Just because the economy's hit the skids doesn't mean you have to give up (all of) your favorite things. If you do a little sleuthing and stay flexible on which teams to follow, you can still enjoy all the excitement of live sporting events. (For more tips on now to save money without sacrificing fun, see Save Without Sacrifice.)

NFL, NBA and NHL Teams You Can Afford to Love
We used the Team Marketing Report's Fan Cost Index (FCI), which calculates the cost for a fan to watch a given team compete. The FCI adds up the cost of:

  • Four tickets (two adults and two children)
  • Six small drinks (four soft drinks and two beers)
  • Four hot dogs
  • Two programs
  • Two adult-sized caps
  • Parking

NFL: The Frugal Field of Play
The NFL is one of the most expensive sports to watch if you hope to catch a game in person. However, if you're willing to make some loyalty concessions, there are relative bargains to be had in every region.

  • Northeast: Buffalo Bills a Bargain
    If you're a Patriots fan you've had a lot to cheer about for the past few years. But all of that success comes at a price. A steep price ... increase, that is. The New England Patriots are the most expensive NFL team to watch live (FCI of $596.25) and team owners have upped the cost by more than 22% in just one year. For a bargain, you're going to have to switch allegiances and root for the Buffalo Bills, the least expensive pro football team in the region with an FCI of only $298.96.

  • Southeast: Jaguar Jackpot
    Florida is home to both the most expensive and least expensive NFL teams to watch in this region. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the priciest team in the sunshine state to watch live (FCI of $483.02), while their nearby NFL cousins - the Jacksonville Jaguars - are the least expensive with an FCI of $302.09.

  • Midwest: Da Bears No Match for Cleveland
    If you're a fan of "Da Bears" you better have a lot of money in "da bank". That's because the Chicago Bears are the most expensive NFL ticket in the region (FCI of $484.31). The Cleveland Browns can't take pride in a Super Bowl win (they've never made it to the game), but they can take pride in being the least expensive team to watch in the region with an FCI of $323.66.

  • West: Chargers Charging High Prices
    The ocean, the mountains, perfect temperatures year-round ... San Diego's got it all - including the priciest football tickets. The San Diego Chargers top the list for most expensive NFL team to follow in the West (FCI of $436.06); but hop in a car and head due east and you can find the region's least-expensive team - the Arizona Cardinals (FCI of $356.61).

NBA: Slam-Dunk Deals
After Kobe's convincing NBA Finals win for the Los Angeles Lakers, who isn't looking forward to next season? But you might want to check the ticket prices before whipping out your credit card.

  • Northeast: Skip Madison Avenue
    While the New York Knicks haven't garnered an NBA title in more than 30 years, they have earned the title of most expensive team to watch in the Northeast (FCI of $420.04). If you want to experience NBA action without paying Madison Avenue prices, take 95 South and watch the Washington Wizards work their on-court magic for half the price (FCI of $203.56).

  • Southeast: "The Heat" Is Too Hot to Handle
    Miami is hot … hot for basketball, apparently. The Miami Heat is the Southeast's most expensive team to watch ($352.250) but the more laid back Memphis Grizzlies charge their fans nearly $200 less (FCI of $182.94).

  • Midwest: Chi-Town Cha-Ching!
    Michael Jordan's legacy still lives on in Chi-town and the team continues to capitalize on it by charging fans the most in the region to see a live game (FCI of $344.50). Their chillier neighbors to the north, the Minnesota Timberwolves, charge a much friendlier FCI of $230.04

  • West: Jazz Playing It Cool
    With home game fans like Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio in attendance, the Los Angeles Lakers can get by with charging their fans the biggest ticket price in the region(FCI of $479.48). Perhaps the Utah Jazz is hoping that by charging their fans the least to see a live game (FCI of $252.60), they'll generate enough good karma to finally win the big one.

NHL: Hot Teams with Cool Prices

  • Northeast: Sabres' Season Savings
    The Boston Bruins are the most expensive NHL team to follow in the northeast (FCI of $352.60). However, the Buffalo Sabres have been recognized by ESPN Magazine for having the NHL's second lowest-cover charge for match fees, with a FCI of $222.72.

  • Southeast: No Frugal in Florida
    The Florida Panthers haven't won a Stanley Cup yet, but somehow still charge the most for home team tickets (FCI of $309.44); the Carolina Hurricanes, however, have one Stanley Cup under their belt and charge considerably less for fans to come cheer them on. (FCI of $219.52)

  • Midwest: Minnesota Leaves Fans Out in the Cold
    Minnesota's got the right weather for a high-ranking NHL team, but their ticket and paraphernalia prices leave their fans out in the cold. The Minnesota Wild has the highest FCI of $338.12. Luckily, the warmer climes of St. Louis make for friendlier ticket prices - the St. Louis Blues have the most affordable prices, with a region-winning FCI of only $193.26.

  • West: Kings' Prices a Little Too Steep
    Like their NBA counterparts, the Los Angeles Kings charge their fans the most to attend a home game (FCI of $281.31). Unfortunately, you're not going to save that much by rooting for the cheapest team in the league: the Phoenix Coyotes (FCI of $221.80).

Tough economic times don't mean you have to give up doing what you enjoy; you just need to flex your creative muscles - and be flexible about which teams you root for. And who knows, if you take up rooting for an up-and-coming, college or junior team, in a few years, you may be able to say you watched some of the biggest names in sports before they were stars.

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