The Growing Problem Of College Football Attendance

The Growing Problem Of College Football Attendance

We’ve seen coaches such as Nick Saban publically speak about it. It’s visible, particularly, during early 11:00 AM CST kickoffs. Comparatively, we can see as we look at the data that is right in front of us. College football has an issue that must be addressed. Attendance. There has been a steady decline in attendance for college football. Today, we look at the growing problem of college football attendance.

Announced Attendance vs Actual Attendance

In 2017, attendance numbers were down substantially over 2016 numbers. The Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) saw its largest year over year drop in 35 years. In fact, the SEC, which is known for possibly the most fanatical fans in all of college football saw its attendance drop by just over 3%. Unfortunately, that doesn’t even tell the entire story.

The Wall Street Journal decided to go even a step further. They had a goal to look at the number of scanned tickets against the reported attendance. The results were fascinating. Only 71% of the reported announced attendance actually scanned their ticket to enter the stadium. Taking that into consideration, 2017 was the biggest drop in attendance in modern history. Some schools numbers were skewed at an alarming rate. For example, Louisiana Monroe reported a total attendance of 49,640 for their five home games in 2017. However, according to the wall street journal reporting, they only drew 13,302 fans in tickets scanned. That is just a 26% clip of the total attendance.

The Television Influence

The proposition of watching a game at home has become increasingly enticing for fans. No matter if you utilize cable television or you’ve made a decision to cut the cord, the opportunities are there. The television proposition is something that is becoming increasingly difficult for schools to battle against. First, looking at the ESPN family of networks there are five different networks that carry games through ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, SEC Network, and ABC. The same can be said for FOX and CBS which carry games on their main networks but also have the FOX Sports Network and FS1 as well as CBS with the CBS Sports Network. Let’s also not forget the Big Ten. PAC 12, and ACC networks as well.

Also, the smartphone technology has made it available to view games while you’re on the go. With the addition of Watch ESPN, ESPN3, ESPN+, FOX Sports Go, BTN2Go, PAC-12 Now, and the CBS Sports App makes a large majority of these games available as a mobile option. In fact, there are only six FBS games from Thursday until Saturday cannot be seen through the networks or apps listed above. In summary, 89% of the FBS college football slate can be viewed or streamed.

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Cost Of Attendance

For some fans, nothing will keep them away from cheering on their favorite team. But, for a typical family, the cost of attendance can become quite substantial. There are multiple aspects that one must keep in perspective when considering the cost of attendance. On the outside looking in, initially, we just look at the ticket prices. However, part of that cost factor that should be considered is gas expenditure to and from the destination, any fee’s for parking, food and drink before/during/after the game, and of course the price for admittance into the game.

The price will certainly fluctuate based on the notoriety of the school, the game, and the location. For example, a game between Oklahoma and Texas versus a game between Oklahoma and Kansas State would be considerably different. For argument’s sake, let’s look at Oklahoma’s upcoming home game against Kansas State on October 26th for a family of four. When we assume a face value ticket of $60.00 per ticket, $20.00 in gas expenditures, $20.00 in parking, and $75.00 for food, drinks, and souvenirs it’s about a $350-$375 investment.  And, you take into account that over a six-game home schedule the investment comes it around $2,000-$2,250. When you look at that proposition, some fans have a good alternative which causes the attendance numbers to fall.

Loss of Interest in the Product

Over the past few years, there’s been a considerable amount of discussion related to changing the game. Some believe the game is too long. And, there are constantly folks looking to improve the game. The belief from some is that one of the reasons for the lack of attendance is based on the product on the field is not what it used to be.

I’m not biting. Even if the product on the field is not at the same level, college football enthusiasts would still be there to support. Having said that, the product is as good as ever. We’ve been treated to fantastic games and atmospheres early on in the year. The Red River Rivalry as one of the best rivalries in college football was an excellent on-field product. The White-Out game between Ohio State and Penn State was an unbelievable atmosphere. The game is great. Don’t change a thing.

Non-Conference Schedules

There has been a fair amount of discussion around the schedules. The non-conference competition does play a significant role in the attendance problems. More specifically, when a blue-blood FBS team faces a low-level FBS team or even an FCS team that presents a problem. From a necessity perspective, the financial benefit that these teams receive from these game is pivotal to their athletic program.

Although it may be true that there has been some occasional upsets and close calls most of these contests are not competitive. The non-competitive nature is what causes the lowered attendance. A few games that come to mind where the home team can name the score are as follows: The Citadel vs Alabama, Furman vs Clemson, Savannah State vs Miami, Fl,  Idaho vs Florida, Youngstown State vs West Virginia.


Now, it’s not fair to offer up a problem without considering any possible solutions. The television contracts and streaming applications will not change anytime soon. That’s a battle that the athletic administrations across the country will continue to battle against. And, with the technology such as 4K televisions coming to the forefront, it could get worse before it gets better.

