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College football attendance down to its lowest average since 2003

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We’re biased, but we believe college football is the most popular sport in America only behind the NFL. However, 2012 stadium attendance numbers don’t exactly reflect that. Per a story from al.com, college football attendance dipped to an average of 45,274 fans per game, the lowest since 2003.

Average attendance in college football peaked in 2008 with 46,739, so 2012’s numbers represent roughly a 3 percent decrease. This was the second year in a row that college football stadiums collectively averaged less than 46,000 fans per game. Some drops were minor, while others — Penn State and Tennessee, for example — experienced a 5 percent drop.

On the other hand, UCLA (21 percent) USC (18 percent) and Vanderbilt (15 percent) all saw significant increases.

You can check out the story and full chart HERE.

The reason? You can probably point to a few factors. Economy combined with ticket prices can be an easy deterrent when the experience of watching football at home is as great as its ever been. When you add in some cruddy non-conference games, fans simply aren’t going to shell out their hard-earned dollars for a blowout win over, say, South Alabama.

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30 Responses to “College football attendance down to its lowest average since 2003”
  1. Deb says: Dec 10, 2012 9:10 PM

    My brother’s family had wonderful experiences with the Texas fans at the national championship game in Pasadena, and with LSU fans at the title game in New Orleans last year. But at the SEC Championship in Atlanta, they were seated on the 50 across the aisle from drunken Georgia fans screaming the f-word and making obscene gestures despite the presence of young children. When my sister-in-law asked them to please stop because of the children, they told her to f-off.

    Obviously, these jerks didn’t represent all the Georgia fans anymore than an idiot like Harvey Updyke represents all Bama fans. But when you pay a fortune for game tickets, you’d like to be able to watch the game with your kids in peace. That kind of behavior is why families like mine are afraid to take their kids to NFL games.

    Maybe in addition to ensuring better matchups at more affordable prices, it would help if the NCAA added more security and tossed out the idiots.

  2. alligatorsnapper says: Dec 10, 2012 9:25 PM

    Scheduling for the teams truly wanting a chance at the Crystal will change once the playoff format arrives. Strength of schedule will become a major emphasis in rankings. The highest ranked teams will not be able to keep scheduling cupcakes.

    The escalating price of tickets is taking its toll. I have worked bowls (especially in New Orleans) and have not have to pay to attend, but if I did, it would be hard. When you consider parking fees, food and drink, price and cost of gas if the travel is distant, seat price, and any souvenier…well the total is getting up there. For major games, season ticket holders receive first preference and few, if any, tickets remain for sale from the schools for the game, so you have to go to other sources which charge much higher prices.

    A combination of the economy, escalating prices for tickets and the game experience, and in some cases, games that few want to see in person are proabably the major factors in drop in attendance.

  3. drummerhoff says: Dec 10, 2012 9:30 PM

    I wonder what effect all the new D1 schools like UTSA, UMass and Georgia State had on this statistic?

  4. rashardmendenballs says: Dec 10, 2012 9:37 PM

    It is actually cheaper to go to an NFL game than to a college game believe it or not. If i am going to spend minimum $250 (tickets, tailgating, parking ect) then I am picking the NFL game 10 times out of 10. At least 46% of all NFL games are decided by 7 points of less; as for college football I imagine it is not higher then 10%.

    I am not shelling out an arm and a leg for a game between a top 10 program versus Murray state or Eastern Michigan. Make you matchups more competitive, ADD A REAL 16 TEAM playoff and your attendance problem will be solved.

  5. steeler1nation says: Dec 10, 2012 9:56 PM

    It’s OBAMA-NOMICS, “stupid”!
    It’s simple.
    This is what the economy has done. It’s trickle-up poverty. It’s only going to get worse.
    Don’t you notice how EVERYthing has gone up in the past few years. I know durable goods go up – that’s natural, but the % of increase is alarmingly fast. Fuel has gone – we all know that. It DOUBLED when this clown took office.
    But groceries. Produce. Bread. Milk. Meat. Chocolate. Paper products. Candy. EVERY-FING-THING has gone up, up, up! Hence, no extra money for things considered a “luxury”, i.e. football tickets, it’s just not a necessity anymore.

