King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The cost of being a fan: Not necessarily as high as an annual report says, but awfully high.


Salon Staff
November 3, 2005 10:00PM (UTC)

I always get a kick out of the Team Marketing Report's annual Fan Cost Index for each of the major sports. This year's FCI for the NBA says a family of four can expect to pay an average of $267.37, up 2.5 percent from last year.

That puts the NBA a distant second to the NFL, at $329.82 a game, among the four major sports. The FCI is $247.32 for the NHL, $164.43 for major league baseball.

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The Fan Cost Index "takes a representative look at how much a family of four will likely spend at a basketball game." A family of four drunken sailors is more like it.

The family-of-four stuff is a little silly. It's too bad it gets all the press because the index is interesting and useful. But more on that later. Let's talk about our typical family of four for a minute.

The Fan Cost Index measures the cost of "four average-priced tickets, two small draft beers, four small soft drinks, four regular-sized hot dogs, parking for one car, two game programs and two adult-sized caps."

Who buys two programs? The FCI lists the average program price as $3.68 -- down two cents from last year! -- but eight of the 30 teams don't sell them, according to the index. So if you're going to buy one, the average price is about $5. They're $8 in Atlanta, $10 in New York and New Jersey.

And does a typical, average outing at the arena include buying two overpriced caps? Adult-sized. Not even caps to satisfy the incessant whining of the two kids, Shaq and Kobe. Doesn't the average family have the brains to buy caps for a decent price somewhere else?

The average price for the cheapest adult-sized cap, which is what the FCI takes into account, is $14.16 -- down 12 cents from last year! But you can do better than that for a cheap cap. And anyway, don't you only buy a cap the first time you go to a game? How many Rockets hats ($18.48) do you need, Mom and Dad?

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But like I said, beyond this silliness, the index can be useful for several things.

You can use it to compare what different teams charge their fans, though the use of averages can be misleading. For example, the average ticket to an Indiana Pacers game, $45.79, is virtually the same as the average ticket to a San Antonio Spurs game, $45. But the Pacers, with the slightly higher average ticket price, sell their lower-priced tickets, basically the upper level, for $10, $20 and $30. The Spurs' comparable tickets are $10, $25 and $37.

By the time you get to that third price level, our family of four in Texas is out $28 compared with their cousins in Indy. The Midwestern parents can buy almost six overpriced beers! Party on!

Still, the index can tell you that average ticket price ranges from $23.82 in Oakland to $79.21 in Los Angeles -- but only for the Lakers. Clippers tickets go for an average of $46.38, just above the league average of $45.92.

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It can let you know not only who raised and lowered -- yeah, occasionally -- prices, but also, really, who has their stinkin' nerve. The Sacramento Kings, whose win total has declined four years in a row, and who went from being a conference finalist to two straight second-round defeats to a first-round bounce last year: Tickets up 5.9 percent.

The Clippers, who are, not to put too fine a point on it, the Clippers, raised ticket prices 6.9 percent. By way of comparison, the Spurs, who only won the championship again, raised theirs 6.5 percent.

The Milwaukee Bucks: Up 7.7 percent after a slide from a playoff spot to a 30-52 record. The Minnesota Timberwolves, up 6.4 percent after tumbling from the conference finals all the way out of the playoffs. The Memphis Grizzlies, up 8.4 percent after a second straight wipeout in the first round of the playoffs.

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To be fair, the Bucks, T-Wolves and the Grizzlies are still below the league average, the Grizzlies way below it.

So let me try to figure out what it would take for me to take my typical, average family of four to an NBA game. There's no team in my city, the closest NBA town being Indianapolis. I'm partial to the next two closest cities, though, Chicago and Memphis, which are not only about equidistant north and south of me but also a similar distance north and south of average.

The FCI for a family of four in Chicago is $304.15, in Memphis $222.14. League average, remember, is $267.37

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The Bulls' average ticket price is $52.54. There are token $10 seats, but the next cheapest are $40, and there aren't many of those. I'm probably going to spend $46 on not-quite-nosebleed, but still pretty-high-up seats. There aren't a huge number of those either, but I've seen them offered at face value on Craig's List.

So the wife and the two basketball-nut kids, Kareem and LisaLeslie, are in the door for $184. We fed 'em beforehand and parked the hooptie for $15. They each get a soda and a snack, which we'll figure at the same price as a hot dog, so $13 total.

So we had to put up with some complaining, but we had fun and spent $212, about $92 less than what the index calls typical. We can take that money, go to a minor league baseball game and, on average, have $9 left over, Team Marketing Report says.

With enough advance planning and a little luck, we could have scored $10 Bulls tickets and seen the game for $67.50.

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How about a Grizzlies game? They're my second-favorite team, and they're playing my favorite, Sacramento, on Jan. 10 in an exciting matchup of teams that have raised their ticket prices in unseemly fashion.

The average Griz ticket is $35.29. There are actually $5 tickets available. You have to line up on the morning of the game to get them, which I've actually done, learning in the process that hell yeah it can get cold in Memphis. But look at all these other price levels up to roughly the league average: $16, $23, $33, $36, $45, $47. The Grizzlies offer some nice deals.

I went online to Ticketmaster and found four $23 tickets, around center court upstairs. With the various fees they came to $28 each. I also found $16 tickets, upstairs in the corner. With fees, $21. I'm guessing that with a little effort I can get these same tickets without the fees, but just thinking about all that barbecue I'm going to eat has made me lazy.

We park the Gremlin for $10 and get the kids their soda and snack for $15, and, having gone for the $23 seats, we've spent $137, about $85 less than the FCI predicted. Oh, baby, we're getting those little lamb ribettes!

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If I could have talked the wife into standing in line on the morning of the game while I slept in, we could have done the whole thing for $45, probably the best deal in pro sports.

But even the fairly cheap way we did it, $137, is a big night out for the average family of four. The Bulls game, $212, is really a big night, more money than I have ever spent for two and a half hours of family entertainment, and I'm not poor or particularly cheap.

That's the sad subtext of the Fan Cost Index. The cost of being a fan, at least a fan in person, is prohibitive for a lot of people. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average weekly earnings of production or nonsupervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls -- that is, regular working stiffs -- in September 2005 was $548.24.

According to the Census Bureau, the median household income in Illinois, the figure at which half the households are higher and half lower, is about $880 a week. That's counting rich people. And it's before taxes.

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So if Mom and Dad are right around the state median for household income, they'll have to spend about a quarter of their week's wages, and an even bigger chunk of their weekly paycheck, to go to a Bulls game, and that's using my method, not Team Marketing Report's.

My family's household income is well above the national median, and we could only afford to take the kids to an NBA game once in a blue moon without sacrificing in other areas, even if we were so inclined.

We're not, because I don't want to spend that kind of scratch on bringing my kids to a game until I know they're good and ready to have a good time there, not spend the whole night whining for cotton candy and asking if the game's over yet.

That's the fan cost that no index is measuring. People of modest or even slightly more than modest means have been priced out of the arena unless they're willing to spend like those drunken sailors. It seems to me it's a smarter move to base your future business on working people and their kids than on drunken sailors.

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But what do I know? If I were smarter I'd be richer, and then I'd sit in the $200 seats. I'd need five. One for the au pair.

Previous column: Sheryl Swoopes

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