Padres, Mets, Rays, Angels among MLB’s best values for fans: study

Padres, Mets, Rays, Angels among MLB’s best values for fans: study

It’s still early in the season, and the standings will certainly look a bit different by fall, but there are already some stark differences when it comes to the best pocketbook deals for Major League Baseball fans this season.

The annual MLB Fan Cost Index, produced since 1991 by Chicago-based sports business intelligence firm Team Marketing Report, came out Tuesday and it reflects how much it costs to take a family or group of four to a ballgame, including tickets, parking, and concessions.

As you might expect, the big-market teams in expensive places like New York and Los Angeles sit atop the list, while clubs in the far-flung provinces are a bit less harsh on the wallet – something increasingly acute for some fans as inflation bites into family entertainment budgets.

The average baseball FCI this season is $256.41. That’s up 1.9 percent, or about $3, over 2021 and is the smallest year-over-year increase in three seasons. The average non-premium ticket across baseball is $35.93 – an increase of 94 cents over 2021, per Team Marketing Report’s data.

The San Diego Padres led MLB with a nearly 24 percent year-over-year increase in non-premium tickets, to $27.44 this season – not surprising given the team’s enormous payroll outlays in a bid to compete with the Dodgers and Giants. The team’s FCI is $237.74, which ranks in the middle of the pack at 17th highest overall. With a 28-14 record (11-7 at home), that’s a pretty good deal – plus, you’re in Southern California!

Other big ticket-price hikes included 12.6 percent for the Tampa Bay Rays ($26.13) and the Oakland Athletics, whose 2022 average is $32.56 for non-premium seat. That’s up 15.4 percent over 2021.

Oakland’s cost data really stands out because of the attendance issues that ownership has inflicted upon itself with the roster and the Hamlet act over a new local stadium or relocating to Las Vegas. The A’s are averaging just 8,165 fans per game, which is about 4,000 fewer than the next team at the bottom of ESPN’s attendance chart (the Miami Marlins, with 12,155 per game).

“What a mess,” said TMR owner and publisher Chris Hartweg via email. “The Coliseum is what it is — one of the worst fan experiences in baseball — and has been for a while. There’s no solution in sight, at least not remaining in market, as the waterfront project seems to have lost whatever momentum it had.”

Oakland’s $259.22 FCI ranks 12th in MLB. Take this year’s drama out of the equation and it’s not too surprising that Oakland is in the upper third of team FCI because they’ve usually been a contender in the division, even if they’re not advancing in the post-season.

“Yes, their average ticket price has jumped over the past two seasons, but even now they are still about 10 percent below the average MLB ticket,” Hartweg said. “The team offers a lot of family packs and other good ticket deals, so it’s not like they’ve priced families out. Their FCI is just above the average, alongside the Mets, and remains a stout 50 bucks less than their rivals across the Bay, the Giants.”

The Giants’ $308.36 FCI ranks seventh.

The New York Mets, at 29-15 overall and 13-8 at home, have the National League’s best win-loss record. Their $258.95 FCI ranks 13th, which suggests that even with Big Apple pricing pressures, the Mets are a damn good deal for fans. And that roster is pretty nice, too.

Across town, the New York Yankees are baseball’s fourth-most-expensive FCI at $348.84. While New York is the nation’s largest and priciest market, the Bronx Bombers have led the FCI list only four times. They’re the only team aside from the Boston Red Sox with an average non-premium ticket price over $60 ($61.59, second in MLB). Their year-over-year FCI average increased 2.6 percent.

Are the Yankees a good deal? They were an MLB-best 29-13 on Monday and 15-7 at home. So while not cheap compared to their peers, and with some injuries, the Yankees are winning and have a roster of great players. It’s a prestigious franchise with a gilded history and America’s biggest city. So yeah, a pretty good deal.

The defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves rank 14th in FCI at $255.82, an increase of 5.3 percent. They sat at 19-23 (10-12 at home) on Tuesday morning, good for third place in the NL East in what’s a dogfight behind the Mets.

The Boston Red Sox lead baseball with a $385.37 Fan Cost Index average, fueled by an MLB-leading $61.71 non-premium average ticket price. That’s a 2.4 percent year-over-year FCI increase.

Boston has been MLB’s costliest MLB FCI 20 times since 1991 and returns to the top spot for the first time since 2017. The Cubs were priciest from 2018-20, and the itinerant Toronto Blue Jays in 2021, after the Red Sox led baseball for 17 straight seasons.

Are the Red Sox a deal at that price? They were 9.5 games back on Tuesday at 19-22, with a 10-10 record at Fenway. That looks mediocre on paper, but Boston just wrapped up a homestand by winning six of seven games, including five straight.

Seven teams saw FCI declines, led by the Baltimore Orioles falling to $203.06. That’s a 17 percent year-over-year decline, which mercifully reflects the O’s residency near or at the bottom of the AL East for much of a generation.

