It only took eight months, but the NFL football season is drawing nigh and Chad Ochocinco's reality TV show is finally giving way to real, interesting sports news. Now is also time to think about the most cringe-inducing part of football season (aside from Ochocinco): astonishingly overpriced tickets, food and parking.
In a monumental example of upselling, 18 of 32 teams in the league raised single-game ticket prices this year, some as much as 7 percent. Season tickets are also out of the question for many families; considered a luxury on par with Learjets and caviar. Yet an NFL football game is something to experience live at least once, and price-gouging shouldn't keep you from the tailgate or game. There are several ways around these fares, as nearly every pro team offers some sort of discount or fan incentive to maximize your experience, even outside the stadium.
When the season kicks off on Sept. 9, make the effort to ditch your fantasy football roster for at least one Sunday and head to your local gridiron. Here are 17 of the best deals for a handful of teams around the country. The offers range from pre-game activities to discount NFL tickets and more.
1. Green Bay Packers
If one football stadium demands to be marveled at in person, it's the legendary tundra at 53-year-old Lambeau Field. Need proof? Last year, it was ranked the No. 1 stadium experience in pro sports by ESPN The Magazine. Ticket prices reflect this prestige, starting at $67 for upper-level seats, but the lower bowl is a steal at $83.
After pulling on mittens and mukluks for those late-season clashes, head to the free Tundra Tailgate Zone in the east parking lot up to four hours before game time. It features food, TV's, free schwag and live bands -- all inside a graciously heated tent. The tent stays open throughout the game for people who enjoy the Lambeau atmosphere but can't afford to pay for it.
2. Minnesota Vikings
The Packers' rivals may not have a classic football stadium, but prices at the Metrodome should go down in history. The $15 upper level seats are the cheapest in the NFL, but grab them early since cheap football tickets go quicker than Adrian Peterson on a breakaway.
One major downer is tailgating, since the team requires passes and only allows parties in certain lots. Don't let it dampen your Viking pride, as there are tons of pre-pre-game activities across Minnesota. Wear your Vikes gear to any Caribou Coffee location on Fridays before game day and get $1 off all large chocolate drinks for the "Purple Friday" promotion.
3. New Orleans Saints
The title-defending, gumbo-gorging Saints are back in style this year with tickets starting at $25. If the team has another killer season, don't expect prices to stay reasonable at the Louisiana Superdome for much longer. They've already upped the cost of season tickets by as much as $10 per game.
In the meantime, young "Who Dat's" can join the Saints Kids Club. For $15, members get all the gold and black-emblazoned gear they could want, including a drawstring bag, water bottle, stickers, temporary tattoos and more.
4. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons did something unexpected this year, raising prices on nearly 26,000 seats while lowering the cost on another 6,200, putting a $55 starting tag on home games at the Georgia Dome.
The Falcons teamed with local supermarket chain Publix to help fans craft the supreme tailgate party with -- what else -- Kraft products. Check the Atlanta Falcons "Tailgate Team" page for a shopping guide, prize list and schedule of upcoming locations. Shoppers who buy five or more items are eligible for prize drawings.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There had to be a mention of the panhandle, if for no other reason than the Bucs show love to an oft overlooked group -- teenagers. The team offers $25 tickets in any third-level section for fans 16 and under.
While there, scurvy teens can visit Buccaneer Cove in the north end zone, one of the most eye-catching (and intimidating) features at any stadium, anywhere. Imagine partying with pirates, parrots and fellow pillagers, all from the bow of a 103-foot replica galleon with cannons. Jack Sparrow has nothing on these guys.
6. Washington Redskins
Under the helm of Super Bowl-winning Mike Shanahan, the Redskins' squad will be a prime one to watch this year, likely upsetting a couple rivals and making mincemeat of fantasy leagues. The Skins offer reasonable tickets, starting at $29 for the upper level, and haven't raised prices in four years, despite having remained the league's most profitable franchise.
Not necessarily tied to the game day experience, the Redskins partnered with Papa John's this year for the Touchdown Special. Every Monday following a game, fans in the National Capital area can get a large cheese pizza for $9.99, plus one free topping for every Redskins touchdown and double toppings for a win. In the heart-wrenching event of a Washington loss, you can still eat your feelings while saving dough of the green kind with pizza coupons.
7. Dallas Cowboys
The $1 billion house Jerry Jones built, aka Cowboys Stadium, has the most expensive non-premium seats in the NFL, charging $239 for spots between the 20's. Kind of fitting for America's Team, if you think about it.
For everyone who makes less than Jones in a year, standing room-only "Party Pass" tickets are available for $29 a piece, almost $45 cheaper than general-admission seats. Not a bad deal, considering most rowdy football fans spend three-and-a-half quarters standing anyway.
8. San Francisco 49ers
A sleeper team for the past decade, 2010 could treat the Bay Area boys well. Another bargain football stadium, tickets at Candlestick Park start at $29 for nosebleeds.
Niners' fans have a load of options for tailgating. Faithful City, near Gate 4, is packed with inflatables, food, interactive games, and the 49ers Gold Rush Cheerleaders. It's free for anyone and a pain-free way to entertain kids. For the of-age crowd, the Bud Light Goldmine inside F Plaza has a half-bar/half-tailgate vibe, complete with TV's, a live DJ and -- this is unexpected -- beer. Both destinations open three hours before game time, but the Goldmine requires a ticket.
9. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals, known for uneven performances the past several years have kept ticket prices reasonable. The club even added an extra 2,600 seats at $25 for the 2010 season.
