The high cost of being a sports fan

Adi Wyner of the Wharton Sports Analytics and Business Initiative explains the impact of sports on finances.

Sports fans buying memorabilia.
Fans shop before Game 3 of the National League Championship Series between the San Diego Padres and the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday, Oct. 21, 2022, in Philadelphia. (Image: AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Philadelphia is potentially on the verge of crowning itself as the new city of champions with the Phillies set to play in their first World Series since 2009, the Eagles 6-0 and the NFL’s only undefeated team, and the Union holding the best record in the MLS’s East Conference. Basketball and hockey just started their seasons, but big things are expected from the Harden- and Embiid-led Sixers and there’s always hope for the Flyers.

Fanatics in Philadelphia are fired up as usual, but how much does all this sports fandom cost?

According to the MLB and NFL, the demand for Phillies and Eagles games have risen as each team has racked up more and more wins.

Before their Game 5 win over the San Diego Padres in the National League Championship Series, Phillies tickets sold for an average of $372.32 per ticket, per the MLB. According to CNBC, the average ticket price for upcoming World Series games in Philadelphia is more than $3,000—the second-highest price for a single championship game in over a decade.

According to StubHub, tickets for Sunday’s Steelers vs. Eagles game at Lincoln Financial Field range from $261 to $9,214, not to mention the cost of parking, snacks, and souvenirs.

Adi Wyner, a professor of statistics and faculty lead of the Wharton Sports Analytics and Business Initiative says the high cost of being a sports fan is simple supply and demand.

“When there is a scarcity, prices go up,” Wyner says. “Playoff baseball games and home games for football teams are priced out for the average person. On the other hand, there were affordable tickets all season long and people were not buying them. World Series prices have predictably skyrocketed, but they may still be worth the price for some as a World Series game in Philly is an unforgettable experience, like no other city.”

Inflation is causing purse strings to tighten but isn’t affecting local sports fans’ experience, Wyner explains.

“Games have always been expensive, with food and concessions, and not everything has gone up equally,” he says. “I imagine that when money starts to get tighter, that can affect how many people go to a game, because going to one is an expensive experience. To bring a family of four to a game is remarkably expensive.”

Wyner says there are other costs that speak to the economic psychology behind sports fans, such as cost of time and sports betting.

“Being an avid sports fan is time consuming, but it depends on how it is used,” he says. “Some fans like to have games on in the background on television and do work or household chores while they watch. But you cannot do that with all sports, such as fast-paced sports like hockey, where if you blink you miss something. Of course, going to a game is a wonderful family event, but often very expensive.”

Sports betting has grown and has a side of different societal problems, according to Wyner, but in exchange it does offer more involvement and interest in sports.

“Sports betting gets people much more excited about sports, especially if they are wagering,” he says.

Competitive sports have been a core part of society for thousands of years. Gladiator battles in the Roman Empire had an economy with winners and losers. Philadelphia’s famous (or infamous) sports fandom is not a new phenomenon.

“They are disproportionately important relative to their economic size,” he says. “Sports as a market is billions of dollars, but relative to the size of the economy, it’s tiny. Many businesses are much bigger than the collection of sports, but sports occupy an incredible amount of people’s mental energy.”

He says fans control the pricing of the market. As long as the fans continue to purchase items at market price, Wyner says teams will continue to raise their prices.

“So much of the games are on television,” he says. “Depending on how much you watch, there are many streaming all-inclusive packages available to make being a sports fan affordable. Also, possibly going to collegiate sports events is another more affordable option.”

Other options to combat the high cost of being a sports fan is to buy upper-level seating, taking the family out to dinner before the game, and taking public transportation where available.