The real reason college football live game attendance is down

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It’s well documented that live game attendance is down across football, whether it be the NFL or the college game. For years, theories have been offered explaining the reason for the decline in attendance. Meanwhile, it seems that the game is more popular than ever.

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Attendance is down for students and non-students alike. As a recent WSJ article explained, student attendance at the major schools such as Alabama and Georgia have been declining even during championship seasons.

The most common reason cited for declining attendance is HD television. The broadcast at home is so good that people would rather sit at home and watch the game. The advances in HD are true of course, but it falls short, in my opinion, of explaining the trend. The theory that poor cell reception and lack of wifi are the reasons for people staying at home are laughable in my opinion; so much so that the proposed solution of adding wifi capability to stadiums is likely to be a dud. Do we really think people are staying at home because they can’t get on Facebook during half time? I know we love social media, but I doubt people are deciding between being at the game and being able to access Facebook..

No, the reason that live game attendance is down is something that nobody really wants to acknowledge. That reason is that the game has become much more national focused. While we still love our team and it holds top priority, the gap between how much we love our team and how much we love college football in general has narrowed.

The conversation around college football is more intense and now also year-round. The hype machine of star athletes, power house programs and amazing matchups is in full force putting the nation’s top team and top players in front of more and more people distracting us from a myopic obsession over our local or favorite squad. How many non-Texas and non-SEC folks tuned in to watch Johnny Manziel take on Alabama simply because they heard nonstop for months about Johnny Manziel and his wild offseason adventures?

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The increased quality of high definition broadcasts isn’t what keeps us home. Rather, it’s the endless hype and discussion around the top stories, players, teams and coaches coming at us from our televisions that is causing us to pay attention to more of college football as a whole. Throw in the internet, Twitter and discussion with friends and we’re more college football obsessed these days than ever.

Each summer, my buddies and I remind each other of the days left until college football is back. Of the group, none are of the same fan base, and several are fans of teams in other conferences. We’re not primarily acclaiming the upcoming Gator kickoff or Crimson Tide kickoff, but kickoff of college football in general.

The trend also coincides nicely with the increase in conference pride that fans have exhibited in recent years. Alabama fans still know their team well, but they know about the other SEC teams more than they used to. They want to watch the best of the best, and of course, take notes on their own team’s future opponents. I’m a Florida fan, but my recent Saturday was much more built around the Georgia-LSU matchup at 3:30 PM Eastern rather than the 7:00PM Florida-Kentucky kickoff. Was I less interested in Florida football than I used to be? No, I’m just more interested in the other quality games than I used to be.

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Plenty of fans will disagree with my argument here simply because they refuse to acknowledge that perhaps other teams have become more interesting while their interest in their own team has remained constant. I’m not suggesting people don’t care about their teams anymore. Far from it. But college football as a whole has gotten more interesting and more accessible.

Is this really such a surprising outcome considering the nature of college football scheduling? All SEC teams play eight conference games, usually a decent non-conference game or two and typically either two or three cupcake games. You’re not a sell out if you prefer to watch two top ten teams battling it out on primetime rather than watching your team beat up on the 9th best team from the state of Louisiana.

And this takes us back to why we’d rather stay at home than attend games. Truly, there’s only a handful of must watch matchups for your team each year. Florida actually has more than most considering the permanent location on their schedule of non-divisional rival LSU and non-conference rival Florida State. Add in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, and you have 4-5 must watch matchups depending on which teams are up or down in that given year. But, only half of those games are at home in a given year. That means 4-5 other home games that simply aren’t must watch. If they’re not must watch, why spend several hundred bucks at a minimum to take up an entire Saturday rather than watch the best games of the day and my own team’s game along with cooking out, hanging out with the family and friends, and not having to sit in traffic for hours?

This is no different in the NFL. A celebrity culture and a fantasy football obsessed fan base means Baltimore fans are just as interested in watching the primetime Brady-Manning matchup as watching the Ravens play an ugly game against Jacksonville.

