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Cash is king if you're planning to take kids to a pro sports game

by Karen Quant
Oct 23, 2013


Photo courtesy of Joel Hilgendorf

This kid -- Joel Hilgendorf's youngest -- may be a Cubs fan, but Wrigley isn't even on the short list for family outings because of cost.

Tickets, $200. Two beers, $18. Watching the Bears win, priceless.


Or is it?

The Chicago Bears are making a potential push for the playoffs, the Bulls are set for their season opener Tuesday, and the Blackhawks are off to a strong start, coming off of their Stanley Cup championship. You can see why many Chicagoans and sports fans throughout the area may be considering catching the action live.

With ticket prices to professional sporting events, concession food prices, even parking fees continuing to surge, some fans find the cost out of reach and are being excluded from attending and cheering on their favorite professional teams at live games.

Take Rogers Park resident Jill Bonnette, who moved here with her husband in 2006. Bonnette said she attended Seahhawks games and Mariners games way more often when living in Seattle.

“We moved here and I said, ‘We can’t go to football games.’”

And it’s not just Chicago, as one Cincinnati Reds supporter said recently on Twitter: “It’s too expensive to be a frickin sports fan....#overit.”

Imagine the expense to a family, even a small family.

Lifelong Cubs fan and Grand Rapids, Mich., resident Joel Hilgendorf, 37, said, “It’s everything. Taking the wife and three kids to a pro sports game is impossible.”

Asked how many pro sports events he has been to, Hilgendorf said, “Haven’t been to one in three years. Minor league, maybe five a year. That really makes me sad.”

The staying-away is especially true for some families in the Midwest and those who root for Chicago sports teams, specifically.

Searching the keywords ‘Bears game expensive’ in Twitter returns an expansive list of tweets by fans complaining and admitting their desire to attend a game but inability to do so because of price.

Typical of the tweets was this one: “NFL prices in general are expensive and average fan can’t afford to see a game live. Most have to creatively adjust the check book. #bears”

According to Team Marketing Report, the Chicago Bears have the fifth-most expensive average ticket price in the NFL in 2013, at $103.60. Even worse, the premium average cost is $312.15.

Bonnette, whose husband is a huge Bears fan, said, “We only go if someone has an extra. We don’t seek them out because they are so expensive.”

And she does mean an extra: either she or her husband go. The other stays home to babysit. “No way I would spend that amount on Hagen,” her son. “He’s 5, and won’t appreciate it.”

Bonnette and her family do, however, attend about three or four Cubs games a year. “Cubs games are still attainable and slightly affordable.”

Most teams with higher-priced tickets have had winning seasons as of late. Winning teams attract more fans, creating a higher demand for tickets. This can be said of some of Chicago’s teams.

But keep in mind it’s not just the ticket fans pay for. The average prices mentioned above don’t include cost of parking, food, souvenirs, etc.

Statista, a leading statistic portal, calculated what it terms a Fan Cost Index, which calculates the cost, team by team, for taking a family to a pro game.

The Fan Cost Index “comprises the prices of four average-price tickets, two small draft beers, four small soft drinks, four regular-size hot dogs, parking for one hour, two game programs and two least-expensive, adult-size adjustable caps.”

So, what’s the potential price tag for a family to attend a Chicago team game?

Fan Cost Index for this year are as follows: Chicago Bears, $577.42; Chicago Bulls, $426.60; Chicago Blackhawks, $396.03; Chicago Cubs, $298.20; Chicago White Sox, $210.18.

“There is a definite income level that is needed for a person to enjoy live games regularly and especially if you want to include your family,” Hilgendorf said.

Is it worth it to fans who no longer may be able to afford ever-increasing ticket prices?

It may not be worth it to families, especially if the money can be better spent.

The total it costs a family of four to attend a game for about three hours is comparable to what might be spent on a weekend getaway.

“I am certain,” Hilgendorf said, “I could have an amazing family weekend for the cost of going to an NFL game. I can go up North to the Upper Peninsula and get a room for $60-80, eat at affordable dinners, pack picnics, go to state parks and beaches, give the kids $10 to shop (little kids love those tourist trap trinket store), do some kind of activity like putt putt and barely spend what good NFL seats would cost my family.”

Milwaukee, Indiana, Ann Arbor, Buffalo and Louisville are all within driving distance of Chicago.

Bonnette said there are several places she and her family could go and spend comparable money, “Anywhere in driving distance. We could go to Wisconsin Dells and do all the water park for the same amount of money. We could even go camping for a week with that money I think.”

Joyce Cavanagh, associate professor and family economics specialist at Texas A&M, helps provide resources and training for family financial management.

Because families vary so widely from needs, values and goals, Cavanagh says providing families with percentages of income to allot to entertainment are not all that useful.

She does, however, make this recommendation, “Families need to think about what’s important to them and how that fits in their overall budget. What can we do to make this happen? How can we enjoy this for a lower cost?”

Cavanagh suggests that sports-loving families look for other avenues to still enjoy the pastime, without necessarily spending so much money, such as attending competitive high school games or soccer leagues.

While this may satisfy some families and fans, there are undoubtedly others, like Hilgendorf, who will yearn for the same experience they had growing up with their families and being at their favorite pro games.

“I really wish pro teams would have family nights like minor league teams regularly have, to encourage more families to attend pro games, but I doubt it will become more affordable.”