The "Great Lawn" at University of Phoenix Stadium is a marvel among pro football stadiums -- namely, it's not a vast expanse of dirty, gnarly asphalt. There's grass. And drinking fountains. And plenty of room. Located between 95th Avenue and Loop 101, it's host to food, drink and entertainment three hours before Cardinals home games throughout the NFL season.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers
Despite not making the playoffs last year, the good people at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh decided the Steelers deserved a 7-percent increase in ticket prices across the board. The cheapest tickets are $65.
The American Eagle College Blitz is a decent promo contest for college students in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Text "blitz" to 76274 at any time and enter the drawing for a pair of tickets to one of four home games. Winners will receive an exciting, heart-warming reply two days before the game. There are 250 pairs of tickets up for grabs, but you can only enter once. Bummer.
11. Baltimore Ravens
The dirty birds who roost M&T Bank Stadium are good to their fans, with recurring pre-game shenanigans and numerous special events. The tailgating at the AAA Ravens Walk, located between parking lots B and C, opens three hours before every home game and is perfect for a day with buds or the kids. The first hour features 2-for-1 beer specials at any tent. Stop by the AAA booth, flash your member card, and get a free Ravens Fathead for the little ones.
The Ravens do a lot for women, especially with a slew of female-inspired "Purple" events throughout the season. Membership to the club is free through the Ravens' website and grants access to special events, including "A Purple Evening" on Monday, Oct. 11. This ladies-only night is $30 and includes cocktails, free gifts, field drills and the chance to meet dreamy Joe Flacco (plus others.) Who says gals don't belong on the gridiron?
12. Tennessee Titans
Let's say roasting in a hot parking lot for three hours before a game doesn't sound like your thermos of lukewarm beer. Either that, or you've been allergic to the intoxicating aroma of brats, sauerkraut and exhaust fumes since college.
Either way, the Titans and Music City Star offer a shuttle service to Nashville from any number of outlying stations. Parking is free, pre-paid passes are $15, and you won't end up stranded in the lot at LP Field. Check the Music City Star gameday site for a full list of locations, eligible games and departure times.
13. Indianapolis Colts
Manning and Co. had another stellar season in 2009 but, judging by their 0 and 3 pre-season performance, the Colts could be in for a rough few weeks. Maybe it's because all the fans at Lucas Oil Stadium are hanging at the brand-new Fan Zone pre-game area, rather than watching their team.
One of the more family-friendly tailgate locations in the NFL, the Fan Zone near the southeast corner of the stadium features games, live music and the "Colts in Motion" traveling museum. Admission is free for all (though food and drink will cost you) and is in full swing for the first six home games, rain or shine. Want the kids to have a pro field experience but can't afford the $38 tickets? Like many team-sponsored tailgate events, the Fan Zone is open to the general, non-ticketed public.
14. New England Patriots
Despite the hefty $65 asking price for Pats tickets, Gillette Stadium hasn't raised prices since 2008. With Tom Brady back after a shaky post-injury season last year, expect some good things from the boys in red, white and blue. Also keep your eye on the Verizon Patriots Concert series. A list of acts hasn't yet been published, but with past performances from Green Day and Santana, look for some stellar halftime entertainment.
Other promos in Foxborough leave something to be desired (it comes with the territory for recent three-time Super Bowl champs), but the free online Patriots Fanzone club gives exclusive access to contests, fan chat rooms and press conference videos.
15. Buffalo Bills
One of the few tailgating affairs not subject to freezing sleet or scalding sun, the Gameday Experience is an extravaganza of football held in the Bills' Fieldhouse, located just next to Ralph Wilson Stadium. Open three and a half hours before home games, it features interactive games, the local radio pre-game broadcast, concessions and pee wee football. There's no booze allowed inside the fieldhouse, but drop by Lot 2 on Abbott Road for all your adult beverage needs.
The Bills offer great late-season deals for military personnel and their families. Discount NFL tickets are available for home games on Nov. 14, Dec. 12 and Dec. 26. You can save up to $13 per ticket, but the offer isn't available through the box office. Visit the Bills' homepage, roll over "Tickets" in the top menu, and click on "Military Discount" in the drop box for contact info and the promo code.
16. Denver Broncos
It could be a calculated marketing ploy, but despite a reputation for substance-fueled debauchery, many NFL teams are catering to families this year. The Denver Broncos are no different, introducing a new alcohol-free zone spread across four sections and 750 seats. Tickets are no less expensive, starting at $45 a pop, but you'll be willing to stay the entire game rather than leaving at halftime.
Also serving rug-rats under 12 is the Broncos Bunch Kids Club. For a one-time fee of $20, your little one will receive a Broncos backpack, a free milkshake at Red Robin, free admission to the Downtown Aquarium, free ice cream at Cold Stone, and a host of other goodies.
17. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders sit on the lower side of the single-game ticket bracket, charging $26 for the cheapest seats. Oakland Coliseum also had the lowest average attendance in the NFL last year at just over 44,000. Coincidence? Maybe. But it doesn't mean the ticket deals are any less enticing.
In particular, the Raiders offer a gang of package deals. Try the ACE Train pack for the regular season home opener on Sept. 19 and get one game ticket plus a round-trip train pass for $50, a savings of $17. For an additional $15, snag the tailgate package for a breakfast buffet starting at 8 a.m.
Other ticket promos include half-season and three-game packages for home games. Travel packages are also available for select away games and include travel, lodging and discounted tickets. Visit the Raiders ticketing page for prices and available dates.