Related: Burning questions for every SEC team

Interestingly, while the supply of the product has increased – we have more games than ever at our fingertips to watch each weekend – we actually have become more selective in which games we want to watch. Simply put, we want to watch the best players and the best teams play the best players and the best teams. We want to see Johnny Manziel versus the Alabama defense. We want to see the shoot out between NFL caliber quarterbacks of Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger. We even want to see Stanford-Oregon battle it out as two top five ranked teams. If we miss a few drives of our own team during a game where they play a cupcake or a non-elite SEC team, that’s okay. You’re still allowed to consider yourself a fan.

The sport of college football is as good as ever, and it’s extraordinarily popular. It’s okay if you want to partake in the best that the sport has to offer and attend fewer games than you used to. By doing so, you can even post photos on Instagram of you with your feet up in front of your 70″ LCD TV which of course we all do.



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  • Or… The economy sucks and people don’t have the money. I haven’t been to a game since the recession started and I still don’t have the extra money to spend on what I would love to do, attend a game in person.

    • Exactly what I was going to say. For instance. We went to the SC/GA this year. We live in Augusta and drove to Athens the day of the game. Roughly a 90 mile drive. Tickets (at face value) = $40×4 $160, Filled up the Accord with gas = $53, Food for tailgating = $120, parking = $20, Drinks during the game = $60 Dinner after the game = $40. That was roughly $500 spent for the weekend. While we planned for it, I know many cannot afford that kind of expense when watching HD games at home are practically free…

      • Where did you find parking in Athens for $20.00? lol
        Also $40.00 for a ticket is very cheap. (hard to get them at face value) UGA tickets are ridiculous high. Love going but I’m not going to spend a paycheck to go to a game. I’ll just sit at home and watch!

    • It’s not just the economy though. I could afford to go, but they have just priced themselves out of my comfort zone for college football.
      Season tickets for my mediocre “major conference” team, combined with the obligatory “donation” (bribe), were costing about $1,000/yr. Add on the extras that David Nance has discussed.

      I can drive 75 miles each way, hike to the stadium from very remote parking, listen to piped in music at ear splitting levels during the pre-game and time outs, sit in sweltering heat for the noon-in-September games or freeze in November, try to fit myself into seat space designed to cram the maximum number of butts in the minimal space, while listening to the rude, crude and profane behavior that passes for fan passion now; or sit in my recliner and watch my “boys” lose again. Tough choice. Of course by not “supporting the program” I am not contributing to the $2 to 5 million HC’s salary. I can live with the guilt.

  • We can’t go because of the economy. I agree with Bobsentell. Until the economy turns around, we’ll be foregoing attendance in favor of paying utilities and buying groceries.

  • Man I wish I could go to Athens for a game. I wouldn’t care if it was against a FCS team. It’s kind of difficult living in central FL though.

    • Yeah, there really is nothing like being in Sanford Stadium on a Saturday. The energy is amazing, to say nothing of all the tradition.

    • We’re season ticket holders, live in Tampa, and only make it up for 2 or 3 home games a year. It’s not just the money, it’s the time commitment. I do treasure the games, especially this season, when both games we’ve gone to have been big victories.

    • I went last year to my first Georgia game. Im 37 now and let me tell you, the energy is amazing. We went for the dawg walk and was standing less than 4 feet from Russ. I will never forget my experience and plan to go to more next year. It is really worth the time and money to go just for the atmosphere. After the game we stuck around and went to the lower levels and took pictures and actually got a small part of the hedges that was cut and laying on the ground. Next we got pictures at the Dawg memorial on the field next to the tunnel. I really hope you could make it to one game just to live that one memory. Its a must for a true Dawg fan. Before the game starts you hear Larry Munson on the loud speakers making his famous calls and it brought tears to my eyes! Everyone was friendly and all one big Dawg family all through out the campus.

