Rising ticket costs have made spring training a pricey endeavor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Ray Peterson is a longtime San Francisco Giants fan who recalls having paid around $10 a ticket for spring training games the last time he attended them two decades ago. When a friend invited him to come back to Arizona for spring training this March, Peterson immediately went online to look up ticket prices for games. After he saw the prices, he emailed his friend:

"Did you see how much everything costs?"

Peterson was relating this while standing on the grass berm beyond the outfield at Scottsdale Stadium as the Giants took batting practice before a game against the Athletics last Monday afternoon. He says he paid approximately $50 apiece for tickets on the grass to three games there. Those tickets did not include a seat, either. So after an uncomfortable first game on the grassy slope, he went out and bought a $25 folding chair for the next game.

If you think his tickets were expensive, consider that the few remaining seats available behind home plate for Thursday’s Cubs-Giants game were as high as $101 while standing-room tickets were $40 (the grass berm was sold out). And that wasn't on StubHub or through a scalper. That was the Giants' box-office price an hour or so before game time. Dynamic pricing is used in spring training by some teams, so prices can rise quite a bit for popular games: Bleacher tickets for a March 19 Athletics-Giants weekend game reportedly went as high as $71.

"The bleacher seats are cheaper for the regular-season games," Peterson said. "They're only like $20 at AT&T Park. I think they overdid it here. It's all about the sales, all about the money."

Spring training costs have risen so much in some locations that if ticket prices keep climbing, only the players will be able to afford them. The Cubs' top seats are $42, but they can go higher with dynamic pricing. At last glance on the Angels' website, tickets for their home game against the Cubs in Tempe this coming Monday ranged from $20 for the lawn to $60-$92 behind home plate.

Meanwhile, tickets on StubHub for Monday's Giants-Athletics game ranged from a low of $35 for the berm to $100-$300 for a box seat. Many StubHub tickets for Saturday's Giants-Cubs game in Mesa ranged from about $50 for lawn general admission to around $150 for seats within the bases. And this is for spring training games that don't mean anything.

Plus, there are the "convenience" and service fees, which can be as high as $13 a ticket on a team site.

So if you're bringing your family to Arizona, you might want to consider games on the west side of Phoenix, where tickets are cheaper.

In Goodyear, the farthest west of the spring training parks (just a little farther west than Surprise), ticket prices for Reds games range from $8 on the berm (and only $4 for children) to $29 for box seats behind home plate. In Peoria, the Mariners' prices go from $8 on the berm to $30 box seats. In Maryvale, tickets behind home plate for Brewers games are $27 on the team's website.

"It's all about the following of the teams," said Reds fan Henry Herold, who is enjoying games here with his son, Brad, and grandson, Ryan. "When we went to see the Reds against the Cubs [in Goodyear], you would have thought we were in the Cubs' stadium. They just have the following. Probably the same way with San Francisco. That's what drives the prices. Supply and demand."

Indeed. While the Cubs are averaging around 15,000 fans -- nearly as many as the Rays averaged during the regular season last year -- and the Giants often are drawing up to 12,000, Thursday's Reds-Rangers game drew only 3,598 fans.

Still, ticket prices can rise in the cheaper locations, too. Brad Herold said the family paid $29 for tickets behind home plate to a Reds game during the week but that seats in the same section cost $44 for a weekend game, or roughly 50 percent more.

"The value I've gotten out of this trip is yesterday we went to the practice fields and got to see them really work out and talk and interact with the fans," Brad Herold said. "You see the pitchers go through the drills and the fielders. I felt that was free, and the value of that versus going and seeing the game -- I would rather do that three times than go to one game or go to three games and practice once."

No wonder then that Peterson and other Giants fans said that in the future, they plan to attend spring games at other parks to save money.

"I paid $25 for a really nice seat at Talking Stick," Ryan Crowley said of where the Diamondbacks and Rockies play. "And I paid $50 for the lawn here [in Scottsdale]. So for half that price, I got a seat. I'm OK paying $25 or $30, but I'm not paying anything more than $50."

Crowley was saying this while waiting outside Scottsdale Stadium with Bryan Greenwalt and Shelley Haney during Monday’s Giants-Athletics game. They had tried to buy tickets at the box office, only to find that they were $53 apiece for seats they said were in the bleachers. Instead, they quickly went on Craigslist and found three better tickets for $30 each. They waited for the seller to arrive outside the stadium as the game progressed through the third inning.

"This is like the Beverly Hills of Arizona," Crowley said. "It really is."

Added Greenwalt: "And if you are a Giants fan, you pay up because they're three-time world champions in the last five years, and everyone is a fan and wants to be a part of it, and the location is great."

In other words, it can be like the difference in ticket prices for a Beyonce concert or for someone who hasn't had a hit song in 20 years. Which explains why the Brewers' prices are so low.

Plus, Internet sites such as StubHub and Craigslist make it easier for fans to resell at a profit. One fan said he buys spring training season tickets to the Giants and the Cubs, then resells them – usually for more than twice the price for the Giants. Another fan sold a pair of tickets to the Cubs-Giants game for $300.

Why are people willing to pay so much for games that don't count and often are played by Triple-A and Double-A players you've never heard of after the fifth inning? Because as expensive as it can be, spring training is a wonderfully pleasurable, inviting experience. While so much of the rest of the country is enduring cold, rain, hail, ice and the occasional snow of late winter, you can come down and watch the Boys of Summer while relaxing in spectacular 80-degree spring sun. Like the Herold family, you can wander around the practice fields watching players close up before games, and then you can go sit in the ballpark while watching baseball, chatting with friends and sipping a beer.

(By the way, beer goes for $9-$12 in Scottsdale. And one stand sold "large" bottles of water for $7.)

Fans crave the spring-training experience, even if it can cost far more than it once did.

One group of Giants fans paid an average of $55 per ticket through StubHub for three games -- two of the games were on the berm in Scottsdale, while seats against the Dodgers in Glendale were cheaper -- but it was all good because it was part of what was certainly going to be a great bachelor party weekend. Then there was Jay Downing, who was at the Giants-Athletics game Monday with his wife and son, who was celebrating his 15th birthday. He said he didn't even know how much he paid for the tickets.

"I don't really care," Downing said. "It just doesn't matter. To be here on your son's 15th birthday? Whatever it costs."