Sports Fandom

The High Cost of Being a Sports Fan

One of the many ways to fill up our precious time and consume our hard-earned dollars is following a favorite sports team, or teams. Especially this time of year, when American football is in full-swing, sports fandom is off the charts. I enjoy college football, and some NFL, even though so much of both sports is riddled with off-field issues.

When you go to a big state university, it’s hard not to come out with an ingrained sense of ownership in State U’s teams. And whether or not you go to college, there’s bound to be a major market pro team you grew up with, and grew attached to.

The question for this post is, what are the trade-offs of being a sports fan? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Let’s find out!

Some telling statistics show that we spend a $hit-ton of cash on everything from tickets, to apparel, to cable and satellite packages, fantasy leagues, and more. Nationally, revenue-generating sports yield over $15 billion in earnings per year. That’s a lot of hot dogs and jerseys (and ad space), my friends.

Arguments persist over the claimed benefits of a new stadium to its host community. The cost of a new mega-stadium, such as the Minnesota Viking’s new home, U.S. Bank Stadium, eclipse $1 billion. And yet, you’d be hard-pressed to prove conclusive economic benefits to the host city. Exhibit A is Detroit, where suburban residents fly into downtown to catch a game, and then whiz back home, passing open fields of economic wasteland, en-route to their outer-rim subdivisions.

Last Sunday, the Vikings hosted their cross-state rival Green Bay Packers in game 2 of the regular season. It’s a big game for devoted fans on both sides. There’s a limited supply of tickets, so it’s not a total shocker that second row seats were going for $3,700 on the secondary market. Just to get in the building for a nose-bleed seat would put you back $250 (assuming you’re all by yourself.) And let’s not forget the increased city sales tax we all get to enjoy, jacked-up to help pay for the new Taj Mahal.

Since this post is about trade-offs, consider that $3,700 price tag. Local news interviewed the fans sitting in those seats, and a good bunch were young couples, maybe in their twenties, likely at the very beginning of their journey building net-worth. Two tickets = $7,400. Let’s throw in a few beers each ($40), parking ($30), nachos and hot dogs ($30) to make it $7,500 even. If instead our young couple considered a televised option, and put that $7,500 into a 7% yield investment account for 20 years, they’d wind up with $29,022. A better option, if you’re thinking about early retirement, no? Or, that $7,500 could pay for a part-time MBA class or two. I dunno…

There’s certainly other costs to weigh-in:

  • The cost of time. Sitting on the sofa watching 3-4 hours of a game, that’s actually 2-3 hours of action and 1 hour of commercials. Or you spare yourself the commercials and drive to the game (5 hours). What other productive things could you be doing with that time? Exercise? Playing with the kids out in the yard? Working on growing your internet business?
  • The cost of pollution. Ever been stuck in traffic for an hour or two just trying to inch out of downtown after the game? I’d speculate it’s like adding another rush-hour’s worth of crap into the air.
  • The cost of larceny. Towns fortunate enough to get to championship games, but lose, get to host unplanned riots. Insurance rates tend to go up.
  • The cost of violence. We tend to idolize our favorite athletes, but we also put immense pressure on them. They put immense pressure on themselves, and every play is a high stakes affair. Get it right, and you’re golden. The ego takes off. Get in a slump, and watch out.*

I’m not painting a pretty picture here, am I?

Being a sports fan is not an all-cost, zero-benefit game. Far from it. Our species have made competition through proxy (David vs. Goliath?) a core part of our society for thousands of years. Gladiator battles in the Roman Empire certainly had an economy with winners and losers. This isn’t a new phenomenon by any stretch.

Watching the best of the best athletes make amazing plays or sink unbelievable shots is fun. We try in vain to apply what the best athletes pull off when we’re out on the golf course. “I know if I just grip the club like Tiger, I can make this pitch shot!” We probably won’t make that pitch shot, but when the best players show us it’s possible, it keeps us motivated to practice and compete.

Benefits, you ask???

  • The benefit of building a community. The Huffington Post ran an article that claimed a handful of interesting mental health benefits. Being a sports fan can actually make you happier and feel like a winner! (assuming your team wins, of course.)
  • The benefit of motivating us to move it! Following sports can just as easily motivate us to get off that couch and throw the ball around, walk a golf course, play roller hockey, run a marathon, you name it.
  • The benefit of testosterone. Hoo-ah! There are studies out there that reveal increased testosterone in fans of the winning team. Now you know why ads for ED are so prevalent during telecasts. Just don’t ask what happens if your team loses. Make sure you choose winning teams, if the hormone factor matters to you.
  • The benefit of bonding. We use spectator sports as a medium to go have a drink at the bar and watch the game, to get together for Super Bowl parties, and similar events. We now use social media to build communities of fans and build virtual bonds.
  • The benefit of social responsibility. Many athletes donate significant sums back to the community, and often to hard-hit communities. This is real and it is substantial. There are over 100 charities and nearly $200 million is donated each year. Your loss in paying for those $250 tickets and $50 monthly cable bills, is (at least partially) someone else’s gain. Take the “Make a Wish Foundation” for instance; and other good causes teams and coaches support. There are many of them.

So, where do we end up in the final analysis?

I really enjoy following a handful of teams, including my alma mater. Still, I don’t attend games, and I don’t pay for cable. I will watch a game if it happens to be on a network station (via antenna). I’m not likely to kill a great weather day to sit and watch a game, because for one thing, great weather is too precious a resource here in Minnesota. Our charity dollars go directly to similar causes as those sponsored by the big leagues.

By limiting my time-cost to the select few games televised nationally, I’ve found a personal balance that works for me. My wife and I closely follow our college teams, and this leads to some fun bets between us. No bruised egos, whatsoever. Yeah, right… The lucky loser gets a gourmet dinner prepared for him or her, as a consolation prize.

Bottom-line: Don’t look for us in the second row at a Vikings game any time soon, because that’s just personal finance insanity. And please, don’t go out in public wearing a pro jersey. Really. Don’t.

*I don’t pretend to know the causes of violence outside the game, but it’s incredibly troubling to see case after case of violence against women. And let’s not forget the cost of violence to the players themselves. The short term and long term effects of head injuries are especially troubling, and the only way to solve that problem is to penalize tackling in football, or checking in hockey. I reckon people won’t pay to see that.

Comments 5

  1. I love this post. I am not a very avid sports fan, but my roommate is. We do not have a tv service (as in satellite/cable), but we do have an antenna that gets (weather permitting) Fox and ABC. I see tv as an unneeded expense. Both of us work a lot, and when we are at home there is house work to be caught up on. We have gotten into countless debates on whether or not to have tv so he can watch various teams (he wants the NFL package on top of satellite-$$$$$). We came to the agreement that if he wants it, he should cover the total expense, given I do not watch tv or follow football. After looking at numbers, he decided it truly wasn’t worth the expense. Now he uses it as a reason to go to friends’ houses, which is great. We bring over an appetizer (and maybe a 6 pack) and in exchange get to watch the game and socialize.

    1. Wow – that is a great adjustment! I find it actually opens up many more doors for socializing outside the house when you’re not catered-to by a cable/satellite sports buffet. Thanks for stopping by, Piggybank!

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