  • Don’t have the exact numbers, but student attendance at Alabama so far this year is way up. Well above 90% attendance so far.

  • As a recent grad, I can tell you that even though its packed until halftime…a lot of students leave at halftime because they’re out of booze or their buzz is wearing off…betcha if they started serving in NCAA sanctioned arenas, attendance would be through the roof.

  • Have you checked the price of a damn ticket these days!!! I don’t have an employer or a rich friend to give me tickets!!

  • My wife asked me if I just love college football and would watch a really big college football game, or if I just love Alabama…I had to say that I really only care about the Alabama Crimson Tide.

    I am really unlikely to pay real attention to any game that doesn’t involve or have a direct implication on the fortune of the Crimson Tide.

    But I do realize I am probably in the minority.

  • bammer reported last year that only about 30% of their student’s that had tickets showed up for the game. I noticed at the Colorado St game there was several thousand seats empty in the upper deck but the attendence reported was a full house. I know all school inflate their attendance, but that was ridiculous!

    • Many of those students likely did swipe their activity cards at the gate, so it would register as an entry into the game. They don’t want to lose their rights to purchase the next year. So, they swipe and then leave.

    • Fox, Bama, and other schools have a similar problem. The students scan in. But instead of sitting in a seat, all of them crowd in as tight as they can in the lower level leaving the upper section empty. Granted, there are probably not 100% in attendance. But if you look real close at any student section, they’re crammed in like sardines!

  • Ask the students and they will tell you (having children who just graduated from major SEC schools) that there are several factors at play. 1) Night games against weak opponents interferes with partying (if alcoholic beverages were served inside the stadiums–attendance would go up–not saying I am advocating that–just putting it out there if we REALLY want to get at why student attendance is down); and, 2) Many universities now “load” the student tickets on the student’s ID card and students are penalized in subsequent years when trying to get tickets if they “sell” too many of their student tickets to other students (which is done electronically and has time limits for processing) or if they don’t transfer the ticket or attend the game at all. So, they can’t just–at the last minute–sell or give the ticket to another student. So, for “lame” games, students will go to the gate, swipe the card, and then leave soon thereafter. It is irritating as an adult–many of the students don’t realize the opportunity they have to enjoy this “season” of life! HD just doesn’t compare, and nobody really wants to see your Instagram of your feet in front of the TV screen.

    • That is noticeable at home and away games. Some students have told me they are opting out next year and not even showing to swipe and will watch the big matchups of their team at home or party. Once student scalping all but evaporated, its now just empty seats for cupcake games. Our last home game I had one ticket extra to a sold out game – sickness in the family the morning of – and as i approached the stadium with ticket in hand about a block out I young lady approached me and asked was I selling it. When I said I was out came the badge I HAD NO IDEA SOMETHING GOING ON ALL AROUND ME AT THIS GAME AND OVER THE LAST 20 YEARS WAS ILLEGAL. She didnt ask the price and said it didnt matter if it was below cost, that it was an arrest-able offense. To add insult to injury she informed me that the university opted out for on-campus resales of any price but that in the future I was free to get all I could across the street off university property. That about winds my season ticket purchase up.

  • I think the real reason is because of the economy, people working longer hours or more than one job to make ends meet.

    • The economy doesn’t explain empty student sections. They’ve already paid for those tickets. They just aren’t showing up or, if they do, they just stay for a short time.

  • I was at the Alabama Ole Miss Game and it was a packed house. I heard several people say they had never seen it that packed before.

    • Of course, for a CHANGE Ole Miss was undefeated and Sunshine was boasting on how he could move the ball on Bama. Who wouldn’t want to go to this? The problem is when you play an opponent like Southern Miss… you’ve gotta be a real “fan” to show up for a game like that

  • I think it’s more the economy. I live 2 hours away from my alma mater and I’d go to 4 or 5 games a year if I could afford it. Right now about all I can do is one a year. I’d much rather watch MY team in person than watch the top 10 on t.v.

