The Economics of Being a Basketball Fan, Bonus Post: Money Saving Tips
As promised, I've got a bonus-post related to the economics of being a basketball fan. Over my years of being a fan, I've picked up a few tricks for saving money while attending games in the area, and I'd like to share a few of my favorites. As with almost anything that's worthwhile, there's some sacrifice involved, but the things I've detailed below are places where I've cut corners and haven’t really felt like I’m giving much up. Perhaps not all of them are your cup of tea, but I know I've kept my wallet from being constantly empty by using all of the information below.
1) Marquette’s five-game packs are a great deal. I used to have season tickets with a friend, but we dropped down to the five-packs a few years ago. Buying both five-packs gets you the entire Big East season and the top non-conference opponent. Those are the only games that you want to pay full price to see, anyway. You can scalp a ticket to Presbyterian outside the Bradley Center for $10 on any given night, so it sort of hurts when you realize that with season tickets, you’re paying $30 apiece for all of the dreadful non-conference games. No, your five-game pack tickets aren’t going to be in the lower level, but the seats that I’ve gotten have always been near center court (even if they’re a bit high up). If you’re going to let me keep a couple hundred extra bucks in my pocket, I’ll gladly walk an extra flight of stairs each night and watch the action from a bit further away. And seating location matters even less this year, as the Bradley Center’s extremely awesome new scoreboard appears to be capable of giving views of the action that will make everyone feel like they’re sitting courtside.
2) UWM games are an outstanding value. Last year I actually attended one game where there was a half-price ticket promotion and I paid $5 for my seat. That’s exactly $1 more than it would have cost me to go to a high school game. It’s an insane price to see a division one college basketball team. If you go to a UWM game, I would suggest to you that buying the cheapest ticket is almost always the way to go. U.S. Cellular Arena is seldom anywhere close to being crowded, so you can buy the cheap seats and sit in nearly any section that you want. That may not be the case for the couple of games at the Klotsche Center this year, but you’ll probably save a bit on parking at UWM’s campus as opposed to downtown (parking at UWM is frighteningly scarce, but it’s still going to be less costly than going downtown at the times that the games are played).
3) Park wisely. You can easily pay too much to park at any given game if you don’t know what you’re doing or don’t plan ahead. Usually saving a couple of bucks involves a slightly longer walk to the venue, but the savings add up, and you’ll usually be fighting with less traffic at the end of the night. Here are my go-to hot spots for the venues where I most frequently have to pay for parking. None of them are exactly secret, but it boggles my mind how few people tend to take advantage of them.
Kohl Center: Go to one of the city lots and you won’t pay more than $3. The Lake Street ramp just off of State Street ensures that you’ll be stuck in traffic for 30 minutes after the game, so I would suggest that you head over to the Dayton/Mifflin Street ramp. The walk is roughly the same, but it will be much smoother sailing post game. (I get the added bonus of a nostalgic walk past two of my college-era apartments on the way back to my car, which certainly doesn't affect you, but is pretty cool for me.)
Bradley Center: My go-to lot on State Street raised its game day rate last year, so I can’t suggest it anymore. With that gone, your best bet is to park at the surface lot across the street from the bars on Water Street for $5. A word of warning, though–you’ll need to have an extra time cushion built in if you go there, as it can take some time to pay and walk to the game. The walking isn’t a huge issue (it’s only a block or two further away than most lots), but payment can be a pain, as one automatic payment machine on site handles all payments for the lot. If that's not bad enough, the machine is painfully slow (particularly since there are always a few people who struggle with figuring out how to use the machine). If it’s close to game time, you’re virtually guaranteed to spend 10 minutes in a slow-moving, 15-person line filled with people complaining about how ridiculous the situation is. Honestly, I hate this lot because of this issue, but if you’ve got the time and can deal with some frustration, you’ll save a few bucks.
U.S. Cellular Arena: If Marquette or the Bucks are playing across the street at the Bradley Center, just use my advice from above for Bradley Center parking. If the Panthers are the only thing going on downtown, you should be able to find parking at any number of lots for $5 if you’re not lucky enough to happen upon an open spot on the street for free (while rare, this is not impossible).
Al McGuire Center: Home to various Marquette events and high school games, I’m continually amazed when I see people paying $3 to park in the crowded ramp and lot just west of the McGuire Center. I always park for free on Wells Street, in front of the Milwaukee County Courthouse, which is only a two-block walk from the McGuire Center. I not only save $3 by doing so, I also avoid post-game parking lot and pedestrian gridlock. All because I’m willing to walk one block more.
4) Don’t eat or drink at college games. Concession stands can be tasty, but they’re pricy. Where else are you going to pay $4 for a bottle of water? Or $8 for a beer? As a general rule, I tend not to patronize concession stands. If I can’t get home before the game and need to eat something, it’s not that hard to find a place on the way to the arena to buy a sandwich for $4 that’s going to be way more filling than that $4 hot dog. Or, if I'm feeling really unhealthy, Taco Bell can sell me more food than I can possibly eat for under $3. (Yes, that last revelation frightens me, too.)
5) Feel free to eat or drink at high school games. High school concession stands are the exact opposite of college concession stands. It’s not unusual to find a bag of popcorn for sale for 50 cents. You’re likely not getting great food, but if you need a snack, you’re not going to break the bank, and you’re more than likely going to be helping out a high school booster club. So it’s even sort of noble to buy that can of soda for 75 cents.
6) Go to division three games. This one’s a bit tougher. I generally tend to go to games with other people, and sometimes it’s a tough sell to get a friend to go to a division three college basketball game. But if you’ve got a friend who’s a fellow basketball junkie or just happens to be an alum of one of the schools involved, it can be a cheap option to go see the local division three team. Admission is usually somewhere in the neighborhood of what a high school game costs (a few years ago at Carroll University, they didn’t even charge admission) and the players are all guys that were among the best players on their high school teams. It’s high level play without the high level cost.