I consider myself something of an expert on enjoying baseball cheaply, as I am both a huge baseball fan and a huge cheapskate. Although it's not the most frugal entertainment there is, I find it's pretty easy to have a frugal, fun time at baseball games if you keep some money-saving strategies in mind. (Although these tips are baseball-focused since that's where my experience lies, I have no doubt that some are applicable to other sports, and beyond.)
Save money on parking
- Take public transit if you can. Getting in and out of the ballpark area by car is not only pricey but a big hassle. Who wants to sit in traffic, the car idling and wasting gas and polluting the air, inching along ever-so-slowly? Investigate your public transportation options instead.
- Park farther away from the stadium. If you're willing to walk a little (you'll get a better experience of the neighborhood and its atmosphere-- a plus at Wrigley, not-so-much in Detroit-- and heck, you're about to sit for three or four hours anyway), skip the up-close official lots. Prices typically go down the farther away you go. If you're with a group, you can all walk together, or the driver can drop the gang off first and catch up later.
- Look for days when tickets are cheaper. Nowadays most ballparks have some sort of tiered pricing system; games during the summer, on weekend days, and/or against popular opponents will cost you extra, while if you try spring or fall, weekdays, and/or a non-rival, your cost drops right off the bat. There are also some teams that have a special ultra-discount day (Milwaukee's Dollar Day comes to mind). And keep an eye out for promotions, when kids/students/seniors/military/whoever get free or discounted tickets.
- Consider the cheap seats. Especially if you're going to a game that won't be well-attended, you may have ample opportunity to relocate to better seats once you're inside the park-- so why not pick the cheapest admission price you can?
- Don't pay Ticketmaster fees if you don't have to. Buy at the ballpark ahead of time if you're nearby and you can. Or do a little research about how well-attended the game is likely to be, and if your tickets aren't going to sell out, buy day-of and save yourself the fees.
- Look into standing-room-only tickets. If standing will ruin your enjoyment then don't bother. But one alternative to buying pricey tickets to a popular game ahead of time is to get standing-room tickets the day of. They're cheap, and you may be able to grab someone's empty seats mid-game. These tickets are often not advertised or promoted, though, so you'll want to ask specifically about them.
- Bring food and drinks from home. Ballpark food can get really pricey, but most stadiums don't care if you bring in your own food. Sandwiches, veggies and cheese and crackers, chips, anything non-perishable should work fine. If you're looking for classic ballpark food, peanuts and crackerjacks are easy; if you're creative, you can probably figure out adaptations of other favorites. And don't forget to bring bottled water-- or bottles to fill at the water fountain, if you're not picky. (However, you'll want to avoid any glass bottles or other containers; those aren't permitted.)
- Buy food and drinks outside the ballpark. If you haven't prepared in advance, don't want to lug the stuff from home, or are just craving something freshly cooked, you can stop somewhere just before you enter. Many parks have restaurants nearby, and almost all will have hawkers sitting around outside with peanuts, candy, bottled water, and maybe much more.
- Eat before you leave. Games are long, so you'll probably want a snack of some kind, but filling up before you head out makes the whole process easier.
- Get a free soda for your designated driver. Most ballparks offer this; look for the Guest Services area.
- Dress appropriately for the weather. Wait, hear me out on this one! Some games can get really chilly (Wrigley Field in April, I'm talkin' to you...) and buying coffee, hot chocolate, or other warm food and drink becomes a necessity. That's a place I don't cut corners, when it's me shivering away. But it's a lot simpler to remember to wear enough layers in the first place!
- Check the promotion schedule. From hats and bats to figurines and bobble-heads, you can pick up a souvenir just for walking through the gate. (And keep your eyes open at the end of the game for extras that have been left behind.)
- An autograph can be an unforgettable souvenir. If you come early and/or stay late, you may be able to nab the autograph of a favorite star. For me, the fun of it isn't the autograph itself, but the experience of being ThisClose to the player and maybe a brief snippet of dialogue to be remembered ever after. It may not be your cup of tea, though.
- Grab souvenir cups after the game. Most ballparks sell soda in souvenir cups, and many of the cups can be very neat. If you want to nab one (or more), you've got two options-- buy the cup with soda inside, or wait until the game's over and then grab yourself one, two, six of the cups that are inevitably left behind all around you. It's not as icky as it sounds; rinse 'em out at the water fountain or bathroom sink, and clean fully at home. (You can do the same for those baseball cap-bowls they serve ice cream in, if you want.)
- Find alternate ways to get the souvenirs you want. If you, or your kids, desperately want a particular souvenir, there's cheaper places to get them than inside the stadium itself. You can get your T-shirts, jerseys, caps, or whatever else either before or after the game-- from one of the ubiquitous hawkers if you're fine with knock-offs; from a local store; or even over the internet.
- If any of these tips make you cringe-- ignore them! Going to a ballgame is about having fun, and if for you that means premium seats, a great rivalry on a sunny Saturday in June, hot dogs and beer, then by all means, go for it. But it never hurts to think about what things are your top priorities -- and how you might be able to save a little money on the things that aren't.