  • I attended the University of Alabama and witnessed the last three championships from the student section. Now graduated and going back it is not as fun as it used to be. There are too many people, tickets are too expensive, and quite frankly it is stressful. Tailgating or watching at home is much more fun.

  • Money and entertainment choices

  • Another vote for the economy. It used to be that only bowl games cost over $100, but now regular season SEC games cost nearly that much. I know at LSU, all major SEC games cost $70. UGA is $75 & Bama is $90. And those are regular tickets, not club or suite tickets which can cost 3-5 times that. BCS championship game tickets now cost over $350. When the cost of going to the game could buy you a brand new 60″ TV and pay for a party with all your friends to watch at home, there is a tipping point where going is no longer worth it.

  • It’s definitely the money that it costs to go to a game. Not even necessarily the ticket prices but the overall cost of going to a game. Even as a student at UA i get tickets for like 10 bucks. But then since they don’t provide but one tiny parking lot for students I usually have to pay about $30 to park 1.2 miles away from the stadium after waiting in traffic for about 30 min. Unless I want to get their about 5 hours before the game starts at which point I would probably have to pay $10 for water and $20 for a damn french fry. They fixed the student section this year by giving the freshman the upperdeck and older students the Lower Deck which means you don’t have to go in 5 hours early to get a decent seat but you still do if don’t want to be ripped off on parking. So if you don’t live in a college town and you want to go to game with the family your probably looking at like $220-$400 to go to one game if you buy three $40 tickets(upper deck for a crap game otherwise probably about 60-100) and 20$(being nice) gas and food (for three probably about $50) and parking (cheapest i can find is $30 for being a mile away)
    = 220 for a family of three and way to much damn anger and effort dealing with traffic and people on the way in.

    • Our student section is down too……as part of the national trend. You pretty much nailed it for the average student. The bang for the buck is gone.

  • I left the Falcons vs Titans preseason game at half time to go eat cheaper and better food and to watch the game on the HD Tv at Past Perfect in Nashville. A much better time was had by all. Cost and quality of entertainment.

  • I agree its a $ thing. Not only is the gas, food, etc. it takes to get to the game, but the term “face value” means nothing anymore. Its hard to buy a bama cupcake game ticket for under $75-$100.

  • I attend auburn but was raised a gator. When Florida isn’t playing at home, I’m at the auburn game if they’re at home. To me, there is nothing like being in that atmosphere. Even if it is a smaller game, I’d rather be there than in front of the tv. If there is a big game on tv, I’d rather just DVR it and watch it later. But I have noticed that during halftime a lot of the students clear out. However, i’ve only seen that when we were playing a cupcake team. Stadium stayed packed out till the end of the Tennessee/Florida game.

  • or maybe bc people get tickets at face value and then jack them up to $300+ a piece.. it’s disgusting how many “fans” do this. and they would rather the tickets go unsold then to ask a fair price..

  • It’s the economy, and ticket brokers buying up thousands of tickets and reselling them at ridiculous prices. Ticket brokers are nothing more than legalized scalpers. Stop people from buying dozens of season tickets and then selling them to ticket brokers for profit!

  • I used to attend college games at UT and greatly enjoyed my experience of being a part of the crowd. It was a secular version of going to an outdoor cathedral to worship at the shrine of Neyland as we come together as Volunteer Nation to cheer on our beloved Tennessee Vols. The problem is he cost to attend makes it difficult for me to go to more than one game a season. The hotel room, the tickets, the parking, concessions, etc., add up and then there always seem to be fans who come to the stadium for the sole purpose of getting inebriated as humanly possible and acting like total jerks. For years it was worthwhile but as I am getting older I find I have less interest in making this effort. I am sure part of it is that my Vols are historically bad right now but living in New Orleans my Saints are doing quite well but I have the same issues in attending games at the Superdome. I find that I do love staying at home and watching the 15-20 games available on HDTV and the games available on Watch ESPN. I don’t have to battle traffic, find parking, pay exorbitant prices for food and drink and use hygienically questionable bathrooms and if I am watching a game that has a lull I can channel flip to the other games. There are always exceptions. I would gladly make the effort to attend a Tennessee bowl game (yes, even the Music City Bowl ; ) or a Saints playoff game because those are special games for fans that still beat staying at home and watching on the big screen HDTV. Lots of fans are priced out of attending games when you now have the much lower cost option of watching college games from the comfort of home in glorious High Definition.

