Ways To Save Money At Sporting Events

In my hometown, one of the things that my wife and I enjoy doing is going to see our former alma mater battling it out on the basketball court.  I’m sure most can relate to attending a similar event, whether it be your former university, maybe it’s your local sports team, or maybe you live in one of the prime time markets where you’re going to go see a professional team play.  Those that are familiar with this and attend games have realized the cost implications by attending one.  Not only do you have the price of the ticket, you may also have a parking cost.

Photo by SD Dirk

We haven’t even talked about food yet.  Heading to the food counter to get a soda, hot dog and nachos and you’re probably out a good $10-$15 bucks.  For bigger cities, I’m sure you can pretty much double this.  For a couple, the cost might not be so bad; but a family of three, four, five, or six? Imagine John and Kate Plus 8 Going to a game?  Yikes! The cost adds up pretty quick.  Here are a few tips for you and your family to save money while attending one of these fantastic events:

1. Eat before you go.

Just as simple as eating a small to mid-size meal before going should give you a full enough feeling to where you won’t be tempted for those hot dog or nachos at the game.  Just by simply fixing a cold cut sandwich or warming up some leftovers from the night before is an easy savings for you and your family.

2. Pack a bottle of water/soda.

By the second quarter, after the referee has made the third-worst call of the game, your voice is hoarse from the screaming and excitement.  Your throat is parched and it’s time to head to the concession stand.  But do you really need to get that 32 ounce, $5.00 Coca Cola Classic?  Why not pack a bottle of water and/or soda with you from the house to save you the money and also the hassle of having to head to the concession stand to possibly miss that great moment of the game.

The key for this to work is having a wife that’s willing enough to:

1. Carry a big enough purse to hold the bottled beverage.

2. Be cooperative in having to carry the extra weight.

If you meet these two requirements, you are on your way of saving anywhere from $5 to $15 at the game.

3. Pack a snack.

Well, that turkey sandwich that you fixed prior to the game is now wearing off.  Approaching the third quarter the food vendor is staking you having walked by your seat three times now and all you think about is that relish and mustard smothered over that nice and fresh hot dog.  By packing a quick snack, whether it is a bag of pretzels, nuts, or maybe a granola bar; that should hold you over until the end of the game.  Not to mention the fact that it’ll give you plenty of energy to root on your team to victory till the end of the fourth quarter.

4. Don’t go out to eat afterwards.

Hopefully with the pre-game meal and the mid-game snack, you’re not starving and won’t need to head to the local family restaurant.  By not going out to eat afterwards, that is huge savings on the budget.  For a family of three, that’s an easy $30-$40 that stays in the checking account.

5. Watch it on TV

If the game is televised, why not buy some soda, hot dogs, and popcorn at the store and have “game night” at the house.  You’ll still get the benefit of family time if you make a night of it and get all the same food attractions as a concession stand, without concession stand prices.  Also, if you have a DVR, you’ll never miss the “play of the game”.

With over 16 home games over the course of the year, we estimate that to be a pretty significant savings.  Money that could be added to our emergency fund, Roth IRA, or 529 College Savings Plan.  Nothing like boosting your nest egg and still rooting on your team!

This was a guest post by Jeff Rose. Jeff Rose is an Illinois Certified Financial Planner(TM) and co-founder of Alliance Investment Planning Group. He is also the author of Good Financial Cents, a financial planning and investment blog. You can also learn more about Jeff at his website Jeff Rose Financial.


  1. To me, buying a $5 rubber hotdog and an $8 beer and having the roving concession guy chuck a bag of something at me from 3 rows over is part of the experience. I’d rather save up enough money and get the whole ‘package’, especially when I know the money is going to student groups like it is during home games at Penn State.

    I do agree with the not eating out before/after, especially if you will be buying anything from the concession stand during the game. No sense it totally destroying your budget in one go.

  2. I can definitely relate to #5. I’ve had many people tell me that for all the hype that big sports events get, like the Super Bowl, they would have rather stayed home and watched it for free that deal with the traffic, crowds, security, not to mention the expense. Take all the money you would have spent on tickets & food and buy yourself a nice TV.

