Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Economics of Being a Basketball Fan, Part 1: An Analysis of the 2009-2010 Season

The past few weeks have seen me make my first basketball-related purchases of the 2010-2011 season. In making those purchases, I got to thinking about the financial implications of my hobby of obsessively following basketball. Like everyone else, I have not been immune to our country’s ongoing economic recession. However unlike most other people, I tend to compile ridiculous amounts of data about my spending habits (Indeed, I have a log of every cent that has left my hands dating back to November 2007. Yes, I can be a bit obsessive sometimes.). The question of exactly how much money I spend on keeping up with basketball is not something that’s totally new to me. So, in order to find some sort of answer to this question, I spent all of last season meticulously tracking and logging every one of my basketball-related expenses. And due to laziness (and perhaps a bit of fear over finding out what I spend on basketball) I’ve put off analyzing this data until now. Today, however, I’d like to answer the question that I spent all of last season trying to wrap my head around: just how much does it cost to be a serious basketball fan?

Below I’ve broken out my expenses for last season into seven categories. The first two are media related and the last five relate to the cost of actually attending games. Not surprisingly, it costs a bit more to actually go to a game. But that's fine--even if high definition television makes watching games in the comfort of one's own home a spectacular experience, there's still great value to actually heading out an experiencing things first-hand. That should be enough background on this project, so I’ll get to the point--here’s my detailed breakdown of basketball related expenses for the 2009-2010 season:

Media (Print): There are two big media expenses that relate to my basketball obsession. First is the cost of pre-season basketball guides. I’m not the sort of guy that can head into a season without information–I need to know a little something about what’s going on before I can watch it. I have two “must buy” guides that I purchase every year–the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook and the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook. Basically everything that I could possibly need to know is in these two books. The combined cost of both last year was $52.89 ($27.88 for the Blue Ribbon and $25.01 for the WBY--shipping charges included for both), and it was arguably the best $52.89 that I spent all year. I still also make an effort to buy a copy of any basketball guide that I see on the newsstand for archival purposes (I am readily aware that this is one of the nerdiest things about me). Unlike ten years ago when that meant buying 7-8 magazines, the number of folks with their hand in the college basketball guide business has dwindled to 2-3. I don’t have figures on what I bought last year (I usually buy my guides at the grocery store and don’t break them out as a separate expense), but it’s probably safe to say that I spent roughly $25.00 on three basketball guides last year. Total Expense: $77.89

Media (Televison): My second media-related expense deals with television. With the way that technology has advanced in the past few years to allow people to watch almost any program with internet assistance, a big part of me thinks that live sporting events are the only reason that I haven’t canceled cable/satellite television service. But it would probably be a stretch to allocate the cost of my Directv subscription to basketball. However, the one programming adjustment that I can clearly attribute to basketball is adding the Directv Sports Pack to my plan from November until the end of March at a cost of $12.99 per month. So that’s $64.95 (not counting a couple of bucks for taxes and fees, which I’m not obsessive enough to calculate) for me to be able to see Pac-10 games, other games from the West Coast, and an assortment of games that I wouldn't otherwise even think of (old AWA wrestling shows on ESPN Classic are merely a bonus). And as hard as I tried not to, I ordered Directv’s Mega March Madness package last year, allowing me to watch any NCAA tournament game that I wanted from the comfort of my own living room. That ran me $69.00, which I will concede is a ridiculous price for a programming package that is relevant for little more than four days (two of which I’m working during) and which is partially covered by free network TV. But it’s like crack to me. I’m hoping that the tournament’s new television deal will make this plan obsolete and save me a few bucks this spring. Total Expense: $133.95 (Note: This also doesn't include the cost of replacing my living room television, which was inconsiderate enough to break down right before March Madness last year. I suspect that I'd have bought a new TV, anyway.)

Tickets: The most obvious cost of attending basketball games is the fee for entry, and it’s where I spent most of my money last year. I spent a grand total of $636 on tickets to games last year. Of that, I spent just $28 attending seven high school games, which are always a bargain at $4 per game. The remaining $608 spent on college tickets puts me at a ridiculously high cost of $45.43 per game over the course of 14 games. That per-game total is skewed high by a few things, though First, I ordered both of Marquette’s five-game packages last year, but was only able to make it to seven of the ten games. So I paid for three games that I didn’t attend, but still factored in what I paid for the tickets that I either ate or gave away (second level Marquette tickets aren’t exactly a hot re-sale item). Second, occasionally I have the opportunity to purchase a pair of outstanding seats for a Badger game from a friend of mine. That happened three times last year. While the seats themselves are reasonably priced, I’m not the type of guy that asks a friend to join him at a game and then asks to be reimbursed for the second seat. That’s just not how I roll. So for three of the games, I’m paying for two seats instead of one. Finally, I foolishly paid more than I’d like to admit to attend the Wisconsin-Duke game and that significantly altered my season costs. Seriously, it was an embarrassingly expensive season last year, particularly given the relatively small number of games that I attended, and the fact that I'm typically not particularly picky about where I sit. Frankly, I'm sort of ashamed. Total Expense: $636.00

