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Have you noticed? Marlins games aren't such a great deal anymore

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This afternoon's game wraps up the season opening homestand.  While that might not seem like a great thing, if you're planning on heading out to watch a Marlins game in person, it actually might be good news because it will give you time to save up for your next trip to the ballpark.  

Have you been out to the Pro, err - Dolphins Stadium, yet this year?  Let's just say it's a little more expensive this year than it's been in the past.

Now, it's not news that going to a professional sporting event can be an expensive undertaking. Generally speaking, enough demand exists for sporting events that the prices for tickets, parking, souvenirs, food, etc go up annually at a rate much greater than inflation.

For the most part though, Marlins fans have been exempt from that for the past few seasons.  It's a dirty little secret that some of us didn't want to let out, because attending a Marlins game could be a pretty cheap major league experience.  Sure, some of us have paid $8 or $9 for a ballpark beer, but we've also enjoyed $4 Fish Tank tickets.  So you take the good with the bad.

This season though, the Marlins got wise - at least relatively speaking.  Based on Team Marketing Report's annual "Fan Cost Index", the cost of attending a Marlins game is up 30% from last year. They estimate that a family of four to attending a Marlins game will shell out $147 for their night at the ballpark.  In 2004, they estimated the bill for that same family to get that same Marlins experience at $113 (which was pretty much the same as it was in 2003 - for more details, check out their website, which has eleven years worth of data).

Folks often look at this report and start to nitpick.  One item that typically draws ire is the inclusion of two adult-size caps.  Many feel that this is unrealistic and that people don't buy two hats each time they visit the ballpark.  This is probably true - and certainly so for families (or individuals) that attend multiple games per year.  However, the point of including the hats is to have some relatively stable gauge of what merchandise costs, so that year-over-year comparisons can be made.  I think most folks would agree that it's fair to assume that a typical family at the ballpark takes home a souvenir or two.  And tracking hats each year is probably a fairer gauge than beanie babies or rally monkeys - which might be everywhere one year and nowhere the next.

So what's noteworthy from this year's study?  First off, the parking fee is understated (unless I'm the only person who doesn't know about the secret $8 parking lot entrance - everywhere I go they charge $10).  You probably could add $2 to the cost of attending a game, but that's really not material.

That aside, the results for the Marlins this year are interesting.  The Marlins are ranked as the 19th most expensive experience in major league baseball this year.  That doesn't seem so bad - especially when you consider that there are 30 teams in the majors.  They're a little bit below the middle of the pack and a little bit below average (the average price for a family of four to attend a game in the majors this year is $164 - versus $147 to see a Marlins game).

However, in recent years, the Marlins have been much lower on the scale.  In fact, you have to go back as far as 2000 to find a year when the Marlins were ranked as high as 25th (yes, 2000 was relatively a long time ago now).  Since 2001 (well, until this year) the Marlins were no higher than the 28th most expensive experience in baseball.

What drove the Marlins increase this year?

Ticket prices, for one.  Last year, tickets could be had, on average, for about $12.  This year that mark is up to $15.  Kids' ticket prices are up about the same amount too.  But the Marlins ticket price is still one of the lowest in the league (27th overall).  A number of other things went up as well - including the price of beer, soda, hot dogs, and the souvenir hats.

Attending a Marlins game is still a relative value - at least compared to what it costs to see a game in other markets.  I haven't made the effort to normalize the costs for the cost of living in each area, but it's still probably fair to say Marlins games aren't overly expensive relative to the rest of the league.

But it sure might feel expensive to you if you're used to paying the 2003 and 2004 prices and you suddenly find yourself shelling out 30% more at the ballpark this year.