As the college football holiday bowl season is upon us, well over a million Americans are going about the process of booking flights, hotels, restaurant reservations and, of course, stadium tickets. Hundreds of thousands more are doing the same for the upcoming NFL playoffs, while people by the tens of thousands drive to regular season NBA and college basketball games. It is a great time to remind ourselves of one simple, but regularly overlooked rule of practical frugal living:
Never, ever pay to watch an event that you can watch for free from the comfort of your own home.
It’s such a wonderfully simple concept that it hardly calls for explanation. Nonetheless, I’ll provide a simple example. Let’s say you take advantage of the Sacramento Kings’ Family 4-pack, which gets you four cheap seat tickets, four greasy hot dogs and four soft drinks for $49.00. You’ll still have to cough up another ten bucks or so for parking, plus travel expense (and associated traffic headaches). Assuming a roundtrip drive in from the suburbs, you are probably looking at another twenty dollars or so there. And assuming further that your family includes children, you can pretty well count on dropping still another twenty on souvenirs. So, provided you can get by without a single second half drink or bag of chips with that dog, you are looking at right around one hundred dollars, plus driving and parking headaches, for the privilege of watching a basketball game from the nosebleed seats. Don’t forget also the additional time burned on parking and navigating the traffic, all to arrive home at 11pm.
Now let’s compare the above with the second option of watching the same game from home, which is what I always do. By doing this, I, of course, pay nothing for tickets and nothing for parking. My car, in fact, stays right there in the old garage, with nary a mile placed on it. If I choose to have a soft drink during the game, it costs me twenty-one cents for an entire can. I have no vendors in the home and, consequently, avoid altogether the temptation of purchasing a program, a hat, a sweatshirt, etc. More importantly, my child avoids that temptation. I simply sit there, in the comfort of my recliner, watching the game with an unobstructed, perfect view of the court. There will be no people standing in front of me, no knees in my back, no beers spilled on me, no people passing before me on the way to and from the restroom. If I need to make a comfort call, I use my own private bathroom, as opposed to lining up before the old stadium trough. If I want to watch that incredible play again and again, I press rewind and do so. In short, I am the master of my own comfortable domain, complete with climate and noise control. When the game ends, I go right on to my next favorite activity, while 18,000 people cram the freeways.
If this is not a no-brainer decision, I don’t know what is. It is so obvious that I do not even go to games when tickets are offered to me for free.
I generally hear only two counterpoints: (1) that you owe it to the team to appear in person for fan support and (2) that if everyone stayed at home, we would have no sports to watch as the teams would all fold.
Well, allow me to make short work of both justifications for blowing your money. First, we do not owe any team anything. To the contrary, in an age where players are paid far more in a single season than the average person will earn in his entire life, it seems the athletes and their teams are the ones who owe. Perhaps if professional athletes were not so hideously overpaid, ticket prices would become more reasonable, and we could all meet somewhere in the middle. When you view the issue this way, you see that watching the game at home actually serves a larger good by lessening demand which, in turn, would lead to lower ticker prices.
As for the second argument, suffice it to say we are a long, long way from any teams folding for lack of fan support. In a few days, we will watch over 90,000 fans shoehorn themselves into FedEx Field for the privilege of watching the Redskins and Cowboys do battle on a chilly winter night. I will watch that same game from my toasty warm living room. But, despite my best efforts, it will be quite some time before either team dries up financially. In fact, I suspect that ticket prices would drop, along with player salaries, before we ever reached such a point, thus taking us back to my prior point.
In any event, whether sports teams continue, at either the professional or college levels, is not my problem. I will survive just fine with or without them, and so will you. Contributing to the absurd overpayment of athletes and team owners is just not important to me. What is a priority is living beneath my means and in a financially independent state. Spending one hundred dollars or more to watch a game that is available for free on my television is no way to get there.