loyalty and in-game experience to give the best deals in professional sport. Here are the most expensive game day experiences around each league:

    • NFL – Dallas Cowboys ($199.20 USD)
    • NBA – New York Knicks ($176.38 USD)
    • NHL – Boston Bruins ($144.95 USD)
    • MLB – Chicago Cubs ($104.07 USD)

How does a CFL game day experience at Mosaic Stadium stack up? An average ticket to a Rider game would cost you $69 for a ticket in the bronze section (including ticketmaster fees), $25 for stadium approved parking and $16 for a beer and a hot dog (depending on the vendor). Granted, Mosaic Stadium is touted as one of the nicest outdoor facilities in Canada and a CFL game puts on one heck of a show, but $110 CAD on a relatively lean budget is a pretty penny!

I spent five years working in marketing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and have seen first hand how deceptively expensive attending a professional sporting event can be. Here are some inside secrets from a former sports marketer and some tips on how to save money at a stadium:

BUYING TICKETS FOR THE GAME:


Choose your game wisely

Not all games are priced equally. If you are wanting to just check out a casual game and don’t really care about the opponent or the importance of the match – don’t go to the big game. There is a trend in ticketing right now called “Dynamic Pricing” where the cost of a ticket is variable based on the demand (airlines use a similar pricing strategy). Essentially, an algorithm increases or decreases the price based on how quickly the game is selling out. To put this in perspective, I went to two Raptors games last year in Toronto that were only two days apart and sat in the exact same seats for both games. One game’s seats were $71 and the other was $131. The ONLY difference was that the first night the Raptors played the Minnesota Timberwolves (a team fighting to even make the playoffs) and the second night hosted the Golden State Warriors (the reigning NBA champions at the time). The Riders don’t use dynamic pricing – but they do charge more for “premium games” like Labour Day or when the rival Calgary Stampeders come to town.

PRO TIP: If all else fails, you can always purchase the cheapest ticket offered and roam around the stadium for the game. There are plenty of drink rails that offer great vantage points before you mosey on over to your new location.

Check out the re-sale market before you buy!

I once went to a garage sale and found a Super Nintendo being sold for $14 (I know, right!?). I snatched that sucker up in a heartbeat and walked away from that garage sale giddily feeling like I robbed the place. How does this relate? I would compare the re-sale market to that garage sale where you can find some tickets being sold at “What a STEAL!” prices. A lot of times, people post their tickets on the re-sale market in hopes of recovering some costs for a game they can’t attend (because Cousin Randy just HAD to get married on Labour Day). Buying tickets from StubHub or Kijiji is very risky due to fraud or double selling tickets. It really does happen – one day over a beer I will tell you a heartbreaking story that involved a Montreal Canadiens game, fake StubHub tickets, and a very heartbroken Mason.

What a lot of people don’t know is that Ticketmaster has their own verified re-sale network where you can sell tickets you originally purchased through Ticketmaster. You can even set your own prices which drives ticket prices down as sellers fight to undercut each other. Speaking from experience, I’ve been there when you scan your tickets at the gate and are turned away due to suspicious activity from third party re-sellers (again, Mason’s Misery in Montreal is a tale for another time) and I highly recommend purchasing through a verified re-seller to avoid that experience.

Tips for families

That same CNBC article estimates that it costs the average family of four approximately $500 to attend an NFL Football game. Yikes! There has to be a more affordable way to pack up the kids in the mini-van and get them to the stadium for their first game day, right? Sadly, there is no magical solution that will help you spend less than the college kid “having a little too much fun” in Pil Country, but there are ways to make it a little more manageable! Most stadiums have family pricing to help break down some barriers to get your family through the gates. The top sport franchises will even take a loss on family priced tickets in order to play the long-term game and build life-long fans. Before you buy, do some research to see if your team is having a “Family Day/Night” where they offer bundled discounts and bring in kid friendly entertainment each game. (In my last season with the Riders, we did a Family Day game where we brought in Paw Patrol mascots and kids lost their minds!) Finally, before you complete your purchase, sometimes it is worth calling the ticket office to see if they have any special family promotions to help knock down a few more dollars. If they can’t save you some money, sometimes they’ll throw in soft drink or popcorn vouchers for the inevitability of your kids wanting a snack immediately after kickoff.

Hit up friends who are season ticket holders

If you have friends who are season ticket holders, it’s worth asking them to let you know if they ever have a free ticket. They would have purchased their tickets at a volume discount and almost always purchase with one of their friends or family members. When one of them can’t make a game (probably for Cousin Randy’s second marriage. He never learns.), they’ll be looking to avoid the inconvenience of finding a suitor for their ticket and will pawn off it off to you. Best case scenario, they’ll give it to you for free or at the very least (providing you aren’t friends with a tycoon) will give it to you at cost – which will be below the price of a single game due to the volume discount AND you’ll avoid Ticketmaster & facility fees.

