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A look at postseason ticket prices on the secondary market

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If you have the flexibility to wait until the last minute, this is the best way to score a ticket to the game.

MLB: NLCS-St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals
Nationals manager Dave Martinez celebrates winning the NLCS
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

I spent some time over the weekend looking at the secondary ticket market for playoff tickets. After multiple years of having a pretty good idea what the top end of that price range was (because, you know, I was trying to go to a game or two at Wrigley) I realized I didn’t have a great handle on it in other places. Plus, I was curious what other cities pay relative to Chicago.

Okay, full disclosure, this also may have provided me with a moment to have some fun with Cardinals fans, but more on that later.

If you’ve never been to a playoff game and don’t have early access to a package as a season ticket holder there are a couple of routes to get tickets. There is usually a lottery to get the right to purchase tickets at face value when the window opens. That lottery is as difficult as the demand for tickets, i.e., if lots of people enter you have a lower shot. I have entered postseason lotteries seven times between my time in Boston and Chicago, I have been drawn out of the lottery once: the 2013 American League Championship Series.

Getting picked in the lottery doesn’t guarantee you tickets. It guarantees you a password for the right to log in and buy whichever seats the system tells you are best available at the time. For reference, six years ago in Boston these seats went for about $250 apiece after taxes and fees:

2013 ALCS Game 2 behind Pesky’s Pole

A second route to tickets is through friends. At this point in Chicago I know a decent number of people with season tickets and I’ve been lucky enough to find someone who needed to sell a single here or there in 2017 and for the 2018 Wild Card Game. Those were bleacher tickets in assigned seats and the people who sold them to me were kind enough to sell them at face value. The prices ranged from low $90 for the Wild Card Game to $120 for the 2017 NLCS.

I didn’t have all of those connections in 2016 and I had some other reasons for not trying. Specifically, I was between jobs and it seemed the height of irresponsibility to blow hundreds or thousands of dollars on a baseball ticket without consistent income. However, had I wanted to try I would have hit up a secondary market like StubHub. Now, 2016 was a unique ticket market for a variety of reasons, and I’m not about to argue we should compare all things to that. I’ve heard a lot of second-hand stories, the only first-hand story I have is that a friend of mine bought a single seat to the NLDS in the bleachers the night before she ran the Chicago Marathon. I was sitting next to her when she got the ticket off StubHub, it cost her $275 about two hours before game time.

I personally use the secondary market a lot, there are frequently cheap singles and if you’re able to make a game time decision on attending the prices are lowest about 30 minutes before the game starts. Since I live in the neighborhood and can go to games on a whim, I do that frequently over the course of the season. This postseason I’ve been keeping an eye on ticket prices in other places, just out of curiosity.

The variance between ticket prices for the League Championship Series was eye popping to me. All of these screenshots were taken approximately 30 minutes before the game started.

Tickets were most expensive in New York (no shocker there) for game three between the Yankees and the Astros. You could get in the door in the upper deck for $99 before fees:

Stubhub prices HOU v. NYY in NY
Sara Sanchez

Tickets in Houston were much cheaper as game time approached, they basically went for half as much, approximately $45 plus fees got you in the door, in a seat:

Stub Hub prices NYY v. HOU in Houston
Sara Sanchez

The Washington Nationals were playing in their first NLCS, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t expect anything like 2016 Wrigley Field prices, but I was pretty sure that fanbase would be more fired up than Houston. I was right, $75 plus fees to get in the door, and a packed house at game time:

And then, there is St. Louis. Look, I have no idea what the reason was, I heard pretty much everything from the Best Fans in Baseball™: They spent their money on Blues tickets, they were waiting for the World Series, when you have 11 rings (did you know they have 11 rings?) you get complacent, the game times were suboptimal, it was cold, plus some that were so awful I wouldn’t repeat them even in a game thread. But here’s what I know: It was 60 degrees and sunny in St. Louis in the afternoon on October 12 and you could go to Game 2 of the NLCS for $9.99 plus fees:

All goodnatured ribbing of St. Louis aside, the most interesting part of this look at tickets is that it’s unlikely any of the sellers on those secondary market are recouping the cost of their ticket except maybe the ticket holders in New York. As I was talking to Al about this piece he noted there were below face value seats at Wrigley in 2018 for the Wild Card Game. Don’t get me wrong, all of these crowds are technically sellouts, but the resale value on those tickets is below face in almost every market in the country. So if you’re looking to go to a playoff game and have some flexibility in your schedule or where you want to sit, consider picking up your seats at the last minute on the secondary market. You might score a crazy good deal.