College football kicked off a new season on Labor Day weekend amid declining attendance figures.
In fact, average announced attendance dropped for the fourth consecutive year in 2017, bringing the cumulative four-year slide to 7.6 percent, according to The Wall Street Journal.
An analysis by the paper of data from the 2017 season reveals that “the average count of tickets scanned at home games — the number of fans who actually show up — is about 71 percent of the attendance you see in a box score. … Free tickets often are counted among attendance figures even if they’re never used.”
Even teams in the Power Five conferences (Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, South Eastern Conference, Big 12 and Pacific 12) routinely record thousands fewer people passing through stadium gates than they report publicly, according to the paper, which claims “the no-shows reflect the challenge of filling large venues when nearly every game is on TV, and they threaten a key revenue source for college athletic departments.”
“Many schools take a generous approach in compiling announced attendance, by including ushers, security guards and even the guy at the concession stand who sells you a Coke,” writes Journal reporter Rachel Bachman, who adds that the NCAA accepts the announced attendance numbers schools submit “at face value,” according to NCAA spokesman Christopher Radford.
Of the nearly 100 football programs that provided data to the paper, only Navy uses an actual turnstile account for its announced attendance figures.
The decline in attendance looks like it might continue during the 2018 season. Yahoo! Sports reportsthat 30 of the 40 teams in the Power Five conferences that hosted home openers on Labor Day weekend experienced a year-over-year attendance decline. And 26 of the 40 experienced declines from a decade ago.
“This is not breaking news to most observers of the sport,” according to the site. “Tickets have become harder to sell for years, especially to students. But new or not, it’s a trend that has to concern administrators, coaches and those who make a living based on the game-day experience in college towns.”
Colleges that experienced the biggest attendance drops from the 2008 home opener to the 2018 home opener, according to Yahoo! Sports, include USC, Illinois, Virginia, Cal and Kentucky.
“One exception to the general attendance decline appears to be the state of Texas,” the site reports. “Stadiums keep getting larger, and fans keep showing up (a change in conference affiliation doesn’t hurt, either). Texas A&M had 17,164 more for its 2018 home opener than in ‘08; TCU was up 15,145; Baylor up 14,697.”
The University at Buffalo (which definitely is not in Texas) announced an opening day crowd of almost 18,000 in 29,000-seat UB Stadium for the Bulls’ 48-10 win over Delaware State on Sept. 1, but the stands behind the end zone and the upper decks were nearly empty, according toThe Buffalo News.
The university is doing its best to entice fans to home games, the paper reports, with a gameday concert series, food trucks and an upcoming themed promotion for students based on the movie Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom.
“We want to be as visible as we can and be more diligent than we’ve done in the past,” new UB athletic director Mark Alnutt said. “It’s a matter of trying to latch on to some of the folks. There have always been some long-standing fans, but now we want to get some new fans out there, as well.”
Sagging student attendance is a problem even at perennial powerhouses like Alabama, where there are plans to add a student terrace as part of a renovation of Bryant-Denny Stadium, in an effort to create “a more interactive and social environment,” athletic director Greg Byrne told The Wall Street Journal.