The 2016 NFL season kicks off on Thursday when the Denver Broncos host the Carolina Panthers in a rematch of the last Super Bowl.
John Leyba—Denver Post via Getty Images
By Brad Tuttle
September 7, 2016

The 2016 NFL season kicks off this Thursday night with a repeat of the Super Bowl, when the Denver Broncos host the Carolina Panthers. A full lineup of games follows on Sunday, including classic conference showdowns like the New York Giants vs. the Dallas Cowboys and marquee matchups like the New England Patriots vs. the Arizona Cardinals.

If you’re hoping to see any of these hyped games in person, we hope you’ve been saving your pennies. Once prices for parking, food and beverages, and of course, tickets are tallied up, the cost of attending an NFL game for two people this season runs an average of well over $200 at home stadiums for teams like the Patriots, Steelers, Ravens, Giants, Jets, Bears, and Packers. Fans can pay much more if they’re splurging on premier seats too.

No matter which team you root for and where you’re sitting inside the stadium, there are ways to keep costs within reach. You may not be able to control how much your home stadium charges for beer, but you can employ some strategies to at least lessen the costs of getting inside. Here’s how to find relative bargains on NFL tickets this season.

Buy at the Last Minute

In some cases, secondary market ticket prices spike for certain games as kickoff nears because a team is doing much better than fans anticipated, or because a matchup that once seemed lackluster transforms into the most hyped game of the week. For instance, when there’s a showdown of two surprisingly undefeated teams in week four or five, you can expect prices to rise. But these games are the exceptions.

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Overall, ticket prices tend to decline as game time gets closer, so waiting things out and buying at the last minute is usually an easy way to save money. According to one analysis from a few season ago, tickets purchased one or two days before a game were 30% cheaper, on average, than those bought two or three weeks ahead of time. “Generally it pays to wait until the last minute to buy a ticket as sellers are more willing to drop their price once the event gets closer,” a StubHub spokesperson explained last year.

Granted, the selection of tickets may not be as good at the last minute, but when you’re shopping for bargains you can’t be too picky.

Pick Games Featuring Non-Popular Teams

When you’re eyeing your home team’s schedule and trying to figure out when to catch a game in person, be mindful of who your team is playing. Fans of storied, high-quality NFL franchises are known for traveling cross-country to see their squads play on the road, and the result is that, say, Dallas Cowboys’ hometown AT&T Stadium could be overrun with Seattle Seahawks or Pittsburgh Steelers fans when they’re the visiting team.

Obviously, demand is higher when locals and out-of-towners alike are clamoring for tickets, and the result is higher prices. The flip side is that prices can plummet when your team is hosting an opponent that has no national fan base. “Opponents to look for when searching for a great deal include the Buccaneers, Browns, Rams and Jaguars,” secondary market resale site SeatGeek suggested.

Go on the Road Yourself

OK, so by the time you factor in the costs of transportation and lodging, heading off for a weekend getaway to see your team play on the road may wind up costing more than paying top dollar for a home game. But if you aren’t traveling too far, or you have another excuse to go to a city where your team is playing—say, visiting family or your old college roommate—heading on the road to watch some NFL action could prove to be a good value.

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Tickets for the New York Jets at StubHub, for instance, were starting at only $20 to $25 for road games this season at Cleveland or Kansas City. That’s less the half the recent going rate for any Jets’ home game at MetLife Stadium this season. What’s more, it’s all but guaranteed that prices for those games at Cleveland and Kansas City to get even cheaper as kickoff gets closer (see “Buy at the Last Minute” above).

Check Out Night Games

Football fans set aside their Sunday afternoons for games. It can be a harder sell, then, when the game takes place at night—particularly on a weeknight, when the weather turns colder at open-air stadiums. One pricing analysis done a few seasons ago shows that tickets for Monday Night Football games are slightly cheaper on the secondary market than regular Sunday games, and that many Monday night games cost 20% or so less than the team’s average prices. Again looking at the New York Jets, prices for the team’s Monday night home game on December 5 against the Indianapolis Colts were starting at $40 at StubHub, which is 25% to 50% cheaper than typical Sunday home games.

Still, the matchups play a big role in how much tickets cost, no matter if it’s an afternoon or evening kickoff. When the Minnesota Vikings host their upper Midwest rivals the Green Bay Packers for a Sunday night game on September 18, the cheapest tickets are going for $206 at Vivid Seats. A couple of weeks later, though, the Vikings play at home on a Monday night against the New York Giants, and seats are listed as low as $79.

Embrace Cold Weather

The NFL regular season drags well into December, and the truth is that many teams literally have fair-weather fans who’d rather not freeze their butts off at the stadium when they could watch from the couch in their comfortably heated living rooms. It’s understandable, then, that demand—and therefore, ticket prices—tends to decrease as the season progresses and weather turns cold in much of the country.

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The confluence of factors cited above plays a role too. In other words, if your team is having a pretty bad season, and they’re playing against a subpar opponent without many fans, and if they’re facing off on a night game in an open-air stadium in December, you can be assured that ticket prices will be dirt cheap, especially at the last minute. Then again, if the game is taking place in all of these circumstances, you might not want to go at any price.

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