The cost and scheduling move to the front of the line as potential opportunities for improvement. When an FCS team faces an FBS team, the product on the field is not what it needs to be. Perhaps, there could be additional discounts provided to students tickets as well as season ticket holders for those types of games. I know athletic programs are looking at all avenues to improve attendance. The growing problem of college football attendance is a real problem that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later to help protect the game that we all love.


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14 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. The product of college football is not as good. This shows not only in attendance but in tv ratings. Therefore, college football is NOT losing fans to tv. The question that imagined, and self-proclaimed experts should be asking themselves is why the product is not as good? !. Whiners (both the NFL and collegiate football such up to and pamper players. Then they make the fans pay to watch these babies that get paid astronomical salaries). 2. Collegiate uniforms suck! How can universities expect loyalty when they show no loyalty to their fans? They don’t even wear school colors anymore. The most successful schools are the ones that stick closer to tradition. The arms race of psychedelic uniforms is so bad that fans are often unable to read the numbers of the players. 3. Ticket prices. Football is a free market. If the product is not worth the price, the consumer will not buy it. If you build it, they will come, but if you gouge them and treat them as if they do not matter, then they probably won’t come back. It’s that simple, and it does not take a GM or corporate CEO with supposed talent worth millions of dollars to figure that out. Or, to put it even more simple: The fans are beginning to feel swindled.

  2. The last pro tickets I bought was for a Cincinnati Reds game two hours from my house. They played it three hours before I got there because ESPN said to. Scratch me as a fan.

  3. …. Right. Attendance is down in every major sporting league in the US.

    In 2017, 47 Million fans rolled through stadium gates. That’s MILLION people.

    Only pro baseball & Nascar see more interest. Let’s calm down.

  4. The tax law allowing a corporation to take entertainment expense as a tax deduction has been reduced year after year till it’s just an operation exp that you eat . Some do but believe me it has caused some reduction in ticket sales .

  5. I would love to see my daughters college team play. She is going into her third year and I haven’t seen one game. I have no problem driving 5 hours to see a game. It’s the cost of the hotels. A normal room for $75 will cost $575 game day. The cheapest ticket is $90 and it’s in the nose bleed section. Then parking $75, food and drink for two days. Then drive home for another Five hour drive. Then a game time may not be set till a few hours before game because ESPN rules the show. Don’t get me wrong, I love her #3 ACC team. However I don’t have $1200 for a Saturday game. I’m staying at home and start my day with ESPN Gameday.

  6. I take the $3000 I used to spend on season tickets and buy scalps to the three games that I must see and attend wherever that game is played. It’s usually cheaper with airfare and hotel included.

  7. 32 team playoff you can schedule all power five opponents and if you lose 3 or 4 games you can still make the playoff and ESPN is talking about forty or fifty schools instead of 4 or 5 and this is the fix. No way, finish 8-4 and go to the sugar bowl it is so much better than making a 32 team playoff the pleasure that it brings cannot be described. Excitement created by a bowl
    game can’t be matched; the win or lose you go home motto vs the win you advance and lose you go home motto. No way, who in their right mind could consider the idea of win and you ADVANCE as possibly creating excitement for college football? That whole ADVANCE thing I’m not feeling it. Just win and go home baby. What channel are we playing on?

  8. IMO TV options definitely have affected attendance but team performance and quality of opponents is even a greater factor. The playoff has also put so much attention on the elite of the elite programs that it is skewing top recruiting to these schools at a greater rate. Therefore once a team loses a game it’s like season/playoff over. IMO the conferences should all play 9 conference games or at the least 8 conference games and 2 P5 schools. How about letting teams play 2 spring games and play FCS teams then. Let teams count 1 spring game victory towards 6 minimum wins for bowl eligibility. Go to 8 game playoff with #1 & #2 getting a bye and #5 vs#8 and #6 vs #8 week after conference championships. Following week these winners play #3 & #4. Winners go to semi-finals. Like baseball’s 1 game playoff it keeps fan interest for those 1 loss teams. Then if they want to play the beat they just have to prove it.

    1. Not sure how you are supposed to play Spring games when your senior class has already used their eligibility and much of your incoming freshman class is not in school yet

  9. If you’re a fan you go to the home games…regardless of cost, travel, kickoff time. If you’re a casual fan, you watch on TV.

  10. a major aspect here is one I do not believe you have mentioned. Here in Gainesville, local motels increase their rates dramatically only for game nights. The one I used to stay at TRIPLED their rates. This is a major reason I do not go to games anymore — well, actually, it is THE reason. The tix can be purchased via StubHub or a similar site for a reasonable amt unless it is a marquee game and the gas money for me isnt significant, so therefore it is the cost of the motel room that sticks out. Thank you.

  11. The interminable TV ads lengthen the games without adding any content of interest. At the games the timeouts seem to never end. My guess would be the time for ads has about doubled in the last 50 years.

    The costs of attendance were mentioned, but the piece did not address the cost of seat licenses which many major programs now charge season ticket holders. That cost can great exceed the cost of the tickets and is in addition to the ticket cost.

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