Baseball: Cheapest Professional Sport in the Land

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- It may go on for three and a half to four hours at a clip and may include far more stoppages in play than most American sports, but a Major League Baseball game remains the best bargain among the top-tier sporting events.

Beyond geographically exclusive NASCAR and still-growing Major League Soccer, the top shelf of U.S. professional sports still consists of MLB, the National Football League and the National Basketball Association. After its latest lockout and the loss of more than 2,300 games to lockouts and strikes in the past 20 years, the National Hockey League by rights should lose its place in the upper echelon, but fans and corporate partners keep paying big-ticket prices to see a sport that continues to come up small.

Baseball, meanwhile, hasn't had a strike since its World Series-canceling work stoppage in 1994 through 1995 and hasn't locked out players since 1990. Even the NBA (which locked out players in 1995, 1996, 1998-99 and 2011) and the NFL (which locked out players in 2011 and referees last year) can't say the same. Fans, meanwhile, have been rewarded with ticket prices that average $27.48 a game and a day at the ballpark that averages $208 for a family of four spending on food, drinks, souvenirs and parking, according to Team Marketing Report.

That's a little more than half the price of an average NBA ticket ($50.99), slightly less than half the cost of a ticket to an NHL game ($61.01) and well below the price you'd spend on any given Sunday in the NFL ($78.38). That said, it's not all peanuts, Cracker Jacks and John Fogerty's Centerfield for baseball fans around the league.

Ticket prices jumped 1.8% this year, though the full-game cost for a family of four remained relatively flat. The mileage tends to vary by city, too, so expect to spend an NBA-caliber $53.38 for a ticket to Fenway Park if you want to see a home game featuring a Boston Red Sox team that hasn't made the playoffs in the past two seasons. It's a similar situation in New York, where the Yankees' unceremonious exit from the American League Championship Series last year hasn't stopped the team from charging an average $51.55 a ticket to watch its aging roster hobble through the 2013 campaign.

By comparison, the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies have locked up a playoff spot this year while charging an average of $29.49 per ticket during their 2012-13 season. That's above the MLB average, but it's still giving fans more for their money than, say, the Miami Marlins. That team squeezed Miami taxpayers for a new stadium, blew up last year's star-studded roster and -- even after a 4% price drop -- still charges fans an average of $29.27 to see one of the most anonymous teams in baseball.

Want to see a contender, you say? Well, that's going to cost you. After winning their second World Series in three years, the San Francisco Giants jacked up their average ticket price roughly 11%, to $30. That's still cheaper than the average cost of seeing any team in the NHL, and only Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers fans can argue that they're presenting similar value at that price -- though neither team has the Giants' hardware.

With the Washington Nationals getting their first taste of the playoffs in 2012, management decided to raise ticket prices more than 15%, to an average $35.24. Meanwhile, Baltimore Orioles fans who just snapped a playoff dry spell of their own last year are getting a far better deal just up Interstate 95 as the O's front office kept ticket prices steady at an average $23.89.

So who's getting hosed this year? Is it Detroit Tigers fans, whose ticket prices just went up 12% to $26.36? Well that team is just coming off a World Series appearance, so that's probably a no. Is it the Texas Rangers, who not only increased ticket prices 10% but let slugger Josh Hamilton leave? Well, that team's been to the World Series twice in the past three years and lost a wild card playoff game to the Orioles last year, so not so much there, either.

Is it the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who not only continue this whole Los Angeles ruse but put a league-high 23.4% price increase into effect for this season? They're charging $27.54 to see Hamilton, Albert Pujols, Zach Greinke and last year's American League Rookie of the Year Mike Trout, so no.

There's a chance it's the Pittsburgh Pirates. The team hasn't made the playoffs since 1992, when their scrappy power hitter Barry Bonds was named the league's MVP. They haven't had a winning season during that span either, and only tormented fans last season by contending for the division title until just after the All-Star break. For everything Pirates fans have endured, they've had their average ticket price hiked 6.8% this year. Granted, that only brings it up to a third-lowest-in-the-league $17.21 and still lets them into one of the most beautiful stadiums in baseball at PNC Park.

It's still a better deal than Mariners fans are getting in Seattle: No playoffs since 2001, no World Series ever and longtime team cornerstone Ichiro Suzuki left last year for a spot on the Yankees. What do they get in return? A 7.8% ticket price hike. Thanks, Mariners.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post,, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.