I want to sit here and tell you how great a value minor-league baseball is and how it’s always a better deal than the money-grubbing majors.
I also don’t want to outright lie to you.
Minor-league baseball is unquestionably cheaper than the majors, with the cost of sending a family of four to a game coming in below $70. When Team Marketing Report last compiled its Major League Baseball Fan Cost Index in 2016, the average cost of taking a family of four to a game was $219.53.
But that value varies wildly by location. My neighboring town is home to the Hillsboro Hops of the Northwest League. They’re a Class A affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks and play an abbreviated 76-game season from mid-June through Labor Day weekend.
Their home stadium, Ron Tonkin Field, is named after a late, beloved local car dealer. The team does the usual minor-league promotions, including dressing like the 1980s Portland Mavericks and hosting a kids’ home-run derby. Local brewer Bridgeport provides the beer, and the mascot is a giant pre-brewing hop.
At a glance, they’re a great deal. Tickets are $7 for the Frontier Family Berm (a general-admission section on a mound of grassy dirt where free-range kids can roam), $12 for bleacher seats, $16 for box seats, and $18 for premium seats. The nearest Major League Baseball team, the Seattle Mariners roughly five hours away, sells its lowest-priced seats for $16 (or $15 for “value games,” but they’re available at ticket resellers for as little as $8).
The Mariners haven’t made the playoffs since 2001 and have finished a season with more wins than losses just six times since. The Hops, meanwhile, have made the playoffs in three of their four seasons in Hillsboro and have won the Northwest League title twice.
However, compared to other minor-league teams, the Hops look a little pricey. The Pawtucket Red Sox, the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, charge $6 for kids’ general-admission tickets, $9 for similar adult tickets, $13 for reserved seats, and $14 for field boxes. The PawSox are just a level away from the Major Leagues, regularly feature Red Sox players on rehab assignments, and are 45 minutes to an hour from Boston depending on the traffic. Meanwhile, the Red Sox short-season single-A affiliate Lowell Spinners just 30 miles outside the city (45 minutes from Boston by commuter rail) sell tickets for just $7 to $10.
For Red Sox fans and New England baseball fans alike, that represents a huge bargain. Compared to what the Hops are offering for that price, however, it’s a steal.
In every market, however, the value of a minor-league baseball outing varies as you shop around. The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes of Keizer, Ore. — a San Francisco Giants affiliate and the Hops’ rivals in the Northwest League — price their tickets at between $9 and $20. The Portland Pickles, a collegiate-level team in the independent Great West League, sets prices at $7 to $13. By comparison, tickets to an Oregon/Oregon State baseball matchup go for $6 to $13.
In fairness, these Oregon teams don’t have a whole lot of competition to deal with. Portland is a soccer town during the summer, with Major League Soccer’s Timbers regularly selling out (and starting at $30 at resale) and the National Women’s Soccer League’s Thorns averaging more than 17,000 per match at $10 to $70 per ticket. Beyond that, it’s a long drive for fans to just about any other location.
However, in Indianapolis — where the Pittsburgh Pirates’ AAA affiliate Indians are the only game in town — adult tickets go for $11 to $17 (kids get in for $10 to $16). In Charlotte, N.C., the Chicago White Sox’s AAA Knights play both ends of the spectrum: Regular tickets run from $8 to $19, while club seats go from $23 to $55. In 2017, the Knights led all minor-league teams in attendance, according to Flushing, N.Y.-based minor-league industry guide NumberTamer.
In markets where there’s a Major League Baseball team right next door, there’s a far better chance of getting a deal. The 10 minor-league teams surrounding the New York Yankees and Mets saw attendance fall 3.3% in 2017, despite the New Jersey Jackals of the Can Am League ($12 to $17), the Brooklyn Cyclones of the New York-Penn League ($10 to $15), and the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League ($12 to $15) all representing a far better deal than the Yankees (averaging $51.55 a ticket in 2016) or Mets ($26.02).
Even with the New York Yankees’ Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre Rail Riders ($10 to $14 — yes, AAA Yankees tickets are less than Single-A Diamondbacks seats) within striking distance and Phillies tickets sitting at an average of $41.50 in 2016, Philadelphia-area minor league teams have seen a 7.3% decline in attendance each year since 2016.
I’m admittedly down on minor-league teams. They pay for ballparks with local tax money (Hillsboro paid more than $1 million for Ron Tonkin Field), they move and fold regularly, and their novelty doesn’t always linger. For every Long Island Ducks, Somerset Patriots, St. Paul Saints, or Sugar Land Skeeters team that regularly exceeds attendance expectations, there’s a team like the Hops, which saw attendance peak at 3,774 per game in 2015 before dropping to 3,379 per game last year.
But the fact is, for the majority of minor-league teams, the price and their position (either in suburbs or in cities without major-league teams) is right where fans need it to be. A night out at a minor-league game that doesn’t require a babysitter can be a huge value for a family.
If families and fans want the best value for their dollar however, they need to treat minor-league baseball like any other commodity and shop around for the best deal.