The real reason college football live game attendance is down
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.
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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.