Florida State may have defeated Auburn for the final BCS championship, but the Tigers drew nearly 20% more fans in the 2013 football season, according to the final attendance statistics recently released by the NCAA. Indeed, Auburn led the nation in combined (home, road and neutral-field) attendance at just over 1.2 million. Florida State, which played the same number of games as Auburn, had a combined attendance of just over one million, good enough for 13th place nationally.
It’s no surprise that the SEC claimed six of the top-ten spots for combined attendance. After Auburn, Alabama finished in fourth place with about 1.15 million; LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M and Tennessee finished sixth-thru-ninth respectively, each drawing over one million fans. Altogether, a total of 13 FBS schools played before more than a million fans in 2013-2014.
Looking solely at average home attendance, Alabama finished first in the SEC and third in the country with roughly 101,000 per contest. Michigan and Ohio State claimed the top two home attendance spots for the Big Ten, followed by Alabama, Texas and Penn State. Nine schools averaged more than 90,000 fans per game, and 16 reported more than 80,000 per game.
Twelve of the 14 SEC schools finished in the top 30 of average home attendance. The only two that didn’t make the cut were Mississippi State, with an average attendance of 55,695 (about 4,000 shy of 30th place finisher and in-state rival Ole Miss); and Vanderbilt, which despite a 9-4 record and former coach James Franklin’s high profile only averaged 35,675 per game for seven home dates.
Interestingly, Kentucky, which posted a 2-10 record under first-year Coach Mark Stoops, not only managed a 29th place finish (averaging 59,472 per home game) but also had the second-largest increase in average home attendance from the 2012 season. The Wildcats drew more than 9,700 more fans per home game in 2013 and 2012, an increase surpassed only by Steve Sarkisian’s final Washington team.
Strength In Numbers
While the Big Ten had the two top schools in terms of home attendance, there was no question which conference dominated overall. The SEC averaged 75,674 fans per game in 2013, which beat the Big Ten by more than 5,000 fans. No other conference topped 60,000 per game. In terms of raw attendance, the SEC drew over 7.5 million—roughly one out of every five people who attended a college football game last season; the Big Ten drew about 6.1 million; the ACC, about 4.8 million; the Pac-12, about 4.3 million; and the Big 12, about 3.9 million.
The attendance numbers certainly illustrate the vast chasm between the various tiers of college football. Consider the SEC’s average attendance of roughly 75,000 per game with the Mid-American Conference, which averaged the lowest total in FBS with 16,739 fans per game. And as low as the MAC average appears next to the SEC, it still beats every other division of college football. The top finishing conference in the Football Championship Subdivision averaged just over 12,000 fans per game; in Division II, it drops to roughly 6,600 per game; and in the “pure” amateur football of Division III, it’s roughly 3,300 per game. (If you’re looking for the “Mr. Irrelevant” of college football attendance, it’s likely Minnesota’s Martin Luther College, a Division III school that drew 333 fans per game last year.)
It’s worth noting that major college football’s popularity has remained fairly steady over the years. If you compare the attendance figures for the 2013 to 2003, for instance, there’s not much change. Total Division I-A/FBS attendance was about 35 million in 2003—about the same as this past year—and the SEC was the best-attended conference at about 74,000 per game.