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Sugar Bowl attendance at its lowest since 1939

Allstate Sugar Bowl - Louisville v Florida Getty Images

Through 30 games of the 2012-13 postseason slate, bowl attendance is down five percent from a year ago and eight percent from two years ago, the Birmingham News is reporting.  And nowhere is that dip in attendance more personified than in last night’s bowl offering.

The announced attendance for last night Sugar Bowl matchup between Louisville and Florida — won 33-23 in stunning fashion by the Cardinals — was just 54,178, down over 10,000 (64,512) from the announced attendance of last year’s Virginia Tech-Michigan game.  Not only that, the News notes, it’s the smallest crowd for the Sugar Bowl since 44,308 managed to show up for TCU-Carnegie Mellon way back in 1939.

Prior to 2009, just twice in a 35-year span had Sugar Bowl attendance dropped below 70,000; last night marked the third time in the past four years attendance had fallen short of that mark.

This is not a problem specific to the Sugar Bowl, or college football in general.  NFL attendance has been in a steady decline in recent years, so much so that the league and its clubs are leaving no stone unturned to improve the in-game experience for fans in an attempt to get them back to the stadium on Sundays and away from man caves and sports bars and the like.

It is, though, a problem for college football.

Of the 30 bowl games played thus far, attendance has dropped in 16 of them from the same time a year ago, with the per-game average coming in at just over 46,000.  Six games, including the Sugar Bowl, have had 10,000-plus fewer fans come through the turnstiles than in 2011-12 — the Belk, Meineke Car Care, Gator, Little Caesars and Russell Athletics Bowls.  The latter two actually realized attendance drops of more than 20,000 each.  On the flip side, just two games — the Poinsettia and Armed Forces Bowls — had attendance figures that increased by more than 10,000.

Of course, matchups certainly play a role in attendance.  The Gator Bowl went from Florida-Ohio State (61,312) to Northwestern-Mississippi State (48,612) this year, while Florida State-Notre Dame (68,305) in the Russell Athletics Bowl gave way to Rutgers-Virginia Tech (48,127).

Unlike the NFL, though, college football’s attendance problems aren’t necessarily related to the at-home experience being of a higher-quality — and cheaper — than the in-stadium one and the complex issue of flipping a collective fantasy mindset.  Rather, the reasons behind college football’s postseason attendance woes are relatively simple and straightforward: at 35, there are too many damn bowl games.

Water down the postseason with the likes of San Jose State-Bowling Green (17,835, Military Bowl), Ball State-UCF (21,759, Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl) and Central Michigan-Western Kentucky (23,310, Little Caesars Bowl), and attendance will continue to be an issue.  Continue to invite nearly 60 percent of FBS schools to fill all available bowl slots — including 6-6 teams and, in one case (Georgia Tech), a 6-7 team — and bowl attendance articles will be an annual rite of winter.

Pare down the number of bowl games, though, and you’ll create better matchups and increase per-game attendance.  Thanks to the plethora of made-for-TV bowl games, though, don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

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38 Responses to “Sugar Bowl attendance at its lowest since 1939”
  1. thegamecocker says: Jan 3, 2013 12:03 PM

    Blame the weak economy; poor match-ups; time the games start; mediocre teams playing in bowl games; unemployment; price of tickets, gasoline, air fares, hotel stays, etc.

  2. wustlumdnj says: Jan 3, 2013 12:06 PM

    San Jose St (AP/BCS #24) is one of the best teams in the country at 11-2 with a three point loss to Stanford and a loss to WAC champ USU. If you use them as an example of the overexpansion of the bowl system, you are suggesting a shift from a meritocracy to a $$$-ocracy that I cannot support

  3. manchestermiracle says: Jan 3, 2013 12:07 PM

    Didn’t Florida come up about 10,000 short in selling their allotted tickets? Blame it on Florida and their lack of fans supporting the team. Then again, considering the result, maybe they knew what was going to go down….

  4. redsoxaa says: Jan 3, 2013 12:11 PM

    It has more to do with the greed of the bowl organizers than anything else. They really expect people to travel around the holidays and then spend all that money for a bowl ticket?

  5. tlmoon2112 says: Jan 3, 2013 12:11 PM

    “its the economy, stupid”

  6. mhalt99 says: Jan 3, 2013 12:12 PM

    look for more regional bowl games and matchups. what was the crowd for the bronx bowl, 4-6 hour drive for fans from either side….OR you can put 500 or so USC team from CA and a sub 500 GTech team from Georgia and match them up in Texas and wonder why nobody goes to the game.

    USC vs San Francisco U (if it exists) in bakersfield or GTech vs 1AA Deleware in Baltimore would always be a better draw

    Also stop saying or inferring there are too many bowl games. Can you really ever have too many bowl games?

  7. melikefootball says: Jan 3, 2013 12:18 PM

    Florida was over rated all year and their fans took note did not want to witness the defeat to a BIG EAST team. OUCH!

  8. rolltide510 says: Jan 3, 2013 12:22 PM

    Attending Bowl Games in person makes sense for championships and “biggest game in school history” games, but for the rest of even passionate fans, 55″ high-def TV sure is great.

