Tickets! Get your cheap baseball tickets! The secondary market -- polite-speak for scalping sites -- has created more ways to score low-priced seats for Major League Baseball. The economic climate is also playing in your favor. Baseball needs you: Attendance is down. A few of its big-market teams, the Dodgers and the Mets, are in a financial pickle. And the league wants to showcase itself as the harmonious big-time sport -- the one not tied up in season-threatening labor issues like the NFL and NBA.
Here is a primer on where to snag some of the steals. Just remember the cheer of fans and shoppers alike: Never pay retail.
The online scalping giant has become as much a part of the game as chewing tobacco and oblique strains. The trick is to find tickets that are discounted enough to offset the 10% service charge ($5 minimum) plus $4.95 email or $11.95 FedEx delivery. If you're still getting a deal after computing that, click away. Even the popular teams offer deals on the site.
On June 8, I found $10 same-day tickets available for baseball's best rivalry -- Yankees vs. Red Sox -- at Yankee Stadium, and $4 tickets for the Central Division-leading Indians visiting the Yanks on June 13. On the other coast, tickets for the defending champion San Francisco Giants were as low as $2 when they play the visiting Minnesota Twins June 21-23. Prices climb for the weekends -- but remain under the budget-conscious cap.
Resale venues like MLB-partnering StubHub offer teams a reality check. "It gives owners a sense of the market clearing price for a ticket," sports economist Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College told DailyFinance. "Otherwise they're shooting arrows into the dark. Scalpers and the secondary market tell owners what fans are willing to pay." (Full disclosure: I have tickets listed on the site and I'm itching for those suckers to move.)
Baseball began teaming up with the travel-deal publisher four years ago. Makes sense: After all, what's a game but a mini-vacation, right? The discounts often surpass 60%. In a recent flash issue, the Oakland A's were offering $24 tickets for $2. On occasion, teams want to give the peanut gallery a taste of the other side, offering luxury-box seats for $99. Travelzoo sales go through the teams and their ticket-selling engines, so you won't be able to avoid the add-on fees.
This season, Travelzoo has emphasized more packages that include food, drink and even socializing. "We've had more teams do more of the entire experience," said Jason Sheets, Travelzoo's vice president of entertainment. "That creates more value for the consumer." Earlier in the season, White Sox fans could purchase a $37 ticket good for a pre-game party (alcohol included) and a lower-level box seat. Now the site is working on moving tickets for Independence Day weekend, Sheets said, especially for Monday, July 4.
If a recent check is any indication, you are less likely to get deals for the bigger-market teams on the auction site (which also owns StubHub). The Chicago Cubs had nearly 10 times more tickets on eBay than the next team. The Cubs' cozy Wrigley Field and loyal fan base create high demand for tickets. Scalpers wait on deck to capitalize. For struggling small-market clubs, it's another matter. Two front-row tickets for a total of $29 is almost unheard of in any sport, but you could get them for the Kansas City Royals.
• Official Team Sites
Teams recognize that you haven't been coming to the ballpark as much as you used to, and they want you back. Always check their official MLB websites. I clicked on one big-city outfit low in the standings, the Houston Astros, and found a heck of a deal: Two kids 14 and under get in free with one paying adult in the upper-level seats all summer. That means a family of four can attend for $14. Smuggle in the goodies, and you have a day at the ballpark for what it costs to watch it on TV with a pizza. Some teams also pour on the promotions with soda companies in watch-and-eat ticket combos. The Arizona Diamondbacks, for example, sell a bleacher ticket, hot dog, 24-ounce Pepsi and coupon for another Pepsi (burp) for $19.
• Scalpers at the Ballpark
This seems so quaint now, doesn't it? But buying in person is the best way to avoid pesky surcharges. As a baseball lover who has gained entry to games both with a press pass and via the subway ticket pimp, I can tell you that the best thing to remember is that the law of supply and demand applies. It's no different in the stadium parking lot than on the Internet. That's why you should have a good idea of what will be available for how much before you get there. Study the market conditions -- the home team's standing, the popularity of the opponent, the weather, the starting pitchers, etc. You will find the occasional season ticket holder who wants to unload tickets for a nominal fee or nothing, but don't count on it. (And don't forget to check the local scalping laws). Waiting out a scalper to get the lowest price comes with risk. If you bring your kids and strike out, you'll find out that there is indeed crying in baseball.