  3. Good straightforward advice that I’m sure people will take advantage of these days. Of course, most franchises would go out of business if everyone did this, so let those who can, go ahead and spend for that overpriced nacho plate or 32oz beer.

    Good luck preventing yourself from eating at the game though, as it has been shown that deep fried foods and popcorn have a hunger stimulating effect on most people. Popcorn is the worst — that feeling you get of needing to eat some when you smell it… I can say it has happened to me more than once. Stay strong!

  4. Every once in a while, I will splurge. I’ve been on the other side of the concessions stand before.

    Often times, these concessions stand operators hire groups like churches and other charitable organizations to staff the concession stand. Their organization gets a percentage of the revenues. I know some of the money is going to a good cause.

    At the hockey arena here, Cuban sandwiches are $6. There’s something very un-Cuban about a Cuban sandwich that’s $6 and about 1/3rd the usual size.

  5. This may work for some college sporting events, but it seems like every professional sporting event I have attended in recent memory has a bag check to prevent people from bringing food and beverages into the stadium/arena. If you want to save money in those instances, you’d better have excellent will power or skip to tip #5.

  6. @Kali: “Having the roving concession guy chuck a bag of something at me from 3 rows over is part of the experience.” I have to agree with Kali on that one! The problem is passing $5 down the row for a bag of peanuts leaves you with, well…peanuts.

    Keeping with my “stop and smell the roses” theme I mention from time to time, I agree with both Jeff and those who have commented. It is a fun thing to go all out occasionally, but for those that enjoy the repeat experience of attending all home games, etc, you have to find creative ways not to break the bank.

  7. i know this article is well meaning, but in my city, you and your bags are searched before games. i once had little bags of fruit snacks for my toddler-aged children and i had to throw them in the garbage can or else not be allowed in the arena.

    i much prefer the option of just staying home.

  8. Great tips!

    We do the same thing with going to the movies. Luckily, I live in a place where folks are not so thorough! I’m proud to be the wife with the big mysterious bag at the games and theatres! Anything to save some money.

  9. If you want to save money on tickets always call the group ticket office, before using ticketmaster or another 3rd party distributer.

    Almost every professional and college team has a division for group sales(Some concert venues also have this). The best deals are given through these guys. Usually you need a group of at least 10 to order through them, but you can also ask them if they have any group promotions that you are a part of but didn’t realize they had a discout. Some group ticket salespeople are also able to sell you 1 or 2 tickets without the ticketmaster fees which are like $6 a ticket. They will be even more willing to sell you individuals if you give them leads for groups. This can be your kid’s school, youth league, or other group you belong to. The more people you can get in a group the more of a discount you can get on your own ticket.

  10. I think all of these tips apply to doing just about anything on the cheap, well, except watching it on TV. Packing lunch and water on any sort of trip is a good way to save some extra money. If you’re going for a hike, walking in the park, taking a road trip…

    Universal tips. 🙂

  11. @Kali. You are right on the “whole experience”. Living close to the St. Louis Area, we will frequent Cardinal baseball games. I have to admit, I don’t think I’ve ever been to one game and never had a $7 Bratwurst. What can I say, the Brat “owns” me. Since we frequent our college games more, it’s much easier to say no to the Brats and nachos. Well, I don’t if it’s “much” easier, just a bit easier.

    @marci. I can’t believe they would make you toss your snacks for your toddlers. I have an 18 month old and when he wants a snack, you GIVE him a snack. What I would have done is when my kid starts throwing a fit, I would take them to the person that made you throw it away and let them incur their wrath. They’ll think twice about making you throw your kids snacks away 🙂

  12. Costs at games are high wherever you go. Depending on the game will depend on the food experience you want. I recently went to a bball game and just a beer and nachos ran me $15, not terrible for myself I guess but obviously more than I would like.

    I enjoy baseball games and full well know I am going to get stuff. My recommendation is to get food that lasts. For example, I get a big bag of peanuts, which easily can last half the game.

    I also suggest buying rounds with friends. If you get 3 friends, you buy 1 round, don’t have to worry about it after and no the set amount you are spending for the event.