  • I agree with you on this, Kevin. We have season tickets to Alabama games, and this idea doesn’t keep us from the big games, but I choose not to go to the other games somewhat for he effort involved but also really because I love watching all the other games too. I’m a Bama fan through and through but I hate it when I miss the other big games of the week (like Georgia/LSU this past week. We could go to every game every season but I let the smaller ones go mainly to watch what’s going on in the rest of the football world too. I think what you said may not be the whole reason (because it is quite expensive) but there is something to it I think.

  • My parents stopped getting season tix because they like to sit at home in comfort and watch it on HD, plus they Tivo it and can FF through commercials. I love to go to games but can’t afford to right now (tickets are ridiculously expensive, even if you can get them through official outlets). Students don’t go, or go and leave early because they don’t allow alcohol at NCAA events. The NFL is too damn expensive too – not just the tickets, last game I went to I had to pay $20 to park a half mile from the Stadium!

  • I hate to admit it, but I gave up my season tickets I had for several seasons and used the money and now I have 3 hd tvs on the wall in the mancave which is now “the” location to be on gameday. I agree with your article that indicates interest in college football has gotten higher. But it does affect whether I am going to attend a game against Coastal Carolina or instead sit in the mancave and watch 3 top 15 matchups…..doesn’t take a phd to come up with that answer. Now, I still support my school of choice, which happens to be South Carolina, by continuing membership in the Gamecock Club and other donations. At this point, I just don’t know if I’ll ever get season tickets again.

  • I can’t bring my kids to see LSU games because of the language and indecency of the fans. I grew up going to LSU games on $5.00 youth tickets and sat in the south endzone and learned to love LSU. Now, I’ve been puked on, my kids have heard words they should have never known and the drunks are ruining it. So we stay home and watch it on TV. The LSU band had to quit playing Tiger Rag because of the student section’s obscenities and they quite playing ‘NECK’ because of the students screaming, “suck that Tiger dick bitch.”
    So, no, I won’t be in Tiger Stadium any time soon and all of you who think I am the one who is the problem need to seriously examine yourself.

    GEAUX TIGERS….(from home)

  • I had Mizzou season tickets when I was single and Chase Daniel was running the show… Now here I am, married and Chase has long since graduated. I haven’t been to a live game in two years

  • Hey HDs are nice ……many people tailgating around me have them with the surround sound and all good to go just like at home. Often they are there early set up to catch an early game with friends and the evening game when they have the 330 matchup. The problem is that everyday fans are being pushed out. Thats right Pushed Out. Parking is further from the stadium than ever, making room for the programs large donors without allowing the same atmosphere for the average fan. No tailgating in parking areas are running fans off that are there to catch up with old friends. Everyone is opting for home. Empty private owned lots are being squeezed out by new ordinances prohibiting parking as well as private homes. Basically the same thing that happened to NASCAR with their attendance – if it is all about herding people in for kickoff (gentlemen start your engines) and busing them back to a grass field miles away afterward the event loses its appeal. Believe it or not, it isnt just about the game…… Oh my friend says add that Bin Laden wins at every event – security is about 4 fans to 1 officer ratio. It seems the odds are better in his living room.

