College Football on a budget: Tips and tricks

There’s a million different ways to tackle college football travel: Some attempt to complete the journey to 130 as fast as possible. Some do it as thoroughly as possible. Some view it from an experience perspective, others look at it from a game perspective. There’s members of the media, die-hard fans, and road junkies all around the US that are attempting to get to 130.

I personally design my experience around value. The equation is simple: Maximize my experience, minimize my costs.

This post is in response to an FAQ I get. The first questions I’m asked usually are, How many stadiums have you gone to? and Which stadium is your favorite? Once the scope of this travel undertaking sets in, I’m almost always asked, How do you afford to do this?

Full disclaimer before we dive into the tips: College football travel isn’t free. I incur bills from my travel and some expenses are completely unavoidable. The goal of this most is about mitigating those expenses into something more manageable.

Also: You need to have an honest conversation with yourself when assessing how (not if) you want to tackle college football travel. Understand your means and lay out your budget before setting out on the road.

Modes of travel

Road to CFB is titled Road to CFB for a reason– that being, I drive to all my stadiums. There’s a few reasons for this, number one being that flights and car rentals can be extremely expensive (especially being under 25). For example, if I wanted to see a game at Ole Miss, I’d have to buy a plane ticket from DFW Airport to Memphis, which clock in at about $240 if you fly economy. Add on another $100 for a three-day car rental (that’s being extremely conservative), and it cost you nearly $375 after taxes and fees just to get to Oxford.

Conversely, driving to Oxford from Fort Worth is 575 miles. At an average mpg of, say, 27 on the highway (your car probably does better), you’d have to fill up a standard 13-gallon fuel tank 3.5 times round trip. That’ll cost you under $100 total.

Granted, you do have to consider that it adds time to the trip, it puts miles on your vehicle, and there is the possibility of a flat/other car troubles.

Minimizing ticket costs

The big expense everyone thinks about first when trying to go to all 130 college football stadiums is the cost of a ticket. Some places like Ohio State will almost guaranteed cost you $50 just to get in the stadium and will easily push $150 just to get in the stadium for big games against Penn State or Michigan. Sometimes, that number is just unavoidable. However, here’s some blanket tips that will help you reduce costs no matter where you’re headed:

Picking your games

If LSU-Alabama is your thing, that’s great. If the magnitude of games is what you love about college football, then disregard this section.

For everyone left, picking your games is, in my opinion, as critical as anything when enjoying your game day experience. While far from being THE matchup of the week, Ole Miss at Kentucky, Tulsa at Houston, and FAU at UNT have turned out to be some of the best games I’ve ever been to. Teams play with a nothing-to-lose attitude and there’s no expectations on how this game will play out. If you paid $7 for a ticket and the game turns into a 55-10 blowout, you’re not very disappointed. If you paid $130 for the same game, you’ll leave with a negative view of that game and school.

Find games that are supposed to be close, with teams from the same talent tier. If you need help with this, check out betting lines of those games and find some that are supposed to be within a touchdown rather than USC at Alabama (which could end in a blowout).

Wait to buy

Buying a ticket a month in advance will almost always have you hanging your head later on. I learned this for my game day at Mississippi State: I paid $88 for an upper-deck ticket against #7 Auburn when I bought it a month in advance. Come game day, those prices were down to $17. Yes, $17. If you’re worried about a sellout, that’s one thing. But be patient.

Buy a cheap seat just to get in

Hear me out on this one– buy the lowest priced seat (or, if you really prefer) the best value seat (ex. upper sideline for $8 more than upper corner). Even in sellouts, there’s bound to be a section or two with some open seats. Head up to your seat for the first quarter, scope out the place, then relocate later in the game.

Buy from these places

They’re not a sponsor by any means and I make zero dollars from this recommendation: check the app GameTime. I buy most of my tickets from there and you can find resale tickets for under $10 for many games. They also have minimal fees, which is huge. I also do rounds on SeatGeek and VividSeats (I find StubHub has some ridiculous fees). BEFORE YOU BUY– check all your sources. Compare prices. Don’t jump on the first one you see.

Check at the ticket office

Seriously, sometimes the direct source offers you the best price. For example, Texas State tickets on third party sites don’t usually dip below $30-40. But through Texas State’s ticket office, you can buy a GA ticket for $15. Best part about this is, no fees.

Other game day expenses

There’s a ton of expenses that can be overlooked come game day itself: food, parking, souvenirs, etc. Always account for these and be generous with your costs.

Food

Food is a part of the college town experience; some of the best restaurants in the country can be found in college towns (honorable mention: The Little Dooey in Starkville, MS). This is the only section which I won’t offer a cost-saving tip. Don’t skip on the food to save a buck. Eat up, eat local.

Parking

Parking can be scary when you consider many lots will charge you upward of $25. College campuses sometimes offer lots that are only monitored Monday through Friday between 8:00am and 5:00pm, but these rules may not apply on game days. First, Google parking options through the school’s athletics site. Often times, there will be free lots with free shuttle services to the stadium. Other times, there’ll just be free lots a walk away.

If this fails, see if the school or stadium is near a neighborhood. Neighborhood parking is often times free, but make sure to read the street signs, otherwise you won’t even be given a ticket– they’ll just tow you. Colleges are huge on parking; if you’re parked where you shouldn’t, they’ll ticket you 100% of the time. Just be sure to do your research and read the signs. However, this is an expense that is usually avoidable, albeit at the expense of convenience.

In-Stadium

I went to school for sport management and the one thing that was always brought up– stadium concessions are the biggest scam, right up there with movie theater concessions. Fortunately, a lot of schools have gone the route of affordable concessions, but they can still be pricey. Hydrate and eat beforehand– paying $6 for a beer that at the gas station costs $1.25 is a huge ripoff and will cost you more money than you realize.

Also, don’t get suckered into in-stadium memorabilia. Buy your team swag at a local Walmart or visit the campus bookstore. Often times, there’s a tangential swag store that is not owned by the school that offers much more reasonable pricing. Stadiums tend to mark up their swag much like drug stores do as “convenience” fees.

Lodging

Hotels near college towns on game weekends are absolute insanity. Demand for these rooms drives prices through the roof in college-centric towns (example, Lubbock might charge you $450 a night to stay at a Red Roof Inn). Look outside a radius of 20 minutes from the college town to get more reasonable prices. You’ll save money and get a head start back home (or to your next location). I recommend up to an hour away– though the drive after a game day is tiring, you’ll save a ton of money.

Next, don’t count out the little guys. Sure– you don’t want to stay at a dirty motel that smells like cat, but you don’t need to fork over $125 a night for a Holiday Inn Express. Wyndham hotels are almost always renovated and clean despite some of the names (a personal favorite of mine is Microtel Inn & Suites; always cheap, always clean). Just be sure to read reviews and check the areas they are in. I’ve once made the mistake of staying somewhere I shouldn’t have before checking in.

Airbnb might also be a great alternative– they tend to be much cheaper and offer travel resources. If you don’t mind staying in someone’s home while they’re there, they might become a good source of local information and might even go with you to the game. Don’t count anything out.

Bottom line

To reiterate, know your means before booking 25 games this coming season in 15 states. Some of these tricks may apply to you, others might not; many of them come down to preference. However, there’s plenty of corners you can cut on costs to take the worry out of how much you’re spending each game day. Instead, you can just enjoy it.

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