Parking: It’s easy to forget that you often have to pay to park your car when you go to a game, but that expense adds up. Fortunately, high school games generally offer free parking. Similarly, if you’re notoriously cheap (as I usually am) and slightly knowledgeable (as I occasionally am), you can park for free or extremely cheaply at most Wisconsin games (city parking ramps in downtown Madison remain one of the greatest bargains of our time, though only novices park at the super-busy Lake Street Ramp on game day). Generally where I get dinged the worst for parking is at Marquette games, as downtown Milwaukee is just a different sort of animal. If you time things right and are willing to do some walking, you can still find a couple of places to park in downtown Milwaukee for $5. Usually a number of factors have to work out in order to pull this off, though, so you need to plan ahead. Bottom line, I kept my expenses fairly low for attending 21 games, but I can probably do better this upcoming season. Total Expense: $60.80

Concessions: Some folks cannot envision going to a game without getting a hot dog and a huge soda. I’m not one of those people, largely because as I noted earlier, I can be notoriously cheap about certain things. While I love a soft pretzel as much as the next guy, I’d much rather keep my $3 in my pocket and make a sandwich when I get home. So it should come as no surprise that I only opened my wallet to the concession people once this past season, to the tune of $9 at a Marquette game. Were I to guess, I’d say that I probably had a slice of pizza and a bottle of water, and that it hurt my soul when I handed over my cash to the man behind the counter. Total Expense: $9.00

Miscellaneous: From time to time, I end up spending money not at the game itself, but doing things that I would not have done if not for attending the game. For instance, sometimes I’ll need to grab dinner somewhere when I’m heading directly from work to Madison for a game (stopping for a pre-game gyro at the Parthenon on State Street totally beats grabbing a hot dog at the game both in terms of value and taste), or I’ll stop at a gas station for a water or soda on the way home from a far-flung game. I don’t believe that I factored in most pre and post-game outings with friends in this category last year, those felt like things I would have been doing with or without a game going on (though I’ll probably track this in the future). Bottom line, I did a good job of keeping my miscellaneous costs down. Total Expense: $47.33

Gas/Travel: If you can believe it, I generally tried to track my mileage for every game that I drove to this year (with varying levels of preciseness in my tracking). I did not include games to which other friends drove, as it was not my car taking the hit. But in the 17 games that I took responsibility for driving to (including side stops related to the games), I logged a grand total of 833 miles. It’s a big number, but given that it includes four trips to Madison and back, it’s not all that shocking. According to the EPA, my car gets 26 miles per gallon of gas (combined highway/city). Thus, it took just over 32 gallons of gas to get me to and from games last year. Estimating a cost of $2.60 per gallon (which may not be accurate for the time period involved, but seems reasonable to me), that adds up to $83.20 in gas. That’s a very palatable number, as long road trips in prior years have tended to skew this number higher. Total Expense: $83.20

Total Cost (All Categories): $1,048.87

While dropping just over a grand on hoops over a 5-6 month period doesn’t totally upset me, I know I can do a bit better. And here are the three places in which I could potentially see myself saving some cash this season:

1) Media (Television): As I alluded to earlier, the NCAA’s new television deal seems aimed at providing national coverage of every game on four different channels. If so, that would seemingly eliminate the need for the Mega March Madness plan and the need for me to fork over $69.00 to watch as much hoops as possible. Even if it doesn’t, I’ll hopefully have the will power to resist a programming package that’s only useful for a very short period of time. For reasons unrelated to basketball, I may look into switching away from Directv around February, anyway, so perhaps this won’t be a temptation anymore.

2) Tickets: I’ve dropped down to only one Marquette 5-game plan this year, so right off the bat I’m up $150. And Duke's not coming to town again, so I shouldn’t have another high-cost game. I would anticipate lots of high school games this year, too, leading me to get my number of games seen this season up without the high costs of college games.

3) Gas/Travel: I’m giving some semi-serious thought to taking a year off from following the Badgers and adopting a different team to follow this year (to be clear, a lowered cost is not why I would do this–it would merely be a side benefit). In the unlikely event that I find the will power to actually do this, it would keep the miles off my vehicle. However, if trips to Madison and other far-off spots are in the cards, this expense also has the potential to go way up.

With only a few weeks left until practice opens, here’s looking forward to a season of constant fun and constant fiscal responsibility. (Man, I really have gotten old in the last few years...) Back tomorrow with a bonus economic post. I had intended to continue on today and share my personal basketball-specific money saving tip, but I recognize that today's thoughts are already a bit long-winded without tacking on one more thing. So back tomorrow with those tips.


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