  13. So your advice is,

    1) Do not buy food there
    2) Do not go

    Those are not real tips. Its like saying how to save money on a car, and the advice is to not buy one. How about looking on ebay the day of the event for cheap tickets? I have purchased 4 tickets for the price of two and had the seller meet me in town before.

  14. Look for free admission events. Our local high school team suggested to the coaches that due to the local economy here that the last game of the season be a free admission and parking event. This was a great idea for the fans and many who would not have ordinarily attended were able to attend and root the team on in their undefeated season’s last game! On to state now!

  15. If you go to games frequently, it’s probably worthwhile to eat at home and save the money & maybe just by a snack.

    If it’s a special occasion thing, I say go for the experience and enjoy the hot dogs, cokes & popcorn!

    For high school games, the concessions are a fund-raiser for the team… so support your local teams, if possible! Of course our varsity soccer concessions are priced much more reasonably than at a college or professional game!

  16. Excuse me, but it seems a bit sexist to talk about the willing wife who totes the bag and weight. Are all frugal fathers married? What about the single dad or mom?
    Let’s catch up to the times, please.

  17. Yes, excuse you Barb. While we’re nitpicking, let’s change all gender-specific personal pronouns to “it” and “their”. Geez, let FrugalDad speak in terms of his own experiences with his family and do the hard work of removing the gender-specific pronouns and references yourself.

    If there is ever a “modern” time when we cannot refer to our own female wife as a “she” in an article, then please just let the world end.

  18. I’m all for tip #5 – I am a BIG sports fan…I play fantasy football, and watch the NFL, college football and basketball, major league baseball, NASCAR and off-road racing, and even English Premier League soccer (go Arsenal). Even though I have pro and college sports in my city, I’d rather watch the games at home on my 50″ TV (not hi-def, but it was FREE from someone who bought a new plasma in exchange for some computer work, and works perfectly)…

    – no traffic jams before/after.
    – I park for free in my driveway.
    – the seats are wider.
    – I don’t have to put up with obnoxious drunks who pay $50 and up for a ticket, just to sit there and get hammered (never quite understood that one).
    – the beer and snacks are cheaper.
    – no line at the bathroom.
    – I can pause the game on my DVR if I need to get up for something.

    I do like live sports, sure, but I’ll go watch the local high school football team play on Friday nights (walking distance, and $5 to get in. Pop for a dollar).

  19. Check the sporting event venue for their rules. I know at my home ballpark (I have season tickets so I’ve learned the rules through the years), I can bring in food and most drinks (no cans, and pop bottles have their tops taken away). (Apparently one year a baseball game was played on Easter Sunday, so someone brought with an Easter dinner–complete with mashed potatoes and gravy…)

    I’ve been to other ballparks where no food is allowed inside but Nalgene-type water bottles were, to others where there’s no water bottles allowed in, but you could bring juice boxes. Learn the rules before you go so you know what’s allowed. The venue is probably trying to make money off of food, too: if you want to enjoy the entertainment, you need to be willing to pay.

  20. My kids are still young enough that going to a minor league game is plent exciting. We’re fortunate to have both minor league hockey and baseball teams in the next town over. It’s a great way for them to get an understanding of the game w/o breaking the bank.

    We generally let the kids pick out one snack, which gets bought midway through the game. If someone gets thirsty, we ask for a cup of tap water from the concession stand.

    To save money on tickets, we join the (free) “kids clubs” which gets them heavily discounted or free tix as well as various other promos and team logoed gear. This past week, there was a kids go free special. My husband took our son and a friend, and for $22 had second row seats.

  21. Love the comments here, especially No. 15 which I’ll refer to as Tip #5! I’ll share this with my readers.

  22. Great tips. Sometimes it’s not possible though. My wife and I go to Husker football games and it turns into an all day event. I can eat a huge breakfast but by the time we get there, get in and watch a quarter it’s time for lunch. Even if I held back at the stadium you’re still eating out somewhere else.

    I guess I could bring food. . .but those stadium dogs are so good!