Five Cheapest Football Stadiums
As most football fans can attest, the NFL is an investment from just about any perspective. There's the emotional investment of watching your team once a week on the national stage and the inevitable ribbing the following morning from that guy in accounting. There's the investment of time, including the cumulative days you spend obsessively maneuvering your fantasy team through bloodshot eyes at 2 a.m. and consuming endless yammering from analysts.
Then there's the actual financial investment. You likely can't remember the last time someone said football is the most affordable sport to be a fan of because no one has ever said that. Actually going to a stadium to attend an NFL game can cost hundreds for a group of adults. Value will always be in the eye of the fan, but there are some relative bargains in the league as long as you keep in mind that the average NFL ticket goes for $77.34.
Team Marketing Report, a sports information publisher, released its 2011 survey of how much it would cost, on average, for a family of four to attend an NFL game per team. They use a measurement called the Fan Cost Index, which takes into account four tickets at average price, two small beers, four small sodas, four hot dogs, parking, two programs and two adult caps.
So, which are the five cheapest stadiums in the NFL?
Where located: Detroit Team: Lions
When it comes to losing sports teams, baseball might have the Cubs, but at least they never went an entire season without a win. Football's Detroit Lions lost all 16 games in the 2008 season, a mark of singularity for a team with the second-longest championship drought in the NFL. For the Lions' long-suffering fans, at least they don't have to pay more than a rooftop ticket at Wrigley Field to watch their team attempt to end the futility.
Team Marketing Report has the Lions' Ford Field as the fifth-cheapest fan experience in the NFL, with a Fan Cost Index of $365.61. That includes an average ticket price of $62.40 for the 65,000 seat stadium and the second-lowest premium ticket average of $142.98. Like most teams, the Lions offer deep discounts for groups, so team up with some friends and save about $15 per ticket.
Heading to the stadium early for tailgating? Ford Field has some of the cheapest parking in the NFL, averaging about $10. But be sure to pack your cooler to the brim because Ford Field's beer ($7.50) and hot dog ($5.75) prices rank higher than many other stadiums.
Completed in 2002, the football stadium's architects perhaps anticipated a need for distraction, designing a lower upper deck by omitting additional suite levels and providing a beautiful glimpse of downtown Detroit. Ford Field has drawn more than 98 percent of attendance capacity so far this season, including a record crowd for a Lions game Oct. 10. That must be some skyline.
Ralph Wilson Stadium
Where located: Buffalo, N.Y. Team: Bills
The Buffalo Bills, who are oddly enough the only one of the three "New York" football teams to play in the state of New York (the Giants and Jets play in New Jersey) yet the only team in the NFL to play regular season games in Canada (Toronto), come in as the fourth-cheapest fan experience for 2011.
Bills fans have been flocking to Ralph Wilson Stadium since its opening nearly 30 years ago. They not only get to enjoy bargain-priced running back Fred Jackson but also the bargain third-lowest average ticket price at $59.19. The stadium's Fan Cost Index for 2011 is $358.75, up about 1 percent over last season.
Although the tickets are cheaper, parking at Ralph Wilson may be the highest among the cheapest football stadiums. Maybe the people at the stadium know no one wants to walk there in the Buffalo winter -- parking is going to run you $25 a game.
Once inside, be sure to wear layers because it won't exactly be financially prudent to "warm up" on the $8.50 beers. That may be near the highest price in the league, but they are also some of the largest servings at 20 ounces.
As for the Toronto game, 2011 is the fourth of a five-year series where the Bills play one home game per season at the Rogers Centre in Toronto and tickets start at just $50. Now that's a bargain, eh?
Bank of America Stadium
Where located: Charlotte, N.C. Team: Panthers
Football fans in the Carolinas were so thrilled when they were awarded an expansion NFL team in 1995 that nobody seemed to notice that the league slipped the new Panthers into the western division of the National Football Conference. Six years later, someone realized that they should have carried the one, and the Panthers were moved to their current place in the NFC South.
The Panthers found quick success in their new stadium, now called Bank of America Stadium, making the playoffs in their second season. Carolinians took to the Panthers like cheese on grits and even filled more than 98 percent of their home attendance last season despite the worst record in the league. That they are one of the top draws again this season can certainly be partially attributed to being one of the most affordable fan experiences in the NFL for a family of four. The Fan Cost Index of $341.27 is third-cheapest and about $86 below the league average.
The average ticket price of $63.32 is flat to last year, like many teams that Team Marketing Report's research reflects. Panther fans can also benefit from an average $6 for 16-ounce beers, which is among the cheapest in the league and well below the $7.20 average -- which, as should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, is one price that continues to climb year over year.
Regardless of team performance, Panther fans undoubtedly will take great pride in having the cheapest soda price in the league at $3.
Cleveland Browns Stadium
Where located: Cleveland Team: Browns
"Somewhere in Baltimore, LeBron James is rooting for the Ravens." At least that's probably the most common nightmare for any Cleveland sports fan. The city's golden son left the Cavs without a trophy and may as well have insisted that Cleveland does not, in fact, rock, on his way to Miami. The Browns left without a Super Bowl, deciding they wanted to do that as the Baltimore Ravens instead.
Cleveland got a shiny new Browns team in 1999 with a shiny new stadium, appropriately named Cleveland Browns Stadium, and is the second-cheapest stadium for fans, according to Team Marketing Report. With a Fan Cost Index of $330.90, the stadium was built on the same site as the original Browns' field, which had seen 17 postseason games over nearly 50 years. The new stadium has architectural gaps with views of downtown Cleveland.
The stadium has the lowest average ticket price at $54.20, down nearly 1 percent from last season. It is also the only stadium among the five cheapest to see a drop in its Fan Cost Index year over year.
In addition to the comparably low fan cost, the Browns also offer discounts on four-game packages and $5 off tickets to the stadium's family zone, which includes kids' menus and is alcohol-free. Then again, maybe hire a sitter; Browns Stadium has the cheapest average beer in the league at $5.00.
Where located: Jacksonville, Fla. Team: Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars joined the NFL in 1995 as an expansion team along with the Panthers, which some big cat enthusiasts will insist are the same thing. The list of available, intimidating native species is short though, as the pocket gopher will tell you.
The Jaguars have the mark of being the only major professional sports team to have played its first home game in its inaugural season in a new venue -- the recently renamed EverBank Field. At full capacity, it is the fifth-largest stadium in the NFL, which isn't necessarily a good thing. Despite being the cheapest NFL draw for a family of four, with a Fan Cost Index of $316.50, the team still struggles to fill its seats and is near the bottom of the league in attendance. The Jaguars recently had to make a last-minute push to sell 3,000 tickets to avoid a TV blackout on Monday Night Football.
Though you can treat your family to a round of hats (the cheapest in the NFL at an average $9.95), the overall cost at EverBank Field is up 2 percent over last year. The average ticket of $58.90 is second only to Cleveland, but if you're planning on taking the sales team out for a celebratory game, be aware that premium tickets are relatively high, averaging $229.17.
The stadium got a $63 million face-lift in 2005 for Super Bowl XXXIX, including two new scoreboards where you can personally salute the troops for only $50.