I have vivid memories of seeing professional sporting events as a youth. I remember hockey games at the old Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, where a mall now stands near the Washington Redskin’s Stadium. I remember baseball and football games at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, which is now gone. I can recall pro indoor soccer games at the local arena in Baltimore, including seeing a game during a snowstorm where got free tickets to another game for doing so. I spent the entire game watching the snow rapidly fall and cover the streets. It was an unforgettable moment. I had many more experiences with professional sports as a young fan, including meeting pro-sport players, seeing all-star games and opening days, and so much more. Going to see professional sporting events as a youth shaped my love for playing sports and studying the field in college as a sports management major, coaching, and now teaching physical education.
Without a shadow of a doubt, professional sports play a large role in society. Although sports teams and their stadiums yield small economic results for the cities they are in, according to a Stanford article, the emotional impact that sports teams have on a city or state are immeasurable. One only has to look at the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA title in 2015 or the Chicago Cubs World Series title in 2016 to see how sports can uplift the spirit of an entire city. Even more, the impact that watching a pro sports event in person has for a youth is something that cannot be measured in the short term. But, the impact is indelible. I know this from firsthand experience as a teacher. Before I examine the positives that watching sports in person has for a youth, it is important to understand that many are being robbed of the experience because of rising ticket prices that make accessing live pro sports harder and harder.
The Super Bowl is an excellent measure of rising costs for professional sports. What once was a contest between two leagues is now a mega event treasured the world over. According to a story in Bleacher Report, during the 1991 Super Bowl the writer was able to walk up ten minutes before game time and purchase a single game ticket for $10. What a special experience that must have been. Even harder to believe is that 1967 Super Bowl tickets were $12 apiece! Compare that to the average ticket price for the 2015 Super Bowl; SB Nation states that the average price of a ticket selling on a reseller’s site was $4,600. This is the Super Bowl, which is a special event. Regular season tickets, however, are not much less expensive.
From personal experience, I can attest that tickets to an NFL game today are not cheap. I know because I recently purchased two tickets to an NFL game for $170, which is for two seats in the highest possible section. That is $80 per seat and does not include parking, food, and merchandise. I purchased these at cost.
Other major sports are no more affordable. The average cost of an MLB game, according to CBS News, is $77.92 for two people. Two tickets alone were $41.41. The rest of the cost included hot dogs, drinks, and parking. Furthermore, according to Statista, the average cost of an NHL game for the 2014-2015 season was $62.18, and the NBA was $55.18 for the same period. These are just ticket prices, not including food and transportation. Alone, these numbers may not startle some. When put in context with the average American household income, expenses, and debt, the numbers really stick out in an alarming way.
Can We Really Afford It?
The average household income in 2015 was $55,775, according to a United States census survey. The average household expenditures were $55,978, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means that the average household of one is spending more than they make. With average consumer debt and student loans astronomically high, average Americans, and especially lower class Americans, do not have room to spend $170, $77, or $41 on a sporting event once or on a regular basis. The cost barrier preventing youth from experiencing a professional sports game denies the positive impact that having such an experience brings.
The Allure of Pro-Sports
Granted, one can easily go to a minor league baseball game, high school football game, AHL hockey game, college basketball or football game depending on the division or D-League basketball game. These options are more cost-effective, but the teams usually play in smaller cities and are not always available to the average fan. Plus, they do not hold the allure of a professional sports team and what it can provide to youth that will impact far beyond the day of the event.
Most Valuable Kids
Beyond my own experience of sports impacting my career decisions, I have seen the impact on my students through a ticket program I ran via a nonprofit called Most Valuable Kids. This program provides youth with the opportunity to see professional, collegiate, and other sporting and nonsporting events for free through ticket donations. The school pays a small yearly fee for this privilege. Of course, some liability-related paperwork, strict rules to ensure only students are going, and communication is required. The results are worth it. The person in charge of running the program at their school or not-for-profit children’s location can get tickets that would otherwise be out of reach to the youth they serve. Some examples of events I or other chaperones were able to take students to include:
- Skybox tickets to Georgetown versus Syracuse in their last game in the Big East Conference
- Washington Redskins tickets
- NBA games
- NHL games in the star players section, eight rows behind the goal
- MLB games at suite level
These tickets came from corporate and wealthy donors. That further proves the fact that ticket costs are in favor of higher income status individuals and groups. The result from each experience was the same. The students were blown away. They never imagined they would be able to see a sporting event the way they did. I could tell just how unique and special this experience was by the conversations they had, the thank-you notes they had to write, and the constant questioning of what they could see next. From speaking to colleagues who used the same program, the sentiment rang true elsewhere.
The Learning Benefits
Beyond the excitement of seeing a pro game in style, the children were learning valuable lessons. They were seeing what they could experience as a fan through hard work and good grades. They were learning to navigate a new world via public transportation. They learned about money management by just how far $10 or $20 does not go at a pro sporting event. They were learning etiquette in public spaces. They were learning to dream of the possibilities of what they could achieve. They imagined the world full of wonders and possibilities beyond their neighborhood.
The students were also learning other things. They were learning confidence by mimicking what they saw players do in the game. They were learning what it looks like to play as a team and communicate. They were learning what effectiveness and efficiency looks like at the highest level. The Green Bay Gazette and other sports blogs echo these sentiments. Prevention even list these five benefits of watching team sports:
- It inspires you to get active.
- Watching live sports is a workout in itself.
- You’ll live longer.
- It’s good for your relationships.
- Due to brain stimulation, it will make you smarter.
The Bottom Line
These costly ticket prices are detrimental for families who have children who could benefit from going to live sporting events regularly; it is costing them valuable life experience. From learning basic life skills in a real setting to the belief that anything is possible. New paths never before considered may result, as the opportunity to watch sports live is transformative. It was for me, and it certainly is for youth across the United States and beyond. Had I not the experience I did and learned what I had learned, I would not be in a position to impact young lives every day and make a difference. I imagine a better world could exist just by allowing children access to live professional sporting games from time to time.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Clintus McGintus.