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The price of a ballgame

The affordability, or lack thereof, of a day at the ballpark in 2019

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Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Earlier this month, Busch Stadium unveiled its updated food prices for 2019 home games.

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. That’s $5.25 for Doritos, $6.50 for a soda, $9.25 for your standard 16 ounce beer, $10 for a pretzel. $20.50 for two burger patties stuck between a bun with some fries. At a baseball game. (Thankfully Busch Stadium guests are allowed to bring some food and drink items of their own!)

Between tickets, parking, concessions, and everything in between, MLB attendance dipped four percent leaguewide in 2018 while six clubs set all-time lows. The annually published Team Marketing Report arrived at a 2019 Fan Cost Index (FCI)–”the price of four average weighted non-premium tickets combined with four sodas, four hot dogs, two beers and two souvenir caps, plus a parking spot”–of a whopping $234.38 across baseball and $254.46 in St. Louis.

To get a better sense of how Cardinals games stack up affordability-wise to MLB’s 29 other ballparks, I compared the 2019 FCI figures with Cost of Living Index (COLI) rates for each city that houses a team.

A dot above the trendline indicates a ballpark experience that is disproportionately expensive given the market in question. The Cubs, Red Sox, and Astros utterly blow the rest of the league out of the water in terms of relative priciness; the Cardinals, meanwhile, emerge at the forefront of the second tier, outpacing the trendline by $39.69.

Of course, there is far more to watching a live baseball game than stadium amenities, namely, the game itself and the hope that the home team will prevail victoriously. It’s no secret that ticket prices often spike following a successful postseason run and, better yet, several years of winning, and indeed there is fairly strong correlation between win-loss record over the past three years and 2019 FCIs.

Interestingly enough, the Cardinals fall squarely in line with the MLB trendline for a team that has averaged just under 86 wins since 2016. While I don’t have empirics to support it, I would venture to guess that St. Louis’ 12 playoff berths, nine NLCS appearances, four pennants, and two world championships since 2000 play no small part in Cardinals fans’ continued willingness to pay up for tickets despite the mounting playoff “drought” that has still entailed competitive baseball deep into September.

Using the equations of the aforementioned trendlines, I calculated an “adjusted FCI” for all 30 teams by taking the MLB average FCI and adding or subtracting from it based on the respective city’s COLI and three-year win percentage.

2019 MLB Teams: Projected vs. Actual FCI

Team Adjusted FCI Actual FCI Difference
Team Adjusted FCI Actual FCI Difference
CHC 295.70 370.12 74.42
HOU 265.14 313.38 48.24
DET 165.45 212.22 46.77
CIN 158.29 204.56 46.27
BOS 310.38 354.54 44.16
KCR 188.99 230.34 41.35
PHI 209.20 250.16 40.96
SFG 240.57 278.20 37.63
CWS 191.56 223.50 31.94
STL 232.43 254.46 22.03
SDP 179.01 195.88 16.87
ATL 209.86 222.74 12.88
TEX 211.48 220.98 9.50
MIN 205.62 210.72 5.10
BAL 191.43 187.80 -3.63
SEA 262.17 258.06 -4.11
WSH 303.94 296.48 -7.46
LAD 291.72 274.98 -16.74
TOR 236.36 216.51 -19.85
COL 234.81 214.64 -20.17
NYM 269.33 247.38 -21.95
MIL 236.25 209.76 -26.49
NYY 321.09 293.96 -27.13
LAA 225.95 197.66 -28.29
OAK 247.10 212.10 -35.00
MIA 212.76 175.68 -37.08
PIT 222.21 182.42 -39.79
TBR 216.03 160.12 -55.91
CLE 277.94 219.64 -58.30
ARI 214.22 142.42 -71.80

Gameday at Wrigley Field looks to be an obscenely exorbitant endeavor in more ways than one whereas Busch Stadium checks in as the 10th most “overpriced” based on this amalgamation of COLI and recent on-field success.

Considering St. Louis’ COLI and the Cardinals’ track record as one of baseball’s premier franchises, an outing at Busch Stadium doesn’t seem so egregiously costly when compared to many of their peers. However, ticket prices around MLB are rising at a rate exceeding median income and cost of living growth in the United States. The Cardinals may not be alone in this, but they are nevertheless pricing many families and younger generations out of firsthand fandom.