PRE-GAME:


Public transit & stadium shuttles are your friend

We’ve all been there where you’ve missed kick-off because you had to circle the surrounding area of the stadium for an hour trying to find a parking spot, only having to park 16 blocks away in an abandoned lot where they still charged you $15. Not only does it cost you money, but likely 10 years off your life. What if I told you there was a way to save on parking, gas, food AND you could be dropped off at the doors of the stadium?  If you are a local to the city, any professional sports team will have public transportation shuttles that will transport you back and forth from various access points around the city FOR FREE. If you can bear listening to the drunk guy beside you screaming Sweet Caroline – it’s worth it. Outside of the city? There are options, too! The Riders offer the “Rider Express” which are transportation shuttles from Saskatoon for only $50. That’s cheaper than a tank of gas and gives everyone in your squad the freedom to enjoy a couple of adult beverages without the pressure of someone having to be the designated driver.

Seek out game day food & shuttle packages

Sometimes restaurants/pubs within or just outside of the city will source their own shuttle service and package it with a meal. For them – it gets you in their doors before and after the game. For you – it’s a cheap way to save money on meals so you aren’t spending a ton of money on food at the stadium and you also don’t need to worry about the hassle of traffic and parking. It’s a win for everyone involved! For example, Broncos Pub and Grill in Pilot Butte charges $30 for a shuttle to the game, a burger, fries and a draft beer! If you were to pay for that at the stadium while paying for parking – it would cost more than double!

AT THE GAME: 


Tailgate! … or whatever we do in Canada

Once you get to the game, check out the pre-game festivities outside of the gates. Sponsors pay a lot of money to be able to set up shop in the tailgating areas and a lot of them will have give-aways or products to sample. Whether you are there to party with some friends or you showed up with your kids hoping to have them burn off some energy before the game – there’s something there for everyone and might save you some money on food and drink before prices skyrocket when you walk through the gates.

Beware of the dreaded impulse buys

When you get through the gates – you are going to be incredibly excited and there will be money grabs hitting you from all sides. On your left you’ll see the 50/50 stand, on your right you will encounter the merchandise store with the new game day special you’ll want to snatch off the shelves, and if you are like me, your first stop will be at the mini donuts cart. The atmosphere on game day can be incredibly exciting but if you are not careful, you’ll find yourself whipping out your wallet and blindly spending more than you can afford.

PRO TIP: Make a budget for the day before you leave your house while you are in a calmer, more rational mindset to look at your account and decide what you can realistically allocate to elevate your game day experience. This will make it much easier for your wallet to survive the cash grabs around the stadium that seemingly become irresistible once you drink the home team kool-aid. Make sure you stick to it, too! If you don’t trust yourself to not overspend at the game – take out cash that matches the amount you budgeted before the game. That way, when the cash runs out – you know when to stop spending. Trust me, it will save you from buying that celebratory round of shots after a touchdown that will not only save your money, but will also save yourself from a headache in the morning.

Study the prohibited/permitted items list

Every major sport team will have their Permitted & Prohibited items listed on their website. Review it beforehand and buy supplies in advance to avoid vendor markups and avoid wasted money when grumpy gate attendants confiscate your bottle of Orange Crush. For instance, every stadium allows you to bring in water bottles as long as they are clear and sealed. I highly recommend hitting up a Walmart and grabbing water bottles for you and your group. It may seem like you are only saving $2 per water bottle but if you are attending a number of games this season – this adds up fast!

PRO TIP: If you bring your supplies in a clear bag, you will save A TON of time at the gate and won’t have a security guard sifting through your purse.

Cheap end-of-game munchies

In sport, “crunch time” means the pivotal final moments that can decide the outcome of a game. In the last quarter or period of the match, your definition of “crunch time” could mean cheap snacks. If you aren’t really tied to the outcome of the game or the score is lopsided in one direction – walk around the concourse to see if any vendors are offering deals on food that they made too much of. If you can hold off your in-game snack attack until the end of the game, you can score some really great deals on food that vendors are trying to recoup some costs on before they throw it away.

Sport fans – there’s nothing more powerful than when we unite around our team and a common goal. Let’s band together and share some tips and tricks that you’ve learned about saving money at a stadium. Comment below with your wisdom and check out our other #MONEYTALK blogs to further help your financial well-being!

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