How to Save Money on NFL Tickets: Wait Until the Last Minute to Buy

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In 2006, the average NFL ticket sold for $62, and fans had a reason to complain because that price represented a 5.6% increase from the year before. Granted this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, but as the 2012 NFL season begins, the average price for a ticket purchased on the secondary market stands at a whopping $191.43.

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Figuring out the average price for an NFL ticket is harder than you might imagine. A Wall Street Journal story published over the summer—which highlighted a years-long trend of declining attendance at pro football games—reported that last year’s average was $77.34. That’s according to Team Marketing Report, and presumably it’s based on face value for tickets. The 2006 figure above is also face value.

By contrast, when the 2012 NFL schedule was announced this past spring, secondary ticket seller RazorGator listed the average cost of a regular season game as $167.75. When RazorGator released its data, the most expensive game—based on secondary market prices—was the 49ers at Packers, on Sunday, September 9. Tickets for the game were selling for an average of $484.25. This week, however, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel cites another ticket specialist, TiqIQ, which has it that the average ticket for this weekend’s Packers home game is $252.10.

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The $191.43 number noted above also comes from TiqIQ. While all of these figures present a somewhat muddled picture of ticket prices, what should be clear is that tickets bought on the secondary market are more expensive than those purchased at face value, and that ticket prices for the secondary market can fluctuate greatly depending on when the purchase is made.

One other, rather obvious point: NFL tickets are expensive!

Attendance at NFL games may have dipped 4.5% over the last five years, but that hasn’t stopped prices for tickets, parking, hot dogs, beers, and other stadium staples from creeping higher and higher. The Los Angeles Times cited a report analyzing NFL ticket sales from the CovergEx Group, which noted:

“American consumers are less and less comfortable shelling out hundreds of bucks for nothing other than a few hours of fun, especially when the 50-inch flat screen in the family room lets you see the game at no additional expense,” researcher Beth Reed wrote in the report.

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While that may be true, and it explains why attendance has fallen off, the fact that ticket prices remain high, and that attendance hasn’t fallen off that much, must make NFL team owners happy. Sure, owners would prefer to raise ticket prices—just 10 teams did so this year, compared to 15 that kept them flat and 7 that actually lowered prices—but their TV ratings are strong, and the NFL benefits from what the Wall Street Journal calls “by far the world’s richest sports-broadcasting contract.”

In any event, for fans hoping to catch a game in person without breaking the bank, yet another online ticket specialist,, recently offered a list of tips for saving on NFL tickets. Among the recommended strategies, the big one advises waiting until the last minute—one to two days before the game—before trying to buy tickets:

With the “expiration date” of kickoff approaching, sellers with tickets still on the market are frequently willing to sell at rock-bottom prices. Analysis of ticket sales data from the past three NFL seasons indicates that ticket prices in the 24 to 48 hours prior to the game are about 30% lower on average than the price of tickets purchased 2 to 3 weeks in advance. Even when compared to prices seen one week prior to gametime, tickets purchased near kickoff will net fans an average savings of 18-20%.

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This strategy isn’t much different than one used by many on-the-spot scalpers for years. Sellers in the parking lot will demand top dollar a couple hours before gametime, but as kickoff approaches they’ll be more likely to want to unload what seats they have in a hurry. And any tickets they’re still in possession of after the game has started will sell for well below face value. As with any market, this is all about supply and demand.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.