Nothing says summer like a day at the ballpark, and with football season officially over and spring training just around the corner, the sports world will soon be turning its attention back to our national pastime.
No two trips to a baseball stadium are created equally, especially from a financial standpoint, and a day at the ballpark is by no means a cheap outing these days.
What follows is my attempt to nail down the three best consumer values among all 30 MLB teams, as there are still bargains out there when it comes to taking in an MLB game in person.
Let's start by taking a look at ticket prices around the league, as that is the biggest single expense among everything that goes into attending a game. The average ticket price last season for a non-premium seat was $27.48, which represented a 1.8 percent increase over 2012, per FanCostExperience.com.
|Average MLB Ticket Prices in 2013|
|Team||Average Ticket Price|
|1. Boston Red Sox||$53.38|
|2. New York Yankees||$51.55|
|3. Chicago Cubs||$44.55|
|4. Philadelphia Phillies||$37.42|
|5. Washington Nationals||$35.24|
|6. St. Louis Cardinals||$33.11|
|7. Minnesota Twins||$32.59|
|8. Houston Astros||$30.09|
|8. San Francisco Giants||$30.09|
|10. Miami Marlins||$29.27|
|11. Seattle Mariners||$28.45|
|12. Los Angeles Angels||$27.54|
|13. Detroit Tigers||$26.36|
|14. Chicago White Sox||$26.05|
|15. Toronto Blue Jays||$25.38|
|16. New York Mets||$25.30|
|17. Milwaukee Brewers||$24.95|
|18. Baltimore Orioles||$23.89|
|19. Colorado Rockies||$23.65|
|20. Texas Rangers||$22.54|
|21. Los Angeles Dodgers||$22.37|
|22. Oakland Athletics||$22.12|
|23. Cincinnati Reds||$21.35|
|24. Tampa Bay Rays||$20.39|
|25. Kansas City Royals||$19.83|
|26. Cleveland Indians||$19.59|
|27. Atlanta Braves||$17.32|
|28. Pittsburgh Pirates||$17.21|
|29. Arizona Diamondbacks||$16.89|
|30. San Diego Padres||$15.99|
The top three teams are clearly outliers, as the rest of the MLB is within roughly $10 of the league-average price in either direction.
The Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs are three of the most iconic teams in baseball, but given their inflated ticket prices, it's hard to call any of them a bargain. For that, they'll be removed from the conversation moving forward.
The other significant factor in determining whether a team can be considered a bargain is its on-field product. There has to be at least a decent chance that all of your root, root, rooting for the home team won't be in vain.
To properly gauge the on-field product, we'll take a look at how teams have performed over the past three seasons combined. To move on and continue being considered for the title of best consumer value, a team must have a record of .500 or better over the past three seasons or have made at least one trip to the postseason.
|MLB Cumulative Records (2011-2013) and Postseason Trips|
|Team||2011-2013 Record||Playoff Trips|
|Chicago White Sox||227-259||0|
|Kansas City Royals||229-257||0|
|Los Angeles Angels||253-233||0|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||260-226||1|
|New York Mets||225-261||0|
|San Diego Padres||223-263||0|
|San Francisco Giants||256-230||1|
|St. Louis Cardinals||275-211||3|
|Tampa Bay Rays||273-214||2|
|Toronto Blue Jays||228-258||0|
With that, 10 more teams are eliminated from the running as the Chicago White Sox, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays all fall short of the aforementioned stipulations.
That leaves us with 17 still eligible for consideration moving forward, but where do we turn our attention to next?