  • I agree 1000%. I am a season ticket holder at Alabama for 10 years. The last five years, I’ve decided to sell my tickets for a small profit, and use that profit to purchase tickets to a single home game each year. I love tailgating, but the setting up, cooking, parking passes, monetary expenditures…. I have just as much fun watching the games at bars with my friends or at home with my family. But mainly I like watching the biggest matchups nationally, LIKE YOU SAID. I love Alabama, but all college football is catching up.

  • Bobsentell, David Nance, Oldflyer, Beverlygardner are right on the… money. Recession. Donations required to buy tix for many of decent seat locations, etc

  • It’s a combination of costs and what is available on TV. I’m an Alabama alum and with the “cheap games” face value tickets like Colorado State going for $45 a ticket with premuim game rates going at upwards of $80 per seat it gets ridiculous. We used to have season tickets but the cost of tickets plus the “donation” to the university, gas, food, parking etc, just got to so much it wasn’t worth it anymore. I love going to the games in person, there’s nothing like it however, with Saturdays as my only free weekend day to get things done, now I’d rather choose 2-3 games to attend each year and the rest watch from home. I live 3 1/2 hours from Tuscalooosa so when we go it’s an all day trip and I miss seeing the other top 10 teams that are playing that day. There are just a myriad of reasons why fans can’t or won’t go to every game.

  • I agree with several people. Firstly, its a luxury item, and for your average fan the economy is still dragging you down. Its not just that there isn’t a little extra in their pocket–they also need to work Saturdays more often, or have a second job. That’s not everyone, but it adds up. That, plus the cost of season tickets. Season tickets used to be pretty much guaranteed attendence. Even if the owners didn’t go to a game, they would give or sell the tickets to someone. But with season tickets costing so much more, less people find it worthwhile to go that route (As an asside, I say thats more about the increased “scholarship fund” donations than the face value. Season tickets cost almost twice as much as regular tickets).
    The second reason is not so much that other games are more interesting (particularly in the SEC, the home team comes first before any other game, birthday, wedding, or funeral), but that nearly all the games in major conferences are televised. When I was a kid, you went to the game or listened on the radio. Maybe 3 games a year were on TV. So not only is there an option (and it takes less time and money, plus you can watch more games), but TV coverage makes live games terrible. It adds a good 45 minutes or so of dead time (not only boring fans, but changing the tempo of the game), and it means you often don’t know when a game will be played until 2 weeks before kickoff. The former is just annoying, but the later means even if you can get tickets you may have to give them up because–sorry about that–the game is now at 7:30pm and won’t end untill 11pm.
    All that adds up. And its a shame.

  • It’s the economy. I just lost $40K on the sale of a house and there are NO jobs in my industry, except low-paying and part-time. Contributing people are scared the free-loaders and dull-minded will take all that they have eraned.

    You will get atatcked for being anti-leftist, by the intolerant, Obama has been a disaster to America, and that is true for college sports, too.

    Until the middle-of-the-road voters, who put him in office, admit what a horrible mistake he is, everything American will suffer. This has been a miserable 5 years under Obama’s poor leadership, and if we don’t do all we can to purge his influence, we will have 3 more years of his misery to suffer.

  • Everything at the games are so expensive and the tickets aren’t cheap!!! Also with the possibility of obummercare making the economy worse and cutting our take home down as well, people are cutting corners!!! The working man has been afraid of the uncertainties of the economy and the stagnant job market conditioions under obummer that we are experiencing and have been saving for a rainy day!!!!

  • bad economy or or good economy…the schools have priced themselves out of the range and budget of average fans. I have several classmates who can afford season box seats but are not signing back up because the prices have just gotten too high. Student tickets can still be considered affordable but non-student tickets are just not worth the hassle of getting there, fighting the crowd, being uncomfortable, and slogging through a sewer of public restroom, no booze or if there is it is a $10 12oz cup of warm water. The schools have created their own real estate bubble. Maybe when it bursts normal people will be able to afford to go back. Until then only the millionaires can still afford to go and actually enjoy it with out worrying about how much getting there back will all cost.

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