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Families feel priced-out of pro sporting events, turn to minors and college sports

DeShawn Johnson

The ticket prices. The parking fee. The concessions through the roof. It’s not an easy time on sports fans’ finances, especially if they want to attend a pro game as a family.

Ashley Davis, 32, has two sports-loving children - a 14-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter - in Hamtramck, Michigan. Davis is always trying to find family-friendly events for her and her children to participate in, but it can be difficult since she is raising her two children on her own.

Davis said that it can sometimes be “a challenge,” but for the most part, she can easily find community events like art sessions or educational classes. The hard part for Davis is trying to find fun and entertaining sporting events from which her kids, who are both interested in sports, can make memories.

“They have their own sporting events, they both play basketball at their schools, but with my work schedule, it can be hard to make everyone, and even then those events are fun for them, but I want my kids to be able to watch the pros do it, I want them to be able to say, ‘I want to be just like that person,’ when watching a professional game,” Davis said.

Davis never had much interest in sports growing up, but her younger brother Anthony loved basketball. She can still remember the times when her mom and dad would often take her and her brother to the now-demolished Palace of Auburn Hills to see the Pistons play.

“I never was the biggest fan of the games themselves, but I remember the atmosphere always being warm when our entire family would go,” Davis said. “My brother would always get so excited when we went, his favorite player was Andre Drummond and he always would act like he was him whenever we went to the park and he played basketball.”

However, it is not as easy as it once was for a family to decide to enjoy a basketball or football game without it being at least a few hundred dollars.

Sporting event tickets have surged over the past few decades, turning things like NBA games into a pricey experience. A family of four going to a regular season Detroit Pistons game can range from $120-360 for the upper bowl section of Little Caesars Arena.

It gets worse for families that are trying to see the Lions, with tickets for a family of four ranging $300 to $1,236 just for the upper bowl section of Ford Field.

In 2023, the average NFL ticket cost around $120, an 8.6% rise compared to 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This is no accident either, when looking at it from a business perspective, different sporting teams are implementing more things like luxury seating, which creates a limited supply of both regular and premium seats creating a more competitive market for tickets, creating a price surge.

On the other side, these prices make it nearly impossible for a small family led by a single parent to be able to participate in watching their favorite team or player.

However, Davis has recently found a way around the expensive tickets so that her kids can get the same first-hand experience that she and her brother got when they were kids. While she may not be able to take her kids to Pistons games, she can take them 20 minutes down the road to Calihan Hall to watch Detroit Mercy play.

“So I started taking them (her children) to the University of Detroit Mercy games last year, after I heard from a friend of mine at work that her family goes all the time and that the tickets weren’t that expensive,” Davis said. “I had never been to a college basketball game before so I was nervous that Tamari and Taniah wouldn’t like it, but they were so excited the moment we got there I realized that I might have found a way around expensive tickets.”

University of Detroit Mercy website

In some cases, college sports can be cheaper than going to a professional-level sporting event, but that depends on whether you are a student, and if you can get the tickets straight from the university.

For example, Michigan State will have discounted packages that registered students can purchase for sports like football and basketball. A student section package for MSU football costs $190 for seven home games, just under $30 a game.

However, if you are not a student, then in most cases you have to buy your tickets through a third-party service like Ticketmaster, where MSU football tickets can easily reach anywhere from $100-1,000, depending on the game.

This places certain college sporting events in the same luxury goods category that most professional sporting events fall under, but not all college sporting events fall under this category.

Smaller colleges, like Detroit Mercy, compete in NCAA Division I basketball and don’t get the same foot traffic as a larger university like MSU. This allows fans of the smaller programs, who aren’t students, to attend home games.

According to the Detroit Mercy’s website, it costs $20 for floor GA seats and upper bowl reserved seats and $15 for upper bowl general admission. For children and senior citizens, it is $15 for all sections.

“Their tickets are actually affordable for me, I don’t think I ever have spent more than 60 bucks on tickets, while the Pistons want to charge me that same amount for one ticket,” Davis said.

Meyke Phelps, Detroit Mercy’s senior assistant director for athletic communications, is glad families can come to Titan games and get the full experience.

“We are always trying to provide a family-friendly experience at our games, whether it’s family-focused events like superhero night or a game near the holidays. We want kids and their parents to come out here not just for the sports, but to also enjoy their time and experience together,” Phelps said.

Davis hasn’t completely given up on trying to take her kids to a higher level game like the Pistons, as she plans on hopefully attending a game during their 2024-25 season, but until then she has fully accepted becoming a Titans fan and she thinks her kids have too.

“They both have become ‘Mercy Maniacs’ as I like to call them after they started asking me to go to specific games,” Davis said. “I think they realized how cool it is just to be in a higher-level environment and for me, I just like that we get to do it all together.”

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