The stadium itself certainly plays a big part in the overall experience of attending a baseball game. Saying that one stadium is better than another is largely subjective, but we can at least get an overall sense of how a stadium is regarded by combining a few different lists from around the Web.
|Arizona Diamondbacks (Chase Field)||28||20||24||24|
|Atlanta Braves (Turner Field)||22||26||23||23.7|
|Baltimore Orioles (Camden Yards)||9||8||5||7.3|
|Cincinnati Reds (Great American Ballpark)||26||18||18||20.7|
|Cleveland Indians (Progressive Field)||21||24||16||20.3|
|Detroit Tigers (Comerica Park)||19||25||14||19.3|
|Los Angeles Angels (Angel Stadium)||24||22||19||21.7|
|Los Angeles Dodgers (Dodger Stadium)||12||13||25||16.7|
|Milwaukee Brewers (Miller Park)||20||27||11||19.3|
|Oakland Athletics (O.co Coliseum)||29||28||29||28.7|
|Philadelphia Phillies (Citizens Bank Park)||18||10||6||11.3|
|Pittsburgh Pirates (PNC Park)||2||2||1||1.7|
|San Francisco Giants (AT&T Park)||3||3||3||3|
|St. Louis Cardinals (Busch Stadium)||13||16||7||12|
|Tampa Bay Rays (Tropicana Field)||30||30||28||29.3|
|Texas Rangers (Ballpark in Arlington)||14||21||13||16|
|Washington Nationals (Nationals Park)||16||23||26||21.7|
Dropping the teams with stadiums that are rated in the bottom third league-wide leaves us with just nine teams remaining.
So you have your ticket, you're set to watch an above-average team take the field and you're sitting in one of the 20 best ballparks in the league. What's a baseball game without a hot dog and your favorite carbonated beverage?
|Los Angeles Dodgers||$5.00||$5.25||$6.25||$16.50|
|San Francisco Giants||$5.00||$4.50||$6.75||$16.25|
|St. Louis Cardinals||$4.25||$5.25||$6.75||$16.25|
There are certainly other costs that go into attending a baseball game. Whether you take public transportation or park at the stadium is a big one, and any souvenir purchases and further concessions can add up quickly as well.
Overall, though, the above charts paint a pretty good picture of the top bargains around the league from a numbers standpoint. Based on ticket prices, team quality and concession prices, here are the three best consumer values in baseball:
3. St. Louis Cardinals (Busch Stadium)
The Cardinals rank sixth in the league with an average ticket cost of $33.11, but all things considered, that remains one of the best bargains in the MLB. St. Louis may have the best fanbase in all of baseball, and they have been as successful as any team in the league over the past decade-plus.
Their stadium is still relatively new, having opened in 2006, and while it is never going to be in the running for best ballpark in the league, it is a nice place to take in a game with a great view of the Gateway Arch.
A perennially successful team with a nice new ballpark and a ticket price less than $10 above the league average makes the Cards the third-best consumer value in the league heading into 2014.
2. San Francisco Giants (AT&T Park)
The Giants' average ticket price is tied for eighth in the league at $30.09, but it's worth every penny to take in a game at AT&T Park. A disappointing 2013 season aside, the team has played very well in recent years. (They did win the 2010 and 2012 World Series, after all.)
Opened in 2000 as Pac Bell Park, there are few stadiums that rival AT&T Park. It's certainly in the argument of best stadium in the league today, as it ranked third in all three of the rankings compiled above. With the huge brick wall protecting McCovey Cove in right field and the oversized Coke bottle and baseball glove in left field, it's a great backdrop for a baseball game.
The team has never ranked lower than 11th in the league in total attendance since the park opened and ranked third last season with an average attendance of 41,584, per ESPN.com. The Giants earn the No. 2 spot here for their two World Series titles over the past four years and for having a beautiful stadium that is typically packed to capacity.
1. Pittsburgh Pirates (PNC Park)
There's little question that the Pirates are the best consumer value in the MLB today. Their average ticket price of $17.21 puts them 28th in the league, which is an absolute steal to experience PNC Park.
Even when the Pirates were piling up losing seasons and were an afterthought as far as the postseason was concerned, just seeing PNC Park justified the price of admission.
From the 21-foot-high scoreboard wall in right field that protects a short porch to the view of the Roberto Clemente Bridge in center field, it's truly a must-see ballpark.
The Pirates also have one of the most exciting young teams in baseball, fresh off their first postseason trip since 1992. Baseball fans would be wise to make their way to PNC Park sooner rather than later, as it may not remain the terrific value it is right now for long.