  6. kozbee says: Dec 10, 2012 10:15 PM

    When officals get raises then someone has to pay the tab.Food prices going up and many more factors involved.Schools rebuilding team equip. no stopping the cost,and yes paying for the educations of those recruits.

  7. roundup5 says: Dec 10, 2012 10:20 PM

    deb: Try going to a Miami game as a visitor! You want to
    hear the “F” word, it’s the duration of the game.

  8. rcali says: Dec 10, 2012 10:21 PM

    Well, unless you can start using food stamps to pay for tickets, get used to it.

  9. louforprethident says: Dec 10, 2012 10:31 PM

    TV timeouts are brutal for the stadium experience.

  10. mountainmantride says: Dec 10, 2012 10:41 PM

    Did it occur to you that college kids don’t have any money? Therefore the majority of fans who go to college games are adults. And, at some point, as an adult, one eventually “grows up” and doesn’t do pom poms and rah rah and slushy beers or watch the idiotic antics of ESPN Game Day. I mean come on, those guys on the show are so called adults acting, well, like stupid college students. Might be time to grow up, eh. Sooooo, attendance at college games slowly but surely goes down, as the fans grow up.

  11. larrybrown43 says: Dec 10, 2012 10:41 PM

    I must admit, I couldn’t get into this college football season either. I watched 3 games. Big 10, SEC, Big 12 all way down in good teams.

  12. irishdodger says: Dec 10, 2012 10:56 PM

    The two biggest factors IMO are the economy & boring matchups vs FCS or mid-major schools. The new system should weed out the scheduling of FCS schools. As far as the economy? It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Income taxes will increase for all of us regardless of the “tax the 2% of millionaires & billionaires making $250K” rhetoric. Maybe we’ll become so much like Europe economically, that no one can afford football so will all watch or play soccer like the Euros…j/k.

  13. Deb says: Dec 10, 2012 11:05 PM

    @irishdodger …

    I could be busted flat in Baton Rouge, as the song says, but it wouldn’t make me watch soccer. Heck, I was busted flat across the ocean, and didn’t watch soccer LOL

  14. thefiesty1 says: Dec 10, 2012 11:07 PM

    It’s the economy, stupid. Rising ticket prices for terrible non-conference games along with almost every game televised is the cause. There is nothing worse than attending a game and having to sit thru endless TV time outs to wait thru a blowout against a team only playing your team to collect a paycheck.

  15. Slim Charles says: Dec 10, 2012 11:17 PM

    steeler1nation says: Dec 10, 2012 9:56 PM

    ——————————

    For your sake, I hope pacifier prices don’t go up any more.

    I wonder if the players will have to take a pay cu..oh yeah.

  16. jimbo75025 says: Dec 11, 2012 12:28 AM

    Well, it certainly hurts when you have programs like UT and Penn State which both have behemoth stadiums they are no longer able to fill up. Those 20K in empty seats for some games (for example UT vs Akron) really cut into the overall numbers.

    Overall though-it’s the same problem the NFL is having. Why go into debt to take the family to even one game when you can take the same amount of money, buy a season package and 60 inch HDTV and gain much more enjoyment over the long term.

  17. dmcgrann says: Dec 11, 2012 12:55 AM

    drummerhoff said:
    I wonder what effect all the new D1 schools like UTSA, UMass and Georgia State had on this statistic?
    ___________________________________

    Good question. But these schools don’t care too much except to maintain the 15,000 average attendance over a rolling two-year period that keeps them in FBS and off of FBS probation. UMass and Georgia Southern might not have averaged 15,000 this past year; I haven’t made any study of UTSA. But, all of these minor players in FBS seem to be happy if they can average one-third of the average attendance for all of FBS.

