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Concern rising over dropping student attendance at college football games

Michigan St Illinois Football AP

ESPN’s Darren Rovell has a lengthy look into the dropping student attendance rates at college football games, a problem that seems to be growing among powerful and weak teams across all conferences. It’s one that has university administrators worried given a school’s current students are counted on to be season ticket holders after graduating.

And if students aren’t taking in the game day atmosphere now, would they want to down the road?

The most common complaints included restrictions on tailgating at the stadium, or the quality of presentation of the games on television compared to the sight lines and breaks in the action at the stadium. Fans of the worst teams complained that the games weren’t competitive enough, yet so did did fans of the best teams. One thing that wasn’t an issue? Ticket prices, as most are either free or heavily subsidized.

Rovell spoke to a few students from across the country about declining attendance, and these two responses stuck out:

Sam Eichenblatt, Georgia Tech: “I want to be able to flip over to other football games while watching my team. I don’t want to miss the entire LSU-Alabama game because my team is playing at the same time.”

Greg Licht, Iowa: “There are students here who have been Hawkeye fans since birth and will show up every game. Others would rather drink away their fall Saturdays.”

Those are two complaints colleges can’t do anything about. Your upper-echelon football schools don’t have to worry too much about students ditching games to watch better ones on TV. But for middle or lower-tier schools, enticing students to spend money and time watching a pair of 3-3 ACC teams instead of a primetime SEC showdown would seem difficult.

And then there’s the issue of sobriety, though that’s hardly a new thing. What is new, though, is the amount of games on TV (or streaming online) and the accessibility and connectivity that’s gained from hanging back at an apartment, frat or bar to watch them all while drinking without the watchful eye of stadium security.

But the best thing a college program can do to combat all the no-shows: Win. There still will be no-shows for the FBS and directional Texas non-conference games, and even some of the bottom-feeder conference opponents. But winning breeds an atmosphere that’s often attractive enough to pull students in. It won’t fix everything, but it’s the best way to stem the no-show tide.

Whether these issues result in fewer season ticket holders and less money from boosters, we won’t know for a while. But it’s hard to resist the pull to go back to your alma mater once one graduates, and home football games are generally the best excuse for that trip.

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20 Responses to “Concern rising over dropping student attendance at college football games”
  1. manik56 says: Feb 17, 2014 1:04 PM

    No more 1-AA teams Gene Smith.

  2. tampabayirish says: Feb 17, 2014 1:40 PM

    I think the issue is way deeper than major college football or even the NFL is willing to acknowledge. (1) The game experience at the stadium is often not as good as the game experience at home, especially considering the substantial cost of attending a game and the time commitment. Going to an NFL game is an all day commitment. (I think this is a bigger issue for the NFL than it is for major college football…Thank God for coeds! (2) And this is the bigger problem, I don’t think that watching or attending sporting events is of interest to a larger and larger subset of the population. With the endless supply of channels on TV and the internet, some people find other things to do with their time instead of watching football. As football fans, it’s hard for us to relate to this, but it’s true. The problem is even larger for baseball. Look at the demographics of “in stadium” baseball fans. Lots of middle aged people. The 20 something’s and 30 something’s don’t like baseball. The funny thing is hockey is thriving in the markets it plays in. The arena experience is far superior to watching the game on TV, climate controlled too. The demographics are healthy too.

  3. Deb says: Feb 17, 2014 1:50 PM

    Bama has a rabid community fan base who’d fill the stadium every week. But the school also now attracts students from other regions of the country that aren’t lifetime Tide fans and won’t necessarily flock to the stadium to watch blowout games. The solution for that is simple: Sell those spaces to the general public. The seats will be filled.

  4. thefiesty1 says: Feb 17, 2014 1:56 PM

    Stop scheduling poor teams with a guaranteed win (New Mexico State, Kent State, etc.) and stop putting the students in the end zone or nose bleed seats will help get the students to show up.

  5. 8to80texansblog says: Feb 17, 2014 2:25 PM

    I agree with @thefiesty1 for once…. students should get prime seating…. this is “college” football.

