It’s the great American pasttime – dining out at the ballpark. Now that summer’s officially in full swing, my husband has been up my you-know-what, bugging me to loosen the purse strings so we could take the family to a baseball game. But between the exorbinate cost of tickets for a family of four (my son, even at a year old, is too big to sit on our laps the entire time) and rising food prices, I didn’t think we could swing it for $25.

Take Me Out To The ATM

Whether your sport of choice is baseball, football, basketball, or something a little less mainstream, you’re probably well aware that tickets to professional sporting events are on the rise. Heading into the Great Recession, many pro sports teams were increasing their ticket prices by ten percent or more every season; in the NFL alone, ticket prices jumped 30 percent between the 2005 and 2010 seasons. Although the rate of increase has slowed for some sports and individual teams since then, professional sports are only part of this upward trend. For example, earlier this year, the University of Michigan announced it would increase the price of football tickets for its students for the third straight year. Other colleges – including Texas, Ohio State, and Colorado – have all followed suit. Major League Baseball – MLB – is no exception to these price hikes, but this year, the league boasted the smallest season-to-season ticket increase in a generation. The average MLB ticket was up just $0.01 from 2011 to 2012, up to $26.92 a seat. And while the stabilizing prices may sound promising, realizing that $26.92 per person was more than our weekly food budget on its own was more than I could chew.

Eliminating Ticket Costs

Technically, this is cheating, but in order to appease my husband, I decided to separate the cost of the baseball tickets themselves from the food prices. It was the only way we had a shot of getting out of the ballpark for less than $25 and staying under budget. Additionally, we opted for a minor league game instead of watching the big boys play. According to Minor League Baseball (MiLB), a family of four can attend – and eat at – a minor league game for just over $61. That sounded way more up my family’s alley.

Comparing Food Prices

Although I’m well aware that 99.9 percent of hot dogs out there aren’t healthy, I resigned myself to allowing my family eat one (or two) while we were at the ballpark. Dining out is supposed to be a treat, and for my husband, that means indulging in a little less-nutritious fare. When we got to the stadium, my husband and I immediately began to scope out the food scene. We’d been told by some season ticket holders that not all food stands were created equal at our local minor league ballpark; in fact, some carts sold hot dogs and beer for up to $2 less than other stands. The secret, the insiders told us, was roaming the concourse first to figure out which stands were selling for less.

The Wind Up… And The Pitch!

After one lap around the stadium, we had a good lay of the land. In general, the most expensive food prices were located near the box seats behind home plate; they steadily decreased as you fanned out toward the lawn seats behind the outfield wall. In order to feed my family, I knew we’d need four hot dogs and two sides of french fries; additionally, in order to make my husband and children happy, we’d also need a beer (for my husband) and Dippin’ Dots (for my kids). Here’s how it all stacked up:

  • Hot Dogs (4 @ $2.00 ea.) – $8.00
  • French Fries (2 @ $3.50 ea.) – $7.00
  • 16 oz beer – $6.00 (he could have had a 12 oz for $5.00, but he convinced me that the larger beer was the better deal if you priced it out per ounce; technically, he was right)
  • Dippin’ Dots – $4.00 (overpriced, for sure)

In all, we spent $25 at the ballpark on food. My goal was to be able to pay for parking ($5) using our food money, but that proved impossible. I was also hoping to be able to indulge in my ballpark favorite – cotton candy – but that didn’t happen either. The result was that I wasn’t exactly satisfied with my food choices, but my husband and kids were – and, as they say in the majors, if you’re batting .750, you’re doing pretty well (actually, if you’re batting .750 you’d be the best player in history!).

Reader, what are your strategies for dining out at professional sporting events?

Libby Balke

Libby Balke