How To Have The Best Experience At A Sporting Event

There are reasons that sports facilities become centers of urban entertainment districts. There are reasons college towns build stadiums with capacities seemingly out of proportion to their population, student or otherwise. There are reasons big corporations line up to put naming rights on a facility that might host games no more than a dozen times a year. 

The main reason underlying all those other reasons, though, is this: The shared experience of a live sporting event in a full stadium is something truly special. If you scoff, you have never been part of a throng holding its collective breath while a long pass to a streaking wide receiver all but slows time in its arc; you have never leapt to your feet at precisely the same moment as thousands of strangers, all to shout praise or protest at precisely the same player or official; you’ve never joined the building, anticipatory roar of a crowd watching its favorite speedster try to stretch a double into a triple.

Go. Discover. Abandon yourself to the ritual (learn the chants, wear the colors, high-five a stranger). But if you’ve never been, here are a few tips to consider:

Be Smart About Tickets

Getting tickets can be tricky. Team websites are the place to start, but be cautious of sites that very closely resemble but don’t match the team URL —that’s a red flag for scammers. These days, especially with teams embracing the concept of dynamic pricing (bigger games equal bigger money), a trusted dealer on the secondary market can be as safe and cost-effective as trying to go the team route. 

A lot of fans sell season tickets, or at least selected games in their allotment, through reputable brokers. You may pay a premium for big games, but bargains can also be had for contests scheduled with less appealing foes or amid tough weather conditions.

Paper tickets are increasingly rare. Expect to use a smart phone to access your event.

Plan Your Transportation

There’s something to be said for taking public transit — the 4 train to Yankee Stadium, the Red Line to Wrigley Field — to a game. Being packed in with fellow fans is like a pregame party, especially since your ticket was probably a tenth of the price of parking.

If you’re going to drive, scout out the parking. Sanctioned team lots are a safer bet unless you have a trusted tip about nearby independent operators. Tailgate if you can. Tailgaters beat the worst traffic in and can enjoy a little unwind time with leftovers from the cooler while the lot empties. Plus, the newbie can learn a lot by chatting up or simply people-watching the fans flowing to the gates.

If you’re coming in from out of town, book accommodations early. In major cities, this isn’t as crucial, but lodging near college stadia, especially for big games, fills up fast.

Expect to Spend

Most stadiums have gone cashless, but that doesn’t mean your plastic of choice won’t develop a warm glow. Bag searches usually don’t result in objections to a couple of bottles of water, a pouch of trail mix or a few granola bars. Sparing yourself a couple of $6 Cokes isn’t a bad thing. But what is a trip to Chavez Ravine without a Dodger Dog? Why deny yourself or your young companion the gluttonous joy of devouring a plastic football helmet full of nachos, or a baseball helmet sundae?

Tailgaters may tell you they get off cheaper, but only if they amortize their mini-grills and various dining accoutrements over the length of a season ticket package — and if ballpark food is expensive, souvenirs are outrageous.

There are times when you’ll find a hat or jersey that you absolutely shouldn’t head for home without, such as commemorating junior’s first game, or a gift for that special someone who couldn’t come along. Just remember, if you see a super cool bit of team gear you’ve never seen anyplace else, chances are that’s because it’s a team exclusive, sold only at the ballpark or through the team website. Maybe you’ll find it online for a lower price later, maybe not — but, guaranteed, you won’t walk out of the park wearing it.

Get There Early

Trying to get into a stadium a half-hour before the game is a recipe for getting to your seat 15 minutes after it starts: Traffic will snarl and bottlenecks will form at parking lot entrances and turnstiles. Getting there when the gates open is a great way to roam as much of the stadium as you have access to before the action starts. You’ll notice some cool things during pregame warmups, maybe have a chance to interact with a player or broadcaster, and perhaps scout different seat locations for next time. Plus, pregame ceremonies from first pitches to the National Anthem are part of the overall experience.

Be Smart and Respectful

Occasionally, student cheering sections can have some good, if not quite clean, fun at the expense of an opponent. If you’re not an undergrad at a college game, you might want to clean it up a bit. Hilarity is one thing; obscenity is another. Be respectful of another team’s fans and players — remember, you may love different teams but you both love the game. Be respectful of families with young children seated around you.

Pay attention to your surroundings. Know where the closest exits, restrooms and weather shelters are to your seats.

Lastly, prepare for the event beyond those couple of bottles of water. Dress for the weather. A sweatshirt or light jacket might not be necessary in full sun, but you’ll be glad you have it when the sun dips behind the grandstand. A bag with extra room (or an extra bag stuffed inside) will be good to cart out any merch.

Embrace the Experience

Remember, the communal experience is what elevates going to a game into something special. Embrace your fandom. Planning takes a bit of effort, yes, but it’s effort toward building memories with your friends and family. When you feel you’re being pulled in a million directions, it’s time to go pull for the home team. Join the (cheering) crowd.


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