These days, it seems as though the only people who can afford to take themselves out to a ballgame are the millionaires on the field. The average ticket for a Major League Baseball game now costs $26.64 - up 5 percent from a year ago, according to Team Marketing Report's 2009 Fan Cost Index (The New York Yankees charge an out-of-the-park average of $72.97.) Tack on parking, concessions, and souvenirs, and you're talking about a billfold-snapping average of nearly $200 for a family of four. That's not peanuts.
But you can shave the cost of a stadium visit by 50 percent or more just by making a few smart moves:
1. Buy tickets for less-expensive games
If you think every home game for your favorite team costs the same, you're mistaken. All sorts of variables go into a ticket price - the day of the week, the draw of the opponent, and the time of year, among others. Teams often adjust ticket prices to match perceived demand. For instance, one Cleveland Indians field-box ticket against the Kansas City Royals in April went for $25. The same seat for a May game against the Yankees cost $70 - 66 percent more. Rule of thumb: You'll get the best bargains for early to midweek games against opponents who are not considered rivals or who lack marquee players.
2. Scour the Web for ticket promotions
The Florida Marlins' E-Saver Wednesday program, for instance, trims 50 percent off Wednesday tickets bought at the box office if you've signed up for the team's electronic newsletter. The Houston Astros' Double Play Tuesday gets you a $2 outfield deck seat if you show two Powerade labels at the gate. Go to team Web sites for details or check out Major League Baseball's Fan Value Corner.
3. Find relief with online resellers
Season-ticket holders often try to unload their unwanted seats at bargain prices through Craigslist and StubHub. Resellers are most motivated on game day. Ben Silverman, of Seattle, used StubHub to save 66 percent on tickets to see his Mariners play the Orioles: "I paid $43.25 for two seats a half-dozen rows behind the visiting team's dugout. They normally sell for $65 each on the day of the game."
4. Score with ticket holders outside the stadium
Avoid professional scalpers - they're the ones waving fistfuls of tickets (and looking to make big profits). "Instead, look for the guy with two tickets in one hand and his son holding his other hand. He's the guy whose other kid got sick, his wife had to stay home, and he just wants to get what he can for them," says Andy Buchanan of Wise Guides, which publishes sports affordability guides. Wait until the first pitch and watch prices drop even further.
5. Pack your own vittles (if that's allowed)
Six teams (Orioles, Giants, Mariners, Braves, Diamondbacks, and Athletics) have official "food-friendly" policies, letting fans take food and nonalcoholic drinks into their stadiums. If yours isn't one of those, check its Web site or call the team to see what the rules are. There's nothing you can do legally to lower the cost of a cold beer (average stadium price: just under $6 for a 12-ouncer). Some wily manufacturers have designed products like The Beerbelly and Dear Diary Flask in a Book to help you smuggle booze in, but you didn't hear it from us.
6. Buy a seat with eats
Some teams bundle tickets and unlimited grub. The Pittsburgh Pirates' $35 All You Can Eat Seats, for example, let fans enjoy all the burgers, dogs, nachos, popcorn, peanuts, salads, ice cream, and soda they can stand. The regular seat price is $17, so you'd need to consume more than $18 worth of food and drinks to come out ahead. Other teams with similar packages: Diamondbacks, Braves, Orioles, Reds, Tigers, and Dodgers.
7. Pay less to get there
Now that the cost of driving to a stadium and parking is about the price of a Prius, investigate mass transit. A Baltimore light-rail ticket is just $3.20 round-trip, compared with $8 or so to park near Camden Yards. If you're set on driving, see if there's a cut-rate stadium shuttle. Indians fans can pay just $1 round-trip to ride the Great Lakes Brewing Company's "Fatty Wagon," a shuttle bus powered by vegetable oil. Many teams also offer parking combos. The Braves' "Grand Slam," offered Sundays through Thursdays, provides four tickets, snacks, and a parking pass for a total of $59. The Rockies have a similar program for $49.