(above, Hawks fans, sufficiently impressed by their team’s strong start, stick around to watch a whale shark devour Mike Bibby)

Promising that “you’ll be shocked” when the free market determines the scalper prices for the Great Depression of 2009’s Super Bowl, March Madness and Dayton 500, The New Republic‘s Darren Rovell kids, “just wait until Fan Appreciation Night at the ballpark this fall. You might get a hug and kiss for showing up.”  That’s great news for Jay “Hot Lips” Horowitz, but what about the rest of us?

This year, the Milwaukee Bucks are giving you a chance to watch the league’s top three teams–the Celtics, Cavs, and Lakers–for $69 total. (They’re even throwing in a Kareem Abdul Jabbar bobblehead.) The Atlanta Hawks are letting you pick any four games for $80, and they’ll even include a ticket to the aquarium, the zoo, and a $20 concession voucher. Other teams like the Denver Nuggets and the Orlando Magic are folding in playoff priority with these packages. Playoff priority used to be the exclusive domain of VIPS and season ticket holders, but teams are so eager for fans that if you purchase a small package of games, you’ll get a chance to nab seats to the postseason before the public does. It’s not like these teams are horrible either. Orlando and Denver both lead their divisions in the standings.

Some ticket prices are just downright stupid. The Colorado Rockies, one season removed from a World Series appearance, are selling centerfield bleacher seats to kids and seniors for $1, while the Pittsburgh Pirates will allow you to pick any ten games you want to go to (except Opening Day and the series against the Cleveland Indians) for as low as $7.20 a game. Even the NFL playoffs will be a steal. In November the league decided to discount the face value of playoff ticket prices by ten percent in the face of the economic challenges ahead.

Rovell’s general point — that recent economic upheaval has provided opportunity for sports bargain hunters — is solid enough, however we’re not hearing nearly so much about price breaks on parking and concessions.  Of the many examples cited, Atlanta’s casual support of pro sports predates the current recession, and the Pirates  —28th out of 30 MLB clubs in paid attendance in 2008 — might well have offered such a package even in a healthy economic climate.   It’s true enough the Rockies are a season removed from an NL pennant, but next spring they’ll be a winter removed from a 74-88 finish.