America’s pastime is now more affordable and accessible than ever – thanks to the increasingly sophisticated and entertaining efforts of minor league teams around the country.
A survey of the 160 Minor League Baseball clubs shows the average cost for a family of four to attend a game this season is $59.77 - including not just tickets, but four hot dogs, two sodas, two beers, a program, and parking.
That's far below the soaring cost of a major league game, which ranges anywhere from $120 to $393 a game, depending on the city. “Taking your family to a minor league baseball game is cheaper than taking them to the movies,” said Charleston South Carolina Riverdogs General Manager Dave Echols.
And while finding a minor league game isn’t quite as easy as a trip to the local theater, there are teams scattered across every state - all offering relative bargains. “It’s really nice that we can come somewhere in Fresno and it’s not going to bankrupt us,” said a fan of the Fresno California Grizzlies.
Many people come to the ballpark to get great deals on other fun family outings.
“They had a good deal tonight that if you buy a certain package, you get some other tickets for attractions around town for the kids, so that’s one of the reasons why we came out,” said a fan of the Fresno Grizzlies. Minor league attendance has been higher than ever.
“Nine of our last 10 highest attendance figures have been in the last 10 years,” said Minor League Baseball representative Steve Densa. More than 41 million fans attended a minor league game last season, up from 38.8 million in 2001.
And while the tough economy has hurt many businesses, some believe it's actually helped the minors. One team in Trenton, N.J., has experienced one of the highest attendance growths, putting more than 8,000 fans in their stadium on a regular basis.
“Minor League Baseball has always been an affordable form of entertainment. But in the wake of the recession, we are still affordable but wanted to add value to make the ticket that much better,” said Thunder spokesman Bill Cook.
With the challenging economy, the Thunder have found ways to keep attendance up. They offer a different promotion every night of the week, from Super Value Tuesdays (kids eat free) to Thirsty Thursdays (beer specials) to Fireworks Spectacular Saturdays (free post-game fireworks show).
The Thunder also found a new way to keep their loyal business clients, even when season tickets are often the first thing cut from any company budget during tough financial times. The Thunder have offered up the option of buying box seats for a block of games, rather than the entire season.
"It's important that these companies still entertain their clients at our ball park and have the option of sitting in our box seats, even when season tickets are no longer in their budget," said Cook. The growing interest in the minors is national, even in areas that aren't represented by major league teams.
“We are ahead of where we were last year in terms of attendance ... averaging close to 5,000 fans a game. But there will be times when we have over 7,500 fans,” said Echols.
Part of that success involves offering more than just baseball. Minor league teams regularly host groups from schools, churches, boys' and girls' clubs - who in turn bring their families along.
“Twenty percent come to watch baseball. The other 80% come to do something fun with family or friends," said Minor League Baseball President Pat O'Conner. "It’s something to do!”