  6. seanb20124 says: Feb 17, 2014 2:47 PM

    Prefer drinking with buddies in my dorm, then go out after game. Stadium experience is a pain, just getting into arena, security treats me like a terrorist.

  7. steeler1nation says: Feb 17, 2014 3:56 PM


  8. afrancis55 says: Feb 17, 2014 4:35 PM

    Tell CBS and ESPN to stop taking so many damn tv timeouts. That’ll solve most of the problem and make it better for both the fans at the game and those watching at home.

  9. cometkazie says: Feb 17, 2014 5:08 PM

    The stadium experience is over rated, at least it’s been massaged so now it’s a TV thing rather than a stadium experience.

    I enjoyed it more back in the 1970s.

  10. udub says: Feb 17, 2014 6:38 PM

    It’s pretty simple. Win and you don’t have this problem.

    If the team is winning the students won’t flip the channels around to good games. They won’t stay back at the frat house or dorm and drink Saturday away.

    Winning cures this problem fairly easily.

  11. dmcgrann says: Feb 18, 2014 12:15 AM

    It’s a problem across all of the divisions. My daughter is graduating in May. I had season tickets this year so we could go to the games together. We went to some, but she had to leave early and couldn’t make other games, because she had work to do or faculty mandated commitments in direct conflict with the games. The tailgating and drinking part has a lot to do with it. By basically making alcohol consumption illegal except for the seniors, drinking has become illicit and there’s a lot of binging. If students start to “pre-party” before a game, that’s likely to lead to not wanting to go to the game at all. Kids go to college these days from all over the country and, in some cases, from all over the world. They’re not invested in being fans. When you get to the more elite schools (especially private ones), the percentage of foreign students who don’t even understand football can be gigantic. A lot of schools have no financial aid at all for foreign students; foreign students pay full price, and to wealthier families overseas, that’s not an issue – going to a big name US school is the goal. That doesn’t necessarily build up a fanbase.

  12. 35longmiles says: Feb 18, 2014 6:54 AM

    Stadium v. Sofa:
    Positives- upsides to both, can argue for either.
    Negatives- not even close, major pitfalls at stadiums, none on the sofa.

    Eventually it boils down to reasons that we don’t go to stadium.
    -TV timeouts
    -time commitments that often eat up entire weekend for out of towners
    -shitty view
    -did I mention $$$$$$$$

  13. mtheparrothead says: Feb 18, 2014 7:55 AM

    No 20/30 year olds at baseball games these days? Obviously you’ve never watched or been to a game.

  14. patriottony says: Feb 18, 2014 9:17 AM

    I will use my own college as an example:
    1) Great tailgating environment,,,one of the best in the country
    2) Fair ticket prices
    3) Good football product
    4)TRAFFIC-big negative issue with no access to HWY’s
    5) Capacity: 85,000

    I think negatives for most colleges is The “technology people have become addicted to,
    (lots of people tailgate with big screen TV’s and sat dish)
    The use of PSL via the NFL,,is absurd,,,a PSL for college games?
    Time commitment for a game: with travel,,etc is entire day event.

  15. mcg1848 says: Feb 18, 2014 12:09 PM

    Money is obviously a factor here, but I don’t think the conference realignment has helped at all. Most students and young alumni would go for a good rivalry game but the conferences have completely cheapened the experience in search of TV dollars – while not actually making the game day experience at stadiums cheaper btw.

    No Texas – Texas A&M, West Virginia – Pitt, Nebraska – Oklahoma, etc. Say what you want but those games put butts in seats. If schools are wondering why attendance is dropping, then they should start by taking a good hard look in the mirror. Their own actions devalued the game day experience.

  16. gatorprof says: Mar 2, 2014 8:38 PM

    The Gators have had all sorts of problems with attendance, both student and non-student. It started LAST year, when they actually were good and went to a BCS bowl. I think that a couple of things contributed to it…

    1) Raising ticket prices in a bad economy.

    2) Too many 12 noon