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Game-time decisions: Weighing the costs of being a sports fan

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En español | If you’re a sports fan, you’re in good company: According to Gallup, more than half of Americans describe themselves as fans1—and for good reason. Between the roar of the crowd and the glory of watching your favorite athlete do a victory dance, there’s nothing like the thrill of a good game. But this excitement can also take up a lot of your time—and money. From tickets to food to parking (not to mention those irresistible foam fingers), the costs of being a fan can add up quickly.

Luckily, you can make some smart choices about how to fit fandom into your life, so you don’t dampen your team spirit with unhappy surprises that push your budget out of bounds. With a little planning and accounting for all the costs involved, you can choose whether to buy those big-game tickets or bring the tailgate party home instead.

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Traveling with the team?

A road trip may be a chance to bond with friends while catching a game—but it can also take costs to another level.

  • Planning ahead can help you limit surprises. Early on, find a game date and lock in your airfare and hotel reservations. Fare tracker sites can alert you when prices dip. Want to save on lodging? Look up local friends who can serve as tour guides and maybe even provide overnight accommodations.
  • If you’ll travel by air to your away-game destination, plan your on-the-ground logistics in advance for a smoother journey. A rental car may be less costly than a taxi if you plan to do some sightseeing, and you may even opt for a passenger van if you’re traveling as a large group.
  • Finally, leave room for the unexpected. Away games are subject to the glitches that can dampen any trip. Flight changes, car trouble, weather-related cancellations, even the dreaded stomach bug—all can add unexpected costs and put a wrench in your plans to root for your hometown heroes.

Here’s how to make sure the commitment of being a fan fits into your life and your budget.

  • Consult the calendar. As you choose a date to take in the game, keep in mind any other major local events taking place at the same time—complications that can add unnecessary stress and costs. To avoid this, check the host city’s Chamber of Commerce and convention center sites to scan for potential date conflicts. And keep in mind the time of year you’re targeting for your game date. You don’t want to risk spending money on a washout—or worse, a whiteout—if rain or snow could be in the forecast.
  • Tackle your tickets. When it comes to buying tickets, there’s a lot to consider, and your choices can easily bump your budget into four-figure territory. Before you click “purchase,” decide carefully how close you want to be to the action. Is your family or group full of diehard devotees, or is the game more about bonding? That will help you determine whether to spend big money to be on the field or save on costs by sitting in the bleachers. Also, if you’re attending with a large group, you may need to purchase tickets through the official team website—which is often costlier—in order to keep your seats together. If tickets are out of reach and you opt to watch from home, remember that cable packages like NFL Sunday Ticket can also pack a premium if your favorite team isn’t local. Streaming the game online or splitting the cost of a season package with a friend or neighbor may be a more wallet-friendly option.
  • Map your route. You’ll need a plan for getting to the venue, whether it’s at home or part of a road-trip adventure. And depending on the city, local travel to the stadium can be a major project. For example, San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley can be a 50-minute car or “trolley” ride away, and one fan nicknamed the journey to San Francisco’s stadium “planes, trains and automobiles” in honor of its logistical challenges. Consider utilizing a navigation app like Waze to plan your route and don't forget to factor gas, tolls, and even parking, which can run you $50 in some cities.
  • Factor in food and fun. Game-time meals and snacks can be sneaky budget busters. Drink prices alone can come with sticker shock, ranging from $4 happy hour beers in Seattle all the way up to $15 game-day drinks in Boston. If you’re traveling to a game in a city, whether home or away, you’ll probably want to make the most of your visit by hitting the sights and popular restaurants. Leave room in your budget for extras—whether it’s fine dining, museums, or a round of golf before the game.
  • Keep merchandise in mind. Who among us hasn’t left a game riding high on a victory and indulged in a t-shirt or hat to show off the team colors? These purchases can be hard to resist—especially for any young fans in your group—and can quickly knock your budget out of the park. Keep in mind, too, that while wearing your favorite player’s jersey can be fun, that investment will seem like an unforced error if the player is traded.

From tickets to tailgating

If the logistics and expense of visiting the stadium or frequenting sports bars for the big screen feel overwhelming, consider hosting a tailgate party at home, or even a potluck, round robin style, with family and friends throughout the season. You just might find that the money you save benefits you long after the last fan has left the ballpark. You may even want to redirect those savings toward your retirement, which you can spend cheering on your favorite team, from the sidelines or from your most comfortable recliner.

Learn more and take action

 
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1 http://www.gallup.com/poll/4735/sports.aspx

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