    I’m curious to see whether we’ll see a shakeup regarding teams moving from FCS to FBS. The last couple of years, the team moving up were all about TV market shares, regardless of whether or not you can actually say that a team like UNC-Charlotte actually delivers those local TV eyeballs any more than Duke, UNC, NCSU, and WF already do.

    It’s made for some interesting things. UNC-Charlotte is going into the Sun Belt and hasn’t played a single game at any level. ODU is in C-USA before they’ve ever played a FCS team, or even out of their time zone. Well-established solid FCS programs that want to move up, like Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, JMU, and others wait for conference invitations that don’t seem to be forthcoming – I suppose because the Statesboro, Boone, and Harrisonburg TV markets just aren’t as sexy as Charlotte and Hampton Roads. All anyone can do is wait and see what happens.

    It’s fascinating but sort of annoying. I’m an alumni of a school that had it’s success way back when, got shuffled back when the whole Division I, then I-A vs. I-AA came about. When D-I first came, the first requirement was that you needed to have a stadium of a certain size. We had one. Then attendance came into play. We couldn’t make it. There was talk of dropping football altogether, but we decided to be the best FCS team we could be, and worked like hell to fund the program.

    Now, some schools just start a program, and if they’re in a big enough media market, they can do so without having a stadium that even seats enough to make the minimum (see Charlotte). They’ll just “do it later.” Must be nice.

  18. dmcgrann says: Dec 11, 2012 1:16 AM

    Ben, I love statistics and such. The original article shows a lot of why this is sort of nothing for the big schools, but maybe an issue for the smaller schools.

    A 5% drop in Penn State or Tennessee’s attendance is roughly 5,000 folks each, given that they both have stadiums with a capacity of right around 100,000 (That’s rough, okay? I know that Neyland has a official capacity of 102,000+ and Beaver 107,000+.)

    The 21% increase for UCLA and the 18% increase for USC make up for that. There’s no problem in the big time ranks (except how you define “big time”, which is part of the problem, anyway). Parsing these attendance numbers is a geek’s dream.

  19. tampabayirish says: Dec 11, 2012 6:31 AM

    We can’t see it because we are right in the middle of it. Watching sports will become and more of a television phenomenon. On average (especially in the NFL) the “at home experience” is superior to the “at stadium experience”. The home experience is getting better and better with continual improvements in HD broadcasting and larger and larger viewing screens turning that into a group viewing experience. Contrast that with a day at the stadium which has not improved significantly but the costs have certainly skyrocketed. Plus, the economy still is stagnant and likely to remain that way as creeping Socialism sucks the creative and profit seeking life out of America. The only sport that is far better in person versus watching at home is hockey (when we used to play hockey). Hockey in person is great.

  20. 35longmiles says: Dec 11, 2012 7:17 AM

    The Canes ghost like “stadium” is driving down the national average.

    Main factors in attendance decline:
    1) Total cost for a game weekend is absurd
    2) TV is free to watch and provides many viewing advantages
    3) Stadium experience is greatly diminished by TV timeouts. Primetime games go well over 3 hours.

    Sorry folks, but the flat screen television is bringing on the slow death of the turnstyle.

  21. buckeyeluvn says: Dec 11, 2012 9:47 AM

    Its cheaper for me to drive 3 hours and watch the Lions play than it is to drive an hour for the Buckeyes

  22. jericoc says: Dec 11, 2012 10:34 AM

    I imagine attendance will drop further in upcoming years. What kind of turnout are you going to get for a Wake-Syracuse game at the Carrier Dome? Or for UConn-UTEP? How about Purdue-Maryland?

  23. 8to80texansblog says: Dec 11, 2012 11:20 AM

    Slim Charles says:
    Dec 10, 2012 11:17 PM
    steeler1nation says: Dec 10, 2012 9:56 PM

    ——————————

    For your sake, I hope pacifier prices don’t go up any more.

