New Game for Baseball Fans: Go to the Ballpark Without Spending a Dime

Watch any Major League Baseball game on TV. More often than not, when a view of the "crowd" pops onto the screen, you'll see more empty seats than people. And the fans who did actually show up may be spending little or nothing to "support" the team.

  • Share
  • Read Later
Bonnie Schupp / Getty Images

Watch any Major League Baseball game on TV. More often than not, when a view of the “crowd” pops onto the screen, you’ll see more empty seats than people. (Check out an early April game at eerily empty Marlins Park, for example.) And the fans who did actually show up may be spending little or nothing to “support” the team.

There’s no shortage of promotions around the country aimed at enticing more fans into coming out to the ballpark. The Cleveland Indians dropped beer prices to $4 for the entire season, down from a minimum of $5.25 last year. Coming off an awful 2012 season, the Boston Red Sox cut prices on beer and food for all home games in April, and even gave out free kids’ meals to make a trip to the ballpark extra tempting for families. There is also the usual roster of deals on tickets and concessions — “Buck Nights” ($1 hot dogs and popcorn) and $7 tickets on Mondays in Kansas City, for example.

All of these promotions promise good value, but they obviously require fans to spend some cash at the stadium. Perhaps a decent amount of cash, too: When beers are $4 rather than $9, fans are less bitter about the purchase, and are naturally more inclined to have a few while watching the game.

(MORE: Fenway Park Drops Beer and Food Prices … And Red Sox Fans Get Angry?)

In Miami, however, where Marlins’ ownership has alienated locals like few other professional sports franchises in history, fans are actively strategizing ways to support the team without handing over a single penny that’ll benefit hated owner Jeffrey Loria.

The Miami Herald reported on the phenomenon, in which Marlins fans get hold of free or deeply discounted tickets, park for free near the stadium, and eat before the game or bring in snacks to avoid stadium concessions:

It’s the game that precedes the game, and fans are willing to play in order to see baseball but snub Loria, who cut payroll and traded stars in reaction to the disappointing inaugural year in the new stadium. Loyal, frugal or just plain sensible, they know supply outstrips demand during this season of discontent.

(MORE: The Major League Baseball Team That’s Made Fans — And an Entire Metro Area — Feel Like Suckers)

Apparently, it’s a cinch to snag free (or nearly free) tickets to Marlins games. Freebies are given out for doing things like test driving cars and ordering pizzas through local partner businesses. Deeply discounted seats are widely available through online sellers, as well as via promotions from Groupon and with proof of purchase from gas stations and national chains like Subway.

The Marlins may be having a tough time attracting local baseball fans, but the prospect of cheap seats has managed to draw another client base: fans of visiting teams. In a recent Marlins home game against the Phillies, for instance, the stadium was crowded with fans from Philadelphia, who were happy to see their team play for a fraction of what it would cost at home.

Even if locals don’t loathe team owners, many fans aren’t particularly eager to make the rich owners richer by dropping hundreds of dollars during the course of a game. One New York Post columnist recently offered a five-step solution to avoiding spending $337 at Yankee Stadium—reportedly the average amount a family of four would spend to see a game in person. The strategies include buying tickets on the cheap at the last minute at StubHub and hitting up dollar stores outside the stadium for junk food snacks. As for an actual meal:

The team is also inexplicably generous by allowing fans to bring their own food into the stadium. And that’s good because hot dogs inside cost at least $6. Convince the kids that six-inch heroes from Subway are the way to go. There’s a Subway store right down the block from the Yankee Stadium; McDonald’s is even closer.

(MORE: Hungry and Lazy Consumers, Rejoice! It’s Getting Even Easier to Order Food)

Hopefully, the toy inside your kid’s happy meal will suffice as a souvenir to remember the big family outing to the ballpark.