    Things like the economy, prices of tickets, state of college football, etc. are tempting narratives, but like the NFL has recently acknowledged, sometimes external factors are irrelevant to the fact it’s never been better as a sports fan to watch a game at home on TV.

  9. boondocksaint7 says: Jan 3, 2013 12:29 PM

    Blame the NCAA, teams that travel and have excellent following Ohio st, penn st., Miami, and North Carolina were not eligible allowing lesser teams in. Costing millions in revenue. Some violated NCAA rules and some did not. And let’s not forget the Louisiana tech debacle. Don’t cry about poor attendance when a good portion of the responsibility falls on the NCAA. NFL doesn’t have a post season ban on the saints for bounty gait or the Patriots for spy gate. Why? Because they are not stupid and do not bite the hand that feeds.

  10. melikefootball says: Jan 3, 2013 12:30 PM

    No wonder fans are staying home, you watched another team play a game as thugs in Florida. We have witnessed two big name school during the bowl games LSU another show a lot of classless play. The NCAA should come down on the coaches and players and stop the crap on the field.

  11. butlers91 says: Jan 3, 2013 12:31 PM

    Duh…this is what happens when you play the games during the week and after Jan 1. Most of us just had time off, and can’t really justify taking more time off during the first week of the year. If these were between Dec 25 and Jan 1, they would be well attended.

  12. zurnvs says: Jan 3, 2013 12:32 PM

    1) yes there are to many bowl 2) sorry I don’t want to watch San Jose St, even at 11-2 3) 4-6 hour drive to see ur team would work 4) some fans just travel better than others 5) Florida was overrated 6) takes to long after season to get to the games 7) playoff system isn’t going to improve this product, it will get worse

  13. the1bigbird says: Jan 3, 2013 12:40 PM

    Regional bowls make a lot of sense. The Chick Fila Bowl always seels out with the ACC SEC matchup. Who would want to go regional bowl games in Indy, Minn. or Detroit? That is another issue.

  14. wvuandsteelers says: Jan 3, 2013 12:49 PM

    I’ve always thought we should have a true playoff system and use the bowls for the playoff games. If 32 teams make the playoffs, you get a grand total of 31 games (16/8/4/2/1). I think right now you have about 30 bowls. So, Shreveport, LA can still get in on the action. You schedule the playoff games as close to the top teams as possible (for example, Alabama might play in Birmingham). My guess is fans would show up for more meaningful games that are closer to home.

  15. BrownsTown says: Jan 3, 2013 12:54 PM

    Florida fans just don’t support any of their football teams, college or pro. Maybe UF will relocate as well.

  16. raysfan1 says: Jan 3, 2013 1:10 PM

    Butlers91 is right, scheduling bowl games on weekdays after Jan 1 is a recipe for decreased attendance. Of course, the scheduling is for TV purposes. So the issue becomes deciding which is more important–butts in seats or maximizing TV revenue and advertising. TV money wins every time.

    As for quality matchups, Hopefully that improves some in 2014. If Northern Illinois isn’t put into the Orange Bowl, then Louisville goes there instead of the Sugar–and Oklahoma would have been Florida’s opponent. Fair or not, more tickets would then have been sold for both games.

  17. raysfan1 says: Jan 3, 2013 1:14 PM

    I agree there are too many bowl games, largely because I don’t think 6-6 teams should be in one. However, that’s the current rules again due to TV $. I don’t think that’s changing either, in which case I think LA Tech (9-3) and Middle TN (8-4) might think there should be one more bowl game.

  18. boondocksaint7 says: Jan 3, 2013 1:16 PM

    Move a few weekday bowls to Christmas Day. A lot more viewers are home and prefer college football to the NBA!

  19. canehouse says: Jan 3, 2013 1:16 PM

    Brownstown… Last I checked we haven’t had a team relocate to Baltimore… or we haven’t had a homegrown phenom “take their talents to the mistake by the lake”… When’s the last time Cleveland won anything?? By the way Lebron had to come down here to win a championship… Many more to come!!!!

  20. tomtravis76 says: Jan 3, 2013 1:45 PM

    The Bowl games are glorified scrimmages. The only game that matters is the National Championship at the end of the regular season and conference championship games.If the bowl games were playoff games then the public/casual fans would tune in at record numbers.

  21. soobster says: Jan 3, 2013 1:46 PM

    Can’t we just call it what it was. If you’re a UF backer, why in the world would you dish out the expenses involved with going to New Orleans to see them play Louisville? If it was Oklahoma I know a lot of UF fans that would have made that trek.

  22. mogogo1 says: Jan 3, 2013 2:04 PM

    It sounds like Louisville did their part but Florida fans had better things to do. But who exactly was supposed to go to that Sugar Bowl played on a Wednesday after New Year’s? Retirees? The unemployed? Most people aren’t that into using vacation time or going on expensive trips immediately after the holidays.

  23. gatorprof says: Jan 3, 2013 2:30 PM

    UF didn’t travel as they viewed the bowl as a consolation prize not worth their time.

