Wendy Read, 39, and her daughter Laura, 7, went to a Monday night Nationals game recently for a “girls’ night,” and made it affordable by buying $5 tickets that afternoon and standing in a long line for $1 hot dogs.
Going to Major League Baseball games was not something Read, a mother of four, thought her family would be able to afford after moving to the D.C. area from the central California coast a year ago.
“We’re on more of a budget than a lot of families in the Washington area,” Read said.
“But the deals are there if you look for them,” she said.
Like the Reads, local fans in the Washington area have been able to find ways to enjoy expensive sporting events at affordable prices by using the secondary market for attractive ticket deals and planning around the promotional nights at the stadium.
Finding deals is important for baseball fans because for a team that didn’t find success on the field until about a year ago, the Washington Nationals have by one measure been consistently ranked among the most expensive in the league in terms of average price of a season ticket, according to Team Marketing Report, a sports marketing information publisher.
This season, the Nationals rank only behind the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies with a ticket costing $35.24 on average. That’s $7.76 above the league average.
“There’s a strong correlation between the average price (of a ticket), size of market, and income level,” said Stephen Walters, professor of economics at Loyola University Maryland. “It’s a big, rich market and they’ve got a great stadium.”
“It’s not surprising at all that they would be ranked that high up,” Walters said.
Over the past five seasons — including this season — the Nationals have ranked in the top 10 for most expensive average ticket price across the league four times, but as Walters said, there are people who can get considerable discounts.
It just takes time and effort.
More and more fans — especially big families like the Reads — are saving a few dollars on tickets by purchasing from the secondary market. The secondary market is comprised of people who typically purchase season tickets, which are often cheaper, and resell them to other buyers via in-person transactions or online ticket vendors such as StubHub, Vivid Seats and Metro Seats, among others.
Kerry Tan, assistant professor of economics at Loyola University Maryland, said teams have had to adjust to the rise of the secondary market by utilizing dynamic pricing strategies in order to attract the extra revenue from ticket sales.
“It used to be the case that a team would post their ticket prices regardless of the game or promotion, and the prices were always going to be stable,” Tan said.
Dynamic pricing describes changes in price over time due to factors such as the opponent and date of games. In short, the price of the same seats varies depending on the game.
Walters believes the competition from online ticket vendors is one of the biggest challenges facing teams today.
“Business operations people are worried because most people aren’t buying advanced tickets,” said Walters, adding that people are waiting and “cherry-picking” the games they want to see, leaving thousands of empty seats in the stadium during certain games.
Read said her family is one of many that looks to the secondary market for tickets up until the late minute, but she also acknowledged the club’s efforts to provide value to families. She subscribes to the Washington Nationals email list, and often hears about cheap ticket deals from the team itself.
Joanna Comfort, director of communications for the Washington Nationals, said the organization offers a variety of special game discounts during the season, including $5 grandstand seats, “Family Fun Packs” that include a ticket, hot dog, chips and a drink for $19, and “Dollar Dog Nights.”
“The Nationals are committed to creating value for our fans and there’s little doubt that we offer one of the most affordable tickets in town and in Major League Baseball,” Comfort said in an email.
While many like the Read family shop around for the best single game prices, there are still those who purchase ticket packages far in advance.
The Moser family from Vienna, Va., describe themselves as a sports-minded family and purchase partial season tickets — 21 games — for each member of the family before every season.
Brian Moser, 47, became a season ticket holder with two of his friends when the Nationals moved to Washington in 2005.
As the years passed, Moser added season tickets to his account, first for his wife, Leah, 42, then for his son Gavin, 5.
“I’ve been a baseball fan all my life,” said Moser, who grew up following the Baltimore Orioles.
“And it’s important for me for him to experience these games at a young age,” Moser said about his son Gavin, who has seen enough games to be able to recite the Nationals’ lineup and remembers when Adam Dunn was on the team.
A free agent after the 2010 season, Dunn signed with the Chicago White Sox. Gavin was 2.
Moser said he has noticed a gradual increase in prices over the years of being a season ticket holder, but that in the grand scheme of things, “three tickets for 21 games, a parking pass and concessions do not make up a big percent of our budget.”
Whether people are choosing the ticket packages or searching for the lowest prices per game, Walters believes that anyone going out to Nationals games these days is getting a good deal.
“I think it’s really a great time to be a fan,” Walters said. “There’s more competition for the entertainment dollar, more sensitive pricing, and teams are reaching out (to fans) more.”
“They’re thinking ‘we don’t want fans to have the presumption that they can’t enjoy a game,’” Walters said.