Outing for family of four to Wrigley Field? $305

Take me out to the ballgame, and then take out a loan to pay for it.

As the Chicago baseball season begins today, a new report shows both the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox continue to rank among the most expensive teams to watch play.

The cost of taking a family of four to see a Cubs game at Wrigley Field this year is estimated to be $305.60, and it'll cost $258.68 for a White Sox game, according to the 2011 Fan Cost Index, a dollar amount calculated annually by Wilmette-based Team Marketing Research.

The Fan Cost Index calculates the average cost of four tickets, two beers, four small soft drinks, four hot dogs, parking, two game programs and two baseball caps.

Chicago teams have historically been at the top of the index, and always far above the Major League Baseball average, which in 2010 was roughly $200 for a family of four.

The complete 2011 index has not yet been released. But a partial list shows a family trip to a Milwaukee Brewers game this year will cost $160.40 — just over half of what a Wrigley Field outing would cost.

The Sox and Cubs counter that they offer a complete experience, from fireworks after the game to celebrities singing during the seventh-inning stretch. And they tout discount days that save families money.

The price of watching Chicago baseball is high because demand is high, said Team Marketing Research's Executive Editor Jon Greenberg.

Chicago is a big city with popular teams, and Greenberg believes the Cubs, in particular, do an excellent job of marketing Wrigley Field — not necessarily the team — as an attraction.

“People say, ‘I wanna go to Wrigley this summer,' not, ‘I want to go see the Cubs play the Pirates,'” Greenberg said. “They are getting close to pricing people out, though. If (the Cubs) are bad again this year, there might be empty seats.”

Can I really afford this?

Now that gas and food costs are on the rise, the post-recession consumer might be less likely to plunk down $300 for a day at the ballpark with the family, says Marshal Cohen, the chief retail analyst with NPD Group, a consumer market research firm.

Entertainment costs have consistently risen — just consider the price of movie and concert tickets — and have forced consumers to be choosier about how they spend their recreation money. Cohen says people who struggled during the recession (or are still struggling) are now likely to ask, “Do I really want this? Can I really afford this? If I buy this, what am I not going to be able to get because I bought this?”

“The ballpark is no longer about ticket price,” Cohen said. “I call it ‘conflation.' It makes you think you're not paying more money, but you actually are.”

So while ticket prices may not go up, the cost of things like parking and concessions have become more expensive. “With baseball, there is an element of consumers who have clearly told us that they're going to watch the game at home, or watch the game at a restaurant,” Cohen said. “That way there's no parking cost, and they can get more food for the money.”

It's about the experience

The idea is that buying tickets allows you to not just watch the game, but experience other fun. That could be watching the postgame fireworks show, seeing a celebrity throw out the first pitch, or singing #8220;Take Me Out to the Ballgame.#8221;

Former Sox owner Bill Veeck may have started that trend in the 1960s, when he used publicity stunts to raise attendance, such as the #8220;exploding scoreboard#8221; and Disco Demolition Night. The White Sox continue his legacy to this day, spokesman Scott Reifert said.

Again this year, the Sox will host many family-friendly events, like Mother-Son Day, kids jersey giveaways and postgame fireworks shows set to popular music. They also have ticket incentives such as half-price Mondays and $1 kids tickets on select Sundays.

Reifert said Chicago baseball provides entertainment and family memories for everyone.

#8220;The 5-year-old's going to be entertained, the 65-year-old's going to be entertained, the man's going to be entertained, and the woman's going to be entertained,#8221; he said. #8220;There are people that can only come to one game a year, so we want to provide the experience they're hoping for.#8221;

Opportunities exist to save money at Wrigley Field, too, says Cubs Executive Vice President/Chief Marketing Officer Wally Hayward.

#8220;Fans and families don't have to spend hundreds of dollars to see a game at Wrigley Field,#8221; he said.

Hayward said people mistakenly think they have to pay brokers' premium prices for tickets, when plenty of tickets to desirable games are available at or the box office. This year they've added more tickets under $20 and more than doubled the number of #8220;Bud Light Bleacher#8221; dates, which provide discounted bleacher seats. During batting practice, and for up to an hour before the first pitch, all food and nonalcoholic beverages are 25 percent off, Hayward said.

#8220;We did things to try and make it more affordable for fans and families to go out to the ballpark,#8221; he said.

The experience of historic Wrigley Field also adds value to the game ticket: the ivy, the traditional scoreboard, the bleachers, the rooftop, the organ music, and the festive atmosphere in the neighborhood around Wrigley Field.

#8220;It's alive and active before, during and after the game. Wrigley is a destination,#8221; Hayward said, adding that on any given day, 37 percent of the attendees come from outside Illinois. #8220;It's beyond the game and what you'd get in other parks.#8221;

Cost for a day at the ball park

Estimated cost for a family of four for tickets, parking, two beers, four sodas, four hot dogs, game programs and two baseball caps.<b>Boston Red Sox</b> (Fenway) $339.01<b>NY Yankees</b> (Yankee Stadium) $316.32*<b>Cubs</b> (Wrigley Field) $305.60<b>White Sox</b> (U.S. Cellular) $258.68<b>Milwaukee Brewers</b> (Miller) $60.40* 2010 figure<b>Source: Team Marketing Report</b>