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College Football Sees Largest Attendance Drop in 34 Years; Experts Weigh in on How to Fix It

2 May, 2018

By: Michael Popke

NCAA football just ended its lowest season of attendance in 34 years.

“Attendance among the 129 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams in 2017 was down an average of 1,409 fans per game from 2016,” reports CBSSports.com. “That marked the largest drop since 1983, when average attendance declined 1,527 fans per game from 1982.”

The attendance decline is a trend, according to ESPN.com: “After reaching its peak in 2008 of 46,971 fans per game, average annual FBS attendance has dropped all but two years (2010 and 2013).”

This appears to be a sport-wide problem at the college level. EPSN.com also reported that “FCS games dropped an average of 134 fans per game (1.6 percent) in 2017, while Division II (186 fans; 5.3 percent) and Division III (81 fans, 4.1 percent) also had declines. Across all NCAA football divisions, average attendance was down 380 fans per game in 2017 (2.8 percent).”

What’s going on?

Some of the potential reasons for the decline include:

  • FCS schools with smaller fan bases and stadiums have moved up to the FBS level. Example: Georgia Southern last year drew a hurricane-impacted crowd of 3,387 vs. New Hampshire.

  • Today’s college students don’t make attending football programs as much of a priority as former generations of students did.

  • Watching games on TV or at sports bars are more enticing, rewarding and affordable.

But even college football’s TV ratings are falling. Austin Karp, assistant managing editor of Sports Business Daily, examined 2017 regular season college football viewership and found it decreased from 2016 at CBS (down 10 percent), ABC (down 18 percent), NBC down 3 percent) and ESPN (down 6 percent). Only Fox saw an increase — and a big one, at that (23 percent).

“It’s a technology issue,” Wright Waters, Football Bowl Association executive director and former Sun Belt commissioner, told CBSSports.com. “The public is ahead of us every day in what they can get from technology. We have not been able to keep up.”

“This is not surprising to me,” added Bill Lutzen, a veteran sports TV programmer who is currently the CFO of a web optimization firm. “This issue is with lack of involvement of the college students. They no longer view attending sporting events as part of the university experience.”  

In the wake of this news, SBNation.com offered five ways teams can “sort of”fix college football’s attendance woes. They include winning more games, selling less expensive food and shortening the length of games.

To view the NCAA’s entire “2017 Football Attendance” report, click here

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