When it comes to scoring deals on Major League Baseball tickets, it might be easier than you think to hit a home run. You might even get a free gnome.
The season officially kicks off this weekend with the Chicago Cubs hosting the league's first opening day game on Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals. Teams including the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Philadelphia Phillies and Seattle Mariners are slated to open their seasons at home on Monday.
Prices heading into the season can be deceptively expensive. Across the board, the average MLB ticket on the secondary market is currently $79.37, according to deal site ScoreBig.com. That includes those home opener games, which are 144 percent pricier than a typical regular season game, based on ScoreBig.com data.
Premium seats and hot rivalry match ups also push up prices. Fans hunting for bargains may find it's easy to shell out less than that average, with starting prices on the secondary market under $15 for plenty of games and teams.
"There's not going to be too many upward forces in the market," said Connor Gregoire, a spokesman for secondary market aggregator SeatGeek.com. Because the baseball season is a long one with plenty of games, there are usually plenty of seats available, even at the last minute.
Prices usually drop at the box office and the secondary market as game day approaches, he said. [The rare exceptions: late-season games with playoff implications and team announcements of player trades or retirements, which can both spur last-minute demand.]
The key savings strategy: procrastinate.
Secondary market prices on game days average $35.93, or about 37 percent less than if you buy 30 days out, according to SeatGeek.com. Just research the team's ticket purchase cutoff time in advance so you don't get shut out. [The Chicago Cubs, for example, require StubHub listings expire six hours before the game's start time.] "Don't run up too close to that," he said.
Flexibility can also make a big difference in cost, if you're just angling to see your favorite team in action at some point this season, said Alison Burnham, vice president of pricing and analytics for ScoreBig.com. Depending on the visiting opponent, prices might be up to 15 percent lower than normal, or 72 percent higher, according to the site's data.
"If the Yankees or the Red Sox are in town, maybe don't look at that game," she said.
Day games can be as much as 26 percent pricier than evening games, according to ScoreBig.com, while the day of the week can swing prices by as much as 18 percent. Tuesdays (any time) and Wednesdays (afternoons) are cheapest, and Saturday (any time) and Monday (afternoons) the most expensive.
"Tickets tend to be cheaper before Memorial Day and after Labor Day," said Chris Matcovich, vice president of data for secondary market aggregator TiqIQ.com. In part, that's because kids are still in school, but there's also some dampening effect on demand from cool weather, he added.
Team promotions influence pricing by 5 percent on average, but there, the added value of a concert or fireworks might be worth the extra cost, said Burnham. "The teams are smart," she said. "They're often giving away promotions on games that would often have been soft." [See chart below for common promotions and price effects.]
To make sure you're scoring the best price, check the box office first. At minimum, that helps you figure out the face value price for the tickets you want, for comparison against the secondary market, said Gregoire, but make sure to factor in any processing fees tacked on at checkout. Some teams have deals with re-sellers that create a minimum secondary market ticket price, he said, meaning the box office could actually have the better deal.
It's not unusual for the box office to have exclusive discounts, either. MasterCard cardholders, for example, can save 50 percent for tickets to select Yankees games, while the New York Mets have family pack bundles for select games. Pricing starts at $15 per person in the eligible sections (the same as you'd regularly pay for just a ticket), and includes vouchers for a free entrée, fries and fountain drink.
For easy comparison on the secondary market, try aggregators such as SeatGeek.com and TiqIQ.com, which pull together listings (including fees) from dozens of resale sites, letting buyers compare offers in a given section.
It's also worth looking to see what protections the resale site offers, if any, should the ticket not arrive in time for the game or prove to be a fake, said Matcovich. Many resellers, including StubHub! and RazorGator, have such buyer guarantees.