    ——————–

    Lol! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  24. mhalt99 says: Dec 11, 2012 12:34 PM

    steeler1nation says: It’s OBAMA-NOMICS, “stupid”!
    It’s simple.
    This is what the economy has done. It’s trickle-up poverty. It’s only going to get worse.
    Don’t you notice how EVERYthing has gone up in the past few years. I know durable goods go up – that’s natural, but the % of increase is alarmingly fast. Fuel has gone – we all know that. It DOUBLED when this clown took office.
    But groceries. Produce. Bread. Milk. Meat. Chocolate. Paper products. Candy. EVERY-FING-THING has gone up, up, up! Hence, no extra money for things considered a “luxury”, i.e. football tickets, it’s just not a necessity anymore.

    huh…wait…..Obamanomics? So you are complaining about Obama and the Democrats for “trickle-up poverty”which is a shot at social programs that the democrats represent which is also opposite of trickle down economics which the republicans have championed……BUT then you are also complaining that the party that is currently in power has not reigned in the free market enough to control the prices of good, services and commodities.

    so just so I have this straight – basically you want a trickle down free market based economy where the cost of commodities, goods and services are controlled or set by the government. ummm…….yeah……ummm…..do you get why that doesn’t actually make sense right?

  25. metroplexfrog says: Dec 11, 2012 1:15 PM

    I wouldn’t pay to see an NFL game for anything. If colleges would decide that playing someone you’ve heard of is better than some FCS team everyone would be better off.

  26. abrellbama says: Dec 11, 2012 1:42 PM

    At the University of Alabama, you would never know there was a drop off. Every home game was sold out. The first game at Cowboy Stadium, playing Michigan, was sold out. The LSU game at Tiger Stadium, well the stadium only holds 92,542 but there were 93,374 in attendance that night. Even the terrible game at Missouri with the worst weather conditions and they lightening delayed game was sold out. That’s all that counts. Are ticket sales. They don’t really care if you actually make it to the game or not, they just want the money from the ticket sales, even though it would be nice if everyone did make it to the games that bought tickets. I saw a chart that said attendance at Bryant Denny was 101,722 but 101, 821 tickets were sold for every home game so that really doesn’t matter.

  27. dmcgrann says: Dec 11, 2012 2:55 PM

    The problem with attendance figures is that the schools are making the choice of reporting actual or paid attendance. There’s nothing requiring them to choose one over the other, and so it can be like comparing apples to oranges to compare attendance figures from year to year.

    I see a couple of comments as to how TV timeouts are making the games longer and making the in person experience worse. I went to a non-televised FCS game this year and the first quarter took almost 90 minutes to play. Time was stopped apparently for the radio broadcasts, which is sort of ridiculous.

  28. tlmoon2112 says: Dec 11, 2012 4:14 PM

    roundup5 says:
    Dec 10, 2012 10:20 PM
    deb: Try going to a Miami game as a visitor! You want to
    hear the “F” word, it’s the duration of the game.
    **********************************************

    Id rather get the F word in Miami then a Teabag in Tuscaloosa.

  29. tlmoon2112 says: Dec 11, 2012 4:16 PM

    @abrellbama – there is incentive to sell out Alabama games that no one else has. It’s called a “family reunion”.

  30. lasseter1113 says: Dec 17, 2012 12:08 AM

    @tlmoon

    One word for you, BIGOT…I swear to God I can’t read one single article on this website without somebody taking a cheap shot at Alabama the school or the state. I realize that my team is on top of the college football world and that causes BIGOT’S like tlmoon here to be jealous out of their simple minds but does that give them the right to always take these cheap shots? I could make fun of each and every person on here’s home state or school IF, and that’s a big IF, they weren’t cowards like this guy and were willing to put what team they backed or what state they were from in their name or with their comment so I would at least have a fair chance at returning the insult. I realize the hatred for Alabama gets this website 1000’s of hits but come on people, it gets old, can I please come on here one time and not see something hateful or hurtful about my home state and the people I love just because you hate my football team?? It’s not funny, it’s down right sad and pathetic…

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