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Why is college football attendance down?

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The regular season attendance in college football dropped to the lowest level since 2003. The Southeastern Conference again led the country with an average of 75,444 fans per game, but that was the lowest since the 2007 season. Fan attendance numbers are down 2 percent since the 2008 peak of 76,844.

From Chris Low’s article at ESPN.com:

Below is a rundown of attendance figures for all 14 SEC schools:

  • Alabama: 101,722 (minor decrease)
  • Georgia: 92,723 (minor decrease)
  • LSU: 92,626 (minor decrease)
  • Tennessee: 89,965 (5 percent decrease)
  • Florida: 87,597 (2 percent decrease)
  • Texas A&M: 87,104 (minor decrease)
  • Auburn: 82,646 (4 percent decrease)
  • South Carolina: 80,001 (1 percent increase)
  • Arkansas: 68,046 (2 percent increase)
  • Missouri: 67,476 (9 percent increase)
  • Ole Miss: 57,066 (1 percent increase)
  • Mississippi State: 55,628 (minor decrease)
  • Kentucky: 49,691 (17 percent decrease)
  • Vanderbilt: 37,860 (15 percent increase)

The big movers were Auburn, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

Auburn, Tennessee and Kentucky likely dropped due to very bad seasons. You might even credit Auburn for not dropping more considering how bad it got (second half attendance is probably half of this reported figure though).

Vanderbilt got a shot in the arm as the program continues to outperform compared to its historical average. Missouri also got a nice boost, likely as a result of being in the SEC and having some better matchups at home.

Also worth noting is that Arkansas saw a 2 percent increase despite having a very disappointing season.

Troubling data from the ACC… attendance came in at 49,544 per game which is the lowest in 12 years. Since 2004 when Miami and Virginia Tech joined the conference, attendance is down 11%.

Why is attendance falling? Let’s look at a few reasons to consider:

Soft Schedules

Jason over at Big Lead did an article recently on this issue and blamed soft schedules. I disagree with him overall, but agree with him in certain situations. He cited Florida State as an example. I agree that an ACC schedule with essentially one interesting home game (Clemson) is not going to get attendance revved up, but in terms of the SEC, the schedules haven’t changed much in recent years.

I do think that the SEC adding a ninth conference game and replacing a cupcake game each year will help attendance. Since I can only get to a handful of games a year at best, I definitely have no interest in watching an SEC team pound on a small school even if the tickets are cheaper. Going to nine games and improving the schedules will help, but I don’t think they’ll completely counter-act the larger trends in place that are causing lower attendance.

Ticket Prices

There’s no doubt that football ticket prices have increased, but frankly, I don’t think this is the primary driver of lower attendance either. Everything cost more now than it did a few years ago. You and your wife hitting up a movie on a random Tuesday sets you back $50-ish. Finding a lunch under $10 is difficult. While higher ticket prices aren’t exactly a good thing for attendance, a $10-$15 difference in ticket price isn’t the determining factor whether or not you go to the game. Moreover, the actual tickets are just a portion of the overall cost. Gas, food, parking, etc. are all costs that go toward the total price of the experience.

Additionally, we have plenty of examples of fans being willing to spend record high levels of cash on tickets for certain games. The cheapest seats at the SEC Championship Game were going for $450-ish. Just to get in the door for Alabama-Notre Dame is going to set you back a minimum of $1300.

Fans are willing to spend for the top games, but are less likely to spend on average games. Fans are more selective.

The In-Home Experience

Of course while it’s more expensive to get to the actual games, the in-home experience continues to get better and better. Whether it’s the rise of cheap HD big screen TVs or just the quality of the production by networks like CBS, ABC and ESPN, watching a game at home is better than ever.

Moreover, if you’re like me, you want to watch more than a single game on Saturday. I typically watch 3-4 full games while touching on another 4-5 on any given Saturday. That’s either not happening or very difficult to do if you’re going to an actual game.

The Economy

The main reason for a slowing of attendance is nothing other than the economy. There’s a reason the attendance peaked in 2008. Simply put, lots of people have either lost their jobs or had their work and pay decreased in recent years. As a result, people are more cautious regarding their spending whether it is eating out at restaurants, buying a new car or attending football games.

