The Portland Timbers and me: A personal case study in opportunity costs and conscious spending

The Portland Timbers and me: A personal case study in opportunity costs and conscious spending

Saturday night, Kim and I joined 25,216 other soccer fans to watch the Portland Timbers defeat the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1 during a crazy rare August rainstorm. (Portland gets a lot of rain…but not in early August.) The match was a lot of fun, with three terrific goals. Here. I'll share highlights with you…

I've owned Timbers season tickets since 2010, the year before they made the leap to the top league in the U.S. — but I've been a fan since 1975, when I was six years old. My earliest sports memories are listening to Timbers games on a transistor radio, cheering for the likes of Clive Charles, John Bain, and (especially) goalkeeper Mick Poole. I wanted to be Mick Poole.

Each year in August, I get my Timbers renewal letter. If I want season tickets again, it's time to purchase them.

For the first few years, this was an easy decision. Tickets were cheap. In 2011, they cost me $41.91 per seat per game. Even in 2016, the cost seemed reasonable at $54.00 per ticket per game. Over the past few years, though, ticket prices have skyrocketed. If I want to renew for 2020, I have to be willing to pay $79.12 per ticket per game.

As much as I love the Portland Timbers, they might have found my limit. This price point tests my patience and my pocketbook. I'm not alone.

The High Price of Fun

I own two seats near the top of section 118, which straddles the midfield line in the old part of our stadium. (As a frame of reference, if you watch the highlight video at the start of this article, that view is basically from our seats. We sit six feet in front of the television camera.)

I was very deliberate when I chose these seats. I don't need to sit in the new section; I'd rather look at it. Our seats are never in the sun, and they're sheltered from the prevailing weather pattern, which is important when you get as much rain as we do here in Portland. (Saturday, for instance, we were completely dry. The folks across the way in the expensive seats got drenched. Many retreated to watch from other parts of the stadium.)

If I renew for 2020, each season ticket will cost me $1325. That's a total of $2650 — plus a bullshit $40 service charge.

2020 Timbers ticket prices

Now, $2690 isn't the end of the world. Sure, it'd be expensive if I were still deep in debt and struggling to get by. But I'm not. Today, I'm financially independent. I can afford some indulgences.

But here's the thing. Games cost more than just the ticket price. It costs money to get downtown. If costs money to park. It costs money to eat and drink, whether we do it at the stadium or at a nearby restaurant. It costs money for Timbers gear. Sure, many of these expenses are completely optional. But for us — and for most sports fans I know — the ticket price is just part of the expense of going to games.

I'm sure we spend an additional $50 per match. And it might be closer to $100!

Let's consider Saturday as typical. We paid $8 for parking in a “secret” garage an eight-minute walk from the stadium. At the game, Kim and I each had two $10.50 beers (for a total of $42) and a $6 slice of pizza (for a total of $12). So, we spent $62 (plus gas) in addition to two $69 tickets. Our grand total for the evening? Exactly $200.

And that's for one of seventeen home games!

I calculate that our annual expenses for the Portland Timbers are at least $3500 — and they're probably closer to $4000.

I'm sure you'll agree that $4000 is a lot of money. That's a nice trip to Europe, for instance, like the one I made in May with my cousin Duane. That's a substantial portion of a new Mini Cooper. It'd fund an entire year of HelloFresh for two people, four nights a week.

I love the Portland Timbers. But do I love them this much?

Crunching the Numbers

Each year when it's time to renew my Timbers tickets, I go to Kim. “I'm not sure that I should do this,” I say. “I mean, I want to, but I don't like how much it costs.”

Usually, she says the same thing: “Are you kidding me? You love the Timbers! Yes, you should do it. You'd regret if you gave up your seats.”

This year, though, she said something different: “Yeah, the games are expensive. Plus, they're getting to be a hassle. And I don't like all of the weeknight games. Those are tough. Maybe you could find somebody to split the tickets with? Only, this time make sure they pay you in advance.”

Note: When we were on our RV trip in 2015, we split ticket costs with a friend. I didn't ask for money in advance, though, and the friend never paid. Lesson learned.

Yesterday, I crunched some numbers. That's what money nerds do, right? I dug through my email to find pricing information from past seasons. I was able to recreate pasts costs for every year but one.

Timbers price increases

Although I've included what I paid in 2010, it's not directly applicable. Those were general admission seats in the “Timbers Army”, the rabble-rousing group at the north end of the stadium. Plus, the team wasn't yet a part of Major League Soccer; we were in a lower league.