    Looks like the team prepared with the same mind set.

    I would be livid if I traveled to watch them get destroyed by the Cards.

    They didn’t even sell out all home games this year!

    They had a nasty habit of squeaking by team that “on paper” they should have killed. You saw this last night. The fan base wasn’t excited about the product…not excited enough to spend all that money to travel.

    Young, immature team not handling a little success well. They will learn and hopefully be a better team next year.

    The fan base is still skeptical. Last night didn’t help.

  24. irishdodger says: Jan 3, 2013 2:34 PM

    I hate bowl games, especially the BCS NC, being played on a week night. I suppose the long layoff is due to semester finals & the holidays but its become ridiculous. It’s no wonder we see players cramping up after being off for a month in the winter & then going to play in the humidity. I was amazed to see even players from southern schools cramping up.

  25. irishdodger says: Jan 3, 2013 2:37 PM

    Considering the improvement in record Florida saw from last season to this season, I would think they would have travelled well for the Sugar Bowl. Maybe Gator fans are spoiled. After all, when is the last time they left their state for an out of conference regular season game.

  26. brandontroutman says: Jan 3, 2013 3:06 PM

    There are too many bowls, that is a fact. You should not be able to enter a bowl, and then leave the bowl with a losing record. (Meaning, 7-5 should be the bowl minimum, not 6-6).

    Sure, a San Jose St. team goes 11-2 and deserves a bowl, that’s perfectly acceptable. On the other hand, Va. Tech goes 6-6 and get’s into a bowl on coach’s name, not acceptable.

    Perform, or stay home. It should be that simple. Every pizza joint, sporting outfit, or car care place should not have a bowl.

  27. bat42boy says: Jan 3, 2013 3:11 PM

    Do away with BSC games and go back to the original bowl games and you’ll see attendance go way up. Remember the great Rose, Orange, Sugar, Cotton and Gator bowls back in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s. That was great football with teams that won many games. We don’t need a playoff system. I’m old school football.

  28. thegamecocker says: Jan 3, 2013 3:59 PM


    Reasons to watch at home: clean bathrooms / 80″ HDTV / reasonable price for food / nicer element of people / don’t have to put up with weather / can switch channels during ads / etc.

  29. seamus0317 says: Jan 3, 2013 4:00 PM

    Way too many bowl games! We have a confidence pool every year with 20 guys and we have cut it down to 25 relevant games. Too many “who?” Bowl games out there!

  30. rcali says: Jan 3, 2013 4:02 PM

    Bowl City = Airline flights, hotel rates, rental car rates double. We all just got more poor with our countries brilliant leadership. Expect more people to stay home and watch. Technically ESPN is more than happy to have us watch it on TV.

  31. tonyricemajorharris says: Jan 3, 2013 4:31 PM

    I blame the fat cat bowl organizers. Do you think they care very much about what teams are playing in their crappy bowl??? Fat cats get rich quick and easy

  32. danoregon says: Jan 3, 2013 4:59 PM

    They could cut 8 to 10 games tomorrow. You’d still have room for top finishers of lesser conferences, cut out the middling finishers of the big conferences – and not only would quality of play improve. Teams would actually appreciate going to these games, wherever they are played.

  33. foreverlsu says: Jan 3, 2013 6:07 PM

    melikefootball says:Jan 3, 2013 12:30 PM

    We have witnessed two big name school during the bowl games LSU another show a lot of classless play.

    Huh? Can you write that in English please?

    Classless play? How so, moron?

  34. cometkazie says: Jan 3, 2013 6:17 PM

    I not really up to go to regular season games.

    Why should I go to a bowl?

    Stay at home and watch it on TV. At least I can turn it off when the game goes south.

  35. irishdodger says: Jan 3, 2013 7:29 PM

    The one place jean shorts are welcome & encouraged other than Florida is Louisiana, so you’d think Gator fans would flock to the Sugar Bowl.

  36. v2the4 says: Jan 4, 2013 1:51 AM

    There are in fact way too many bowl games…and mediocre teams who went 7-5 or 6-6 in a bcs conference are being rewarded with 15 extra practices, travel expenditures, bowl goodies(watches, gift cards, etc), and television exposure.

    The players get rewarded for once in a lifetime trips(Northern Illinois to Miami, Toledo to Idaho, etc) but the entire system is tied to $$$$$, regardless of attendance. Its too late to turn back now.

    ESPN and the sponsors just pour out money to host these games, regardless of it they are in Birmingham or Charlotte or Detroit or Boise.

  37. mbankston says: Jan 4, 2013 5:30 AM

    For the 16,8,4,2,1 guy. You trully are a moron. Most major college teams have already played 10 or 11 games. So you think they are going to play another 4 or 5. Get real.

  38. valiantdraws says: Jan 5, 2013 1:30 PM

    Too many meaningless bowls. Too many mediocre teams. No playoffs. No significance.

    College football needs to install a complete playoff system that culminates in regional champions, and a national champion.

    These bowls are the most uninteresting thing I can possibly think of. The Little Caesars Bowl? Even saying that makes me throw up in my mouth a little.

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