People will pay for quality football games. High stakes games between strong teams will command high prices. However, fans are likely to attend fewer games and be more selective. For example, I’d rather attend one huge rivalry game than two average games in a given season. One only needs to look at ACC attendance and ticket prices to see plenty of examples of this.

Reader Input:

  1. How many games did you attend in 2012?
  2. Are you going to fewer games now than you used to? Why or why not?

Photo Credit: Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports





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Comments 24

  1. Went to 11 games this year (UGA)… I am going to as many games as I used to.

  2. paulfm
    Commented : 1 year ago

    7 Ole Miss games (6 home, 1 away), plus the bowl game coming in January. Up slightly because of the new coach excitement, but we have season tickets and go to several regardless of the quality of the season. I think I went to 4 during the 2-10 season, but it’s definitely more fun to win a few. Hotty Toddy. Feed Moncrief.

  3. I went to all seven carolina home games, and then gainesville and clemson. I’m also going down to tampa for the bowl game. I’m a student though so its much cheaper (free for home games).

  4. All Alabama home games.

  5. I went to a few games this year. I love going, but I also enjoy the weekends I stay at home, grill out, invite friends over and watch football for 12+ hours on my 55 inch LCD TV

  6. We’ve gotten to go to 9 MSU games this year (7 home and 2 road) and have been going to all the home games for the last 3 years and as many as possible the years before. HAIL STATE

  7. I’m a grad student at USC. Went to every home game, so that’s 8. Will be at the Outback Bowl too, so 9 total.

  8. 9 games (All 7 home, UK and VU away)
    Same amount

  9. I only went to 2 games this year(FAU and Auburn). Same as last year(Tennessee and New Mexico State). I go to what I can afford. Looking into Season tickets when I finish college next December. If I decide not to go the Season Ticket route my wife and I have decided that we will go to atleast one home game and one away game every season. That way we can spend top dollar for really nice seats in Athens for one big home game and then we can get really nice seats for a big away game. We want to make it a point to visit each of the SEC stadiums at least once.

  10. Dawg780
    Commented : 1 year ago

    I went to 8 (all UGA home games and GA/FLA). Actually the first time I have made all home games for a season. I have more time and money due to a job change.

  11. Barack Obama took office in 2008.

    Go Gamecocks.

  12. 6 games, 3 home (UAB,Georgia,Tennessee) and 3 away (vandy,Florida,Clemson)

    I only went to the UAB game because the tickets were given to me so the cupcake theory totally holds up for me….I won’t spend money for a crap game.

  13. Went to two last year (UGA) not including the outback bowl.. Haven’t been to a single one this year.

  14. lukeing
    Commented : 1 year ago

    I went to all the home games and GA/fl last year as a student, and went to all Home (but Ole Miss) and went to GA/fl this year as an Alumnus. Had a lot due in grad school the week after Homecoming so I had to skip it.

  15. I went to the LSU-Carolina game. Forgot that I was still eligible for a student ticket for the UGA game, ended up just tailgating. Being an alumni and moving out of state really puts a damper on going to football games

  16. We made 3 games this year, but we have a seven hour drive to and fro. We sell our unused tickets to make up the cost of the season ticket price.

  17. I am a UF student but I went to all seven home games, plus FLA/UGA, at vandy, and at Fla st. so ten total. I am going to more games than before college obviously but
    I do have season tickets so I had been going to around 3-4 game a year

  18. MIZSEC
    Commented : 1 year ago

    Went to 6 of the 7 home games at Mizzou (had to be in a wedding). It was hard to watch, but I’m committed.

    MIZ

  19. I went to 4 Carolina games this year which is a low number for me, the main reason being that I had to work most of them. Gotta pay for my education at USC.

  20. jcrack
    Commented : 1 year ago

    Only making it to the Cotton Bowl this year to see Texas A&M Beat The Hell Outta ou!

  21. Only went to 3 gator games. The only 3 good ones. LSU, SC, UGA