I bought my current seats in 2011. As you can see, ticket prices have rapidly outstripped inflation. My tickets for 2020 would cost 91% more than they did for the Timbers' first season nine years ago. They'd cost 47% more than they did four years ago. And for the 2020 season, there'll be a 15% price increase over this year.

That's insane!

Looking at inflation data, general prices have increased 16% since 2011 — not 91%. They've increased 8% since 2016 — not 47%.

How can the team justify charging so much for tickets? Especially when the quality of the game experience has declined (rather than improved) during the past few years? Basic economics. Right now, the supply of Portland Timbers tickets falls far below demand. The front office can boost ticket prices until they've found a point of equilibrium. They haven't reached that point yet.

But they may have found my limit.

Conscious Spending in Action

Before the game started Saturday, we chatted with the folks who sit behind us, Gabby and David. They have seasons tickets for both the Portland Timbers and the Portland Thorns (our professional women's team, which is one of the most popular women's pro teams in the world).

Gabby and David have already renewed their tickets for next year — but it may be the last time they do so.

“It's so expensive,” Gabby said. “We save money by trying not buy food and drink at the stadium. We like to go to happy hour somewhere close by first.” I motioned to the two beers David held in his hands. They laughed.

“But we don't want to give our seats up,” David said. “It used to be that you could own your seats and just sell the tickets to other people for the year. Now, though, with electronic ticketing, I think they're trying to catch people who do that.”

Neither we nor they could decide. Do we renew? Do we not renew?

On the drive home, Kim and I tried to brainstorm our options. There are many. We could:

  • Simply renew the tickets for 2020 and defer the decision about canceling one more year.
  • Renew the tickets, then decide what to do with them in the spring.
  • Renew the tickets and split the cost with somebody else.
  • Renew, but move our tickets to another part of the stadium. This is a tough one for both of us. We like our seats. Like I said earlier, they're basically the “TV” seats. That's our view.
  • Renew our tickets, but make the deliberate decision to not purchase anything at the stadium. (Right. There's like a zero percent chance we could pull this off.)
  • Cancel the tickets and enjoy the $4000 “windfall” over the next year (and years to come).
  • Cancel the tickets and divert the $4000 we would have spent to other goals — like purchasing a new car.
  • Cancel tickets and buy season tickets to the Portland Thorns (which cost much less).

I'm sure there are other options, as well.

What I find interesting is that this is a personal case study in opportunity costs and conscious spending.

I am doing my best to make a deliberate decision about these tickets. I want for this to be a conscious choice, not a knee-jerk reaction, not something I do out of inertia. I don't want to buy the tickets simply because I've bought them in the past. I want to be mindful about my wants and needs.

And I'm trying to consider the opportunity costs of this choice. Every purchase is a trade-off. If I do buy these tickets, what am I giving up? If I give up the tickets, what do I gain? What is it that I really want? I've cut a lot of smaller expenses this year. This seems like a big expense that I could cut.

The cost for my tickets to the Portland Timbers has increased at an average rate of 7.44% per year. U.S. inflation has averaged below 2% during that period. It's as if the Timbers soccer club has invested in me and other season ticket holders, and they're earning a 5.5% real (inflation-adjusted) return on our business.

I love my Timbers and I want to support them, but I don't like making myself a commodity for somebody else's profit.

Will I renew my tickets this year? Maybe. I have a month to decide. But if I do, I suspect this will be the final season I indulge in this luxury.

True story: While researching past ticket prices in my gmail account, I came across some notes that I mailed myself on 25 September 2013. They pretty much cover this exact same subject! This is a question I wrestle with every year. And every year — so far — I come to the same conclusion: This is something I value.

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Eileen
Eileen
1 year ago

Hi JD, I can relate to this post for sure. We’ve got an NHL team in our area and we were some form of plan holders for 10 years and then have dipped in/out for the last 6. After a successful season last year (where we purchased tickets individually as they met our schedule), we re-upped for an 11 game mini plan for next season. I do have a question: “Right now, the supply of Portland Timbers tickets falls far below demand. The front office can boost ticket prices until they’ve found a point of equilibrium.” and your friend’s comment… Read more »

Eileen
Eileen
1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I just looked at Timbers seats on Stub Hub and there’s definitely a healthy inventory out there. Your section for the Real Salt Lake game list for over $100 per seat.

That would be my suggestion. Renew the seats, place the ones you don’t want (weeknights or whatever), and enjoy going a few times. I think going to zero would be a bummer. Don’t know if you want to scalp, but it looks like it’s an option to defray costs. If you sell at face, you surely will sell them quickly.

https://www.stubhub.com/portland-timbers-tickets-portland-timbers-portland-providence-park-8-31-2019/event/104002328/

JP
JP
1 year ago
Reply to  Eileen

The issue is you can’t sell ‘too many’ tickets, else you should expect your season ticket account to be flagged and possibly cancelled. There’s way too much to get into, but yes, they sure make it easy to re-sell your Timbers tickets, but if you do it ‘too much’ (not exactly clear what the threshold is to get a letter in the mail about this) you may have your account cancelled. For a team that has a 10k+ fan waitlist, I understand JDs hesitation to resell more than a few tickets.

Laurie
Laurie
1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Split the season with the couple behind you! They seem to be on the same page. David and Gabby?

Adam
Adam
1 year ago

My wife and I were both in band back in college. When our football team went 2-9 my freshman year, I was there for every dreary home game. And when our basketball team made it to the Sweet 16 the next year, I was there for every amazing home game and most of the conference and NCAA tournament games. We know a thing or two about how fun it can be to support a team. We’re never going to be four-figure high-roller season ticket holders for those two squads. Same with NHL and MLS — the Caps and DC United… Read more »

Brian
Brian
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam

Go Terps!

Adam
Adam
1 year ago
Reply to  Brian

Fear the turtle!

Joe
Joe
1 year ago

Wow, $10.50 for a beer. That’s robbery. I haven’t been to a stadium in a long time so I’m way out of touch.
If you can figure out the resale, then just sell 5-6 tickets. That way you won’t have to pay the full price. I’d like to take my son for a game at some point.

Jeanine Hoffman
Jeanine Hoffman
1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I’m a STH for the Thorns and have been since 2016-our first full year here in the PDX area. Because of the FO’s actions plus cost of food/bev vs quality of food/bev- the only money i’ve spent this season has been taking the max in from hillsboro. Last year we tried food once- it was gross- and I think we bought a couple of sodas. We either eat before or after, sign our hearts out for the Women in Red, snd bring in empty water bottles that we fill there. This year- thanks to shenanigans by the FO I’m debating… Read more »

Mark
Mark
1 year ago

Timely post! I am a die-hard Philadelphia Union fan starting about 5 years ago and have been thinking about buying season tickets for the first time. The Union are finally legitimate contenders this season, so I’m leaning towards just buying tickets ala carte for a couple or three home games this season and then see for next season. But I suspect if they win the cup then prices will skyrocket.

Ari
Ari
1 year ago

Should prior years’ cost be a factor in your decision? Imagine if the tickets were initially $5/game, but you would have been willing to pay $30. Great deal! The following year, if the ticket price rose to $20/game, you might be livid because the price rose by 400%. But the tickets would still be a good deal for you — still $10 less than you’d be willing to pay. Isn’t that the only issue that matters? Another thought: among the options you listed, you didn’t mention canceling the season tickets and buying individual game tickets on the secondary market. For… Read more »

JB
JB
1 year ago

Have you spoken to Gabby and David to see if maybe you could buy some of their tickets, in effect splitting the cost of the tickets with them?

Pat
Pat
1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

JD This is what I did in 2014. Like you, I’ve been a season ticket holder since the USL days. We had four in 217. When we moved to MLS in ‘11, I downsized my package to 2 seats in 209. Through the ‘13 season, I was able to always fill the second seat with one of my kids or a friend. At some point during that season, I had a friend let me know if I ever considered selling half my season tickets, he’d be interested. So that’s what I did in ‘14. My spend has gone up, but… Read more »

cofrog
cofrog
1 year ago
Reply to  JB

I was going to suggest this as well.
OR sometimes teams will give packages for some of the games (I think this is more common in baseball where they play a lot of games over the season). Something to look into.

Around here with our football team, they don’t like season ticket holders selling their entire season ticket package, but they don’t mind if you sell 3 or 4 games to someone else. Another thing to think about- get the whole season and sell the games you aren’t excited about.

Katherine
Katherine
1 year ago

Why is it so much cheaper to attend the Women’s games? Is it because they are paid less?

Dan
Dan
1 year ago
Reply to  Katherine

Consumer demand is lower, and as such, the team can’t command high prices for the tickets.

FoxTesla
FoxTesla
1 year ago

What is the penalty if you do NOT renew, but in a future year WANT to? My concern would be not renewing, finding out the TV-only experience isn’t as good and wanting to buy back in, and then you are now at the back of the line for trying to get the “good” section again that you already have.

Eileen
Eileen
1 year ago
Reply to  FoxTesla

For my NHL ticket plan (when we had it), you are assigned a “priority” based on the year in which you became a plan holder. This gives you priority on selecting seats each year and access to playoff tickets at cheaper than gate pricing (and some other nominal perks). For a team that makes the playoffs AND is selling out, this can be very important. In my case, our team missed the playoffs for MANY years AND they don’t sell out, so the advantages of being a STH was marginal. Last season the team DID make the playoffs. We spent… Read more »

JB
JB
11 months ago
Reply to  FoxTesla

Since 2011 the annual season ticket turnover has been under 2% year over year and with a waitlist of over 10,000 it would be well over a decade before one would be able to get season tickets again. This is why it is such a tough decision to not renew.

Tina in NJ
Tina in NJ
1 year ago

We live near where the Jets and Giants play football, admittedly an expensive area. Last fall, our daughter’s high school band was invited to play before the game (not at halftime) and parents were invited to buy discounted seats for the game. In the end zone in the nosebleed seats. For 4 people including the band member, the seats, food, and parking cost over $400! They didn’t even stay for the entire game and it was so hot (September) my son’s GF got ill. And it was the team my family doesn’t follow. I think they’re doing it again this… Read more »

Ed H
Ed H
1 year ago

A few years ago, I was unemployed at season renewal time. At the time, we had three Timbers seats (one Timbers Army/General Admission plus two of the now-discontinued “Value Terrace” – the top two rows of “View Terrace” were greatly discounted; they’re not any more.) They cost us about $1000 a year for all three. We also had three Thorns seats – front row near midfield of the “Club” section. Also about $1000 a year for all three. (Yes, 3 of the best seats in the place for Thorns were about the same price as three lowest-cost Timbers seats. Literally… Read more »

Dan
Dan
1 year ago

JD, To your point about not buying anything — I live in metro DC and hate Daniel Snyder (Redskins/NFL owner) with a passion. On the off chance that “my” team (NOT the skins) is playing an away game in DC, I buy tickets on StubHub, take the metro, and actually avoid buying any concessions and what not. And in general, I like my beer like everybody else does, but unless I’m on a date, I don’t buy alcohol at a sporting event. Voting with your wallet means that you actually have to vote with your wallet. To your larger concern… Read more »

Douglas Bowles
Douglas Bowles
1 year ago

I’m sure others have already offered, but I’ll take half of them off your hands at face value! 🙂

Angelica
Angelica
1 year ago

The same thing happened to us – while we were REALLY good about setting a strict limit on concessions, ultimately there were just too many games for us to attend, with the weeknight ones being the hardest to get to. Even when we split the season with friends it was tough. Plus we were a family of 5 with only two season tickets because 5 tickets would have been crazy expensive… That being said, once a year we will usually go to one each of some of the major leagues – NFL, NCAA Football, NBA, sometimes NCAA college – and… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
1 year ago

I watch the beautiful game religiously almost every weekend… on TV, of course. I enjoy the stadium experience, yeah, fun stuff, but if you want to appreciate the actual game and tactics over the rah rah noise, the tv camera has the best seats, plus instant replay, analysis, and more. I bet you those highlights look better that what you actually saw that day. Yes? Prices have a rationing function. When I pass, someone else gets a chance. Pass, let someone else go. Now if you feel bad about the price increase just take a look at the sorry fans… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

O man! Total scam. Yeah. Disgraceful. I feel your pain. And this is happening everywhere: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/oct/26/football-fans-stream-sky-bt-sport-live-viewers Me, I’d take my eyes elsewhere. Then again, I have no great team loyalties. Why suffer? I enjoy the spectacle where I can. There is so much sport in this world, you’ll never be at a loss to find a game. The Prem offers the best teams on the planet right now, and here we’re lucky that it’s easily accessible nationwide via NBC/NBC Sports/NBC Sports Gold. You just really need NBC sports, and you get the main features. Besides, in Europe there’s La Liga,… Read more »

Sequentialkady
Sequentialkady
1 year ago

You’re illustrating one of the dilemmas of we “Froogs” (frugal people) face. We save and spend wisely so that we can have the money to pursue our pleasures in a sensible fashion. And part of that being sensible is regular evaluation to ask “Is this worth it?”

