Can you afford the cost of attending professional sporting events?
It's a question begin asked again this year as the National Football League begins a new season.
Pro athletes in football, baseball, basketball and hockey make unbelievable amounts of money. No one begrudges them their reward. They make what the market will bear if they're blessed with the natural skills, perseverance, and drive to be among the elite few who find their way onto a professional team's roster.
But when a player makes $16 million a year, sometimes even $20 million, somebody has to pay for that contract. And fans, ultimately, are the subsidizers.
According to the Fan Cost Experience website, the average cost for a family of four to attend an NFL game is $443.93, a 3.9 percent increase from last year. The new data for 2012 was released on Thursday.
The Dallas Cowboys are on top of the family rankings at $634.78, a 3.4 percent increase from last season, and nearly $200 higher than the league average.
The family number includes: four non-premium tickets, two beers, four soft drinks, four hot dogs, parking, two programs and two adult-size hats. Premium tickets (club seats) are calculated but not included in this average.
The San Francisco 49ers are in the top ten for costly Sunday afternoon experiences. The 49ers rank ninth compared to other NFL teams, with an average cost for taking four fans to the game now set at $456.56, a 3.6 percent increase from 2011.
Each NFL team plays eight home games. If your family of four heads to each of those 49er games, dad - or mom - is going to shell out $3,652.48 for the season.
And as the team builds a new stadium in Santa Clara to open in 2014, prices may go even higher.
Sports Illustrated points out that attendance at games has decreased every year for the past four years. Certainly, big screen TVs, surround sound, NFL Sunday Ticket and the Red Zone Channel make it easy to sit at home.
There is some uneasiness at the top-most levels of the NFL. Curiously, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell refers to technology as the main barrier to fan attendance.
Quoting from the Sports Illustrated article: "'We have made the point repeatedly that the experience at home is outstanding,' he said at the owners' meeting in May. 'And we have to compete with that in some fashion by making sure we create the same kind of environment in our stadiums and use the same kind of technology.'"
It's interesting that Goodell never mentions cost as a barrier to attendance, only technology.
What do you think? Has the NFL priced itself out of middle class fan participation? Would you rather stay at home and watch on your 50-inch Sony? Will a day come when the stadiums sit empty, the players grinding away down on the field exclusively for a virtual audience sitting at home in La-Z-Boy recliners?
Tell us in your comments. Then vote in our poll.