The cheapest team to take in a ballgame is the Arizona Diamondbacks for the 14th consecutive season. This year, they’re at a $152.30 FCI — $34 cheaper than the Miami Marlins, who rank second-cheapest at $186.06.

The D-backs maintain their wallet-friendly ranking thanks to MLB’s lowest average ticket price ($22.12). When you finished 52-110 like they did last year (which wasn’t even the worst win-loss mark in club history), that’s not surprising, but they did increase non-premium tickets 3.5 percent and their FCI inched up by 5.6 percent over 2021.

Through Tuesday, they sat at 22-22 in the NL West, with a 11-11 home record. Not great, not terrible, with a lot of baseball left to play. It’s certainly a reasonable outing for the family, and the Diamondbacks’ solid pitching has kept them afloat.

The Tampa Bay Rays may be the best pocketbook deal in Major League Baseball so far this season. Their $192.02 FCI ranks 28th in MLB, despite a 6.8 percent increase over 2021. The team’s $26.13 average ticket price is one of the cheapest in baseball for a team that’s 13-9 at home and 24-17 overall. And seeing thrilling young shortstop Wander Franco – who has been in and out of the lineup with leg issues this season – is likely worth the cost for many fans.

Also a good argument for best deal is the Los Angeles Angels, who are 26-17 overall and 14-8 at home. Their $208.10 FCI ranks 25th despite a 7.5 percent hike in average non-premium ticket prices to $32.03. Again, with a roster stacked with Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout, and Taylor Ward, that feels like a damned good price.

And then there are the Cincinnati Reds, who after splitting a four-game series at Atlanta to open the season collapsed into a 3-18 April, including 1-7 at home. They got better this month, but woof. Mercifully, the Reds remain one of the cheaper FCIs in baseball, ranking 23rd at $214.36. That probably doesn’t take much of the sting out of Reds president and COO Phil Castellini — son of team owner Bob Castellini – telling fans before the home opener that they should basically pipe down and be glad the team isn’t moved elsewhere, comments for which he soon apologized.

May has been kinder to Reds fans, with their team going 9-11 overall through the month’s first 23 days. And a 4-2 home record so far in May! The Reds were MLB’s cheapest team for a family of four from 1991-98 before being replaced for six seasons by the Montreal Expos.

A reminder: Fans attend games in any sport for many reasons. Some just want to see their team win. Others come to the ballpark for something to do, or as part of a work or school outing, or for a theme night. Maybe for a date, to see a superstar, to do business, or because they love to keep score. The reasons are endless, but the analysis of pocketbook value is for fans who want to pay to see a winner. And teams with poor win-loss records can be fun, while some winners are boring.

Also, each team has a bloc of season ticket holders that pay discounted prices for seats, and sometimes for concessions, and most teams run discount menus and ticket deals at the lower prices. FCI numbers are reflective of single-game ticket buyers.

How does baseball compare to the other U.S. major leagues for fans costs? This chart of FCI averages is for the most recently calculated seasons from TMR.

Fan Cost Index by league

League Average FCI
NFL $568.18 (Nov. 2021)
NHL $462.58 (March 2022)
NBA $444.12 (May 2022)
MLB $256.41 (May 2022)
MLS $250.40 (May 2019)

(Note: In 2019, MLB had a lower FCI than MLS, and likely will again when the pro soccer league’s data is updated later this year.)

Baseball’s costs are lower for fans, which is a product of game inventory: MLB plays a 162-game season while basketball and hockey are at 82 games, MLS plays 34, and the NFL now has a 17-game season.

The Fan Cost Index formula is a team-by-team calculation based on the average cost of four adult non-premium tickets, single-car parking, two draft beers, four soft drinks, four hot dogs and two adult-sized adjustable hats. The hats are a proxy for the souvenirs available at an arena or stadium. Hartweg said he spends months amassing the numbers from teams and other sources to create his formulas.

MLB’s Fan Cost Index hasn’t seen a year-over-year decline since the cost to attend games fell by 0.4 percent in 2010 – a ripple effect of the Great Recession. This year’s data shows that MLB tickets prices have increased 331 percent since the first FCI chart in 1991, while FCI overall has grown 257 percent in that stretch, per TMR.

MLB Fan Cost Index 2013-22

Year FCI Change
2022 $256.41 1.90%
2021 $253.37 4.50%
2020 $241.81 3.20%
2019 $234.38 1.80%
2018 $230.63 3.20%
2017 $224.55 3.20%
2016 $217.06 4.20%
2015 $209.95 2.10%
2014 $205.53 2.20%
2013 $200.29 6.40%

If you’re interested in Fan Cost Indexes from other leagues, check out our recent coverage for the NBA, NHL and NFL. And last season’s MLB FCI breakdown is here. Coming soon will be coverage of MLS fan costs.

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