Do you feel that you are getting $80 worth of entertainment each time you attend? Only you can decide that for yourself.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
1 year ago
Reply to  Sequentialkady
Nathan
Nathan
1 year ago

I always sit in the Timbers Army, and I’m usually able to find season ticket holders selling them for face value ($31 this season). Your season tickets seem like a much better value for the Sounders matches or home openers where I’ve paid $75 a pop for the same GA tickets.

Kristin
Kristin
1 year ago

I have season tickets for our local AHL team, but I don’t pay for them, my friend whose tickets they were originally does. She pays for them in exchange for my dealing with her mail while she travels – all the time. At any rate, I give many of the tickets away, as I don’t want the commitment of 38 games, mostly on the weekends. There are other things I’d like to do on my weekends! If she did not continue to pay for them, I’m not sure if I would myself. It’s actually not that expensive, since she has… Read more »

Carmine Red
Carmine Red
1 year ago

I truly enjoy the real-life articles on this blog that are introspection paired with actually demonstrating the ideas and principles we all banter about. It definitely makes this more grounded and real, and not “pie-in-the-sky” like stuff tends to get on the internet.

Just wanted to say that these sorts of writeups are really cool and valuable, and definitely helps with the conscious spending!

Diane R
Diane R
1 year ago

I’m in 117 and feeling the same. BTW, I found my renewal email for 2013 and it says “We are pleased to announce that there will be no increase in season ticket prices for the 2013 season”. I’m a numbers nerd too and I know it would bother me to have that blank spot!

teinegurl
teinegurl
1 year ago

Ok since my idea about watching the game from home was nixed I saw don’t renew and buy a ticket every time you go to the game and see how much you actually spend. If you go to every single game in a season then yes season ticketholder might be more cost effective but your going to less than half of the season’s game it might be cheaper to pay for tickets each time you go and that includes beer and snacks. Also it might be something that you make peace with and just pay for it and enjoy it… Read more »

J. Lemon
J. Lemon
1 year ago

This is great. Very likely have to refer back to this article in a couple years time as I’m now a second-year MLS season ticket holder (LAFC, in their second MLS season) and have renewed for a third. The cost next year for two-tickets in a scenic downtown-view corner will be just under $1,600. It will be the first year I’m not splitting the seats with someone. The monthly payments for next year began in July (weird July-June billing in midseason, I’m sure there’s some consumer psychology strategy there) so I’m already seeing that $132 hit to my monthly budget.… Read more »

Douglas Tsoi
Douglas Tsoi
1 year ago

Thought: put the $4000 in a “Timbers account.” Use it to buy whenever you want to go to a game. At the end of the year, you’ll see how much is your “natural rate of spending” for Timbers tickets.

Gerr
Gerr
1 year ago

Hey JD – Starting to feel the pinch with you from Atlanta. We’ve splurged on United and Braves tickets for the last couple of seasons and every year they’ve gone up. But the pull of fandom is strong! So I usually deal with it by saying this is basically our entertainment budget for the year. You’re dead on about the costs of food and drink, it can get pricey. At least Atlanta United have the $3.00 beer cart and reduced prices for other concessions, too: Hot Dog: $1.50 – Pizza slice $3 – it’s basic stuff, but it helps. Big… Read more »

Tom Pacyk
Tom Pacyk
1 year ago

I’m wrestling with the same decision after only owning season tickets for one season. Last year was our first chance to buy any, so we splurged on the Tanner Ridge seats since they were the only option left. It’s been fun, but it’s totally not sustainable with each Timbers game coming out to about $175/seat if you assume the Thorns games are valued around $50/seat. (Valuing T2 at $0 since we donated those to a charity.) Let me know if you decide to give yours up — our family would happily let you transfer to us so we can move… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
1 year ago

We have the same issue, only with the symphony. My partner used to buy a season ticket; when I came into the picture, he bought two season tickets. However, the programs have been morphing into more pop-culture music instead of strictly classical, and he started giving tickets back to the symphony. (You get a tax write-off, and they get to resell the tickets.) Now my partner has retired, and has decided not to take Social Security until he hits age 70. That means he’s living on a pension plus the Alaska Permanent Dividend. He also gets income from a farm… Read more »

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