Monday, October 10, 2011

Best Available Seat

When you to go to a live sporting event, you have a choice. Where do you want to sit?

Or, let's ask this another way. Generally speaking, the more you pay for a ticket, the better the seat. So what section of the stadium or arena gives you the best value for your ticket? Sure, it would be nice to sit 10 rows up at the 50 yard line, but would you really enjoy the game twice as much from those seats as you would sitting in a half-price seat, 50 rows up on the goal line? This is the conversation I always have with myself before buying sports tickets. (Which, to be fair, isn't that often these days.)

This question depends on the sport, of course, so I'm going to go through each sport one-by-one: hockey, football, basketball, baseball, auto racing. (I've never attended a soccer game beyond high school level, so I don't know anything about that.)


I've attended, let's say, 15 to 20 hockey games in my life, and I've sat all over the arena. And my favorite place to sit is where I sat at Friday's Carolina Hurricanes game: top level, center ice.

Why? Because you can see the whole game. I've sat at ice level a couple of times, one time sitting right behind the glass at a minor league game. Sure, it's cool to see the players up close, but for the most part, I hated it. When you go to a hockey game and sit at one end or the other, it always seems like all of the goals are then scored on the opposite side of the ice. The thrill of seeing the puck go in the net is the highlight of a hockey game, and when you're top and center, you see it wherever it happens. You can see everything else, too - hockey is one of the few sports where you get a better perspective of the game in person than you can on television, as long as you sit in the right place. A hockey game in person is a totally different experience than a hockey game in television, much more so than with other sports.

In some sports, the downside of sitting "way up there" is that you're so far away from the action, you don't feel like you're actually rhere. That's definitely an issue in outdoor stadiums; see "Baseball". But not so with hockey; in a 18,000-seat arena, even the upper bowl isn't that far away from the action.

Even though top and center seats are cheaper than, say, lower bowl "end zone" seats, I'd much rather sit top and center, even if the prices were the same. Middle and center would work, too, but those seats are very expensive; top and center is a much better value.


I've attended more football games than I have any other sport. I had Jacksonville Jaguars season tickets growing up (my parents still do), and we've sat both in the "cheapest seats available" (which are now covered up), and end-zone ish, about two-thirds up from the bottom. Which seats are the better value?

Well, the cheapest seats available are the better value. I think the best value seats are, just like with hockey, top and center. End zone seats aren't bad, though. If the prices were the same, I'd probably take end zone seats over "cheapest seats available". Being closer to the action is more beneficial in football than in hockey because there isn't a large sheet of glass and/or a large net between you and the action. End zone seats don't detract as much from "watching the game", except as far as being able to tell whether Team X got the first down or not.

But in terms of BEST value, I'm going to go with the "200 level", corner of the end zone - for example, Section 230. I like those seats better than the 200s directly behind the goalposts because of the afore-mentioned "first down" issue. (My parents currently sit a couple sections over from that, I think in 227, the "family section".)


With basketball, I don't think the perspective is that much better on the sidelines, compared to being behind the basket. It doesn't matter where you sit; the closer you are, the better.

But which seats offer the best value? I don't know...I've never actually had a choice. The only basketball games I've ever gone to were as a college student. At Florida State, the seats were free. At Penn State, the seats were $5/game, and it was general admission. I don't know how the price structure works at basketball games because I've never had to look, but I think I would take the cheapest available lower bowl seats. Atmosphere is important in a college basketball game, and you don't get that as much in the upper bowl.

I've never been to an NBA game, and I don't really like the NBA anyway, so for that, the best value seats are definitely "cheapest available", no matter where they are. (Unless they are "obstructed view" seats.) I don't ever see myself paying for an NBA ticket, though, so whatever.


I've attended several minor league games and major league games, and I have a different answer for minors versus majors.

Major leagues: the best ticket value is in the upper bowl behind home plate. This gives you a great view of all pitches and hits, and tickets are usually pretty cheap. Lower bowl seats, anywhere from 3rd base to home plate to 1st base, obviously give you a better view. But in most major league ballparks, the extra price isn't worth it. I've also sat in the upper bowl near the foul poles at major league games, and those seats were terrible. When you're that far away from the game action, it's almost as if you're not even at the game. Why even go?

Minor leagues: There is no upper bowl at a minor league park, of course, so the question isn't how far away you sit, but where. I think anything from 3rd base to 1st base is fine. Even the seats directly behind home plate are fairly inexpensive at a minor league baseball game, so why not? At a Durham Bulls game, if I remember correctly, tickets are $10 directly behind home plate, and $8 between 1st and 3rd base. (I think.) I've never gotten the $10 tickets, so I don't know if they're worth the extra $2. They must not be, or else I would have gotten them at least once by now, don't you think?


NASCAR is the only sport (if it can be considered one) that I know of where the most expensive seats are farther up. Seats 30 rows up are more expensive than seats in row 1, anywhere around the track. Why? Because if you sit in row 1, you can't see anything. Apparently, the people who go to NASCAR races are actually interested in watching the race. What a concept!

That said, it's hard to generalize where the "best value seats" are with NASCAR. Every track is different and gives you different sight lines, so I can only speak from my personal experience at Charlotte and Martinsville. In general, I think the best value seats are the cheapest upper level seats that give you a view of the last bit of pit road, wherever that may be.

As for other motorsports like IndyCar and Formula One that race on road courses...I don't know, but I don't think I would get my money's worth about only seeing the cars race by every 90 seconds throughout the day. A ticket to a road course race would be a tough sell for me, regardless of the series or the price. I'd almost rather sit in the front row at a hockey game. Almost.


allen_t said...

I went to a Formula One race in Watkins Glen many years ago (1969) and can attest that there are no good seats. The cars zoom by and you have no idea who is ahead (Sebastian Vettel wasn't born yet) or what lap they are on. The most fun was at night when the cars were serviced at various gas stations and car shops around town and all were open to the public.

Maria Eswine said...

We like to go to the Railhawks games - semi pro soccer. I like to sit midfield. In the summer we sprang for the extra $5 to sit on the west side so that the sun would be at our backs. Both for viewing ease and temperature. In the spring and fall the East side is fine. There's no extra for being closer or further away from the pitch. Closer is better in my opinion because there's no one in front of you to get up and get in your way.

James Allen said...

Lizard Kings! It's cold-blooded hockey.
We did see one thing sitting that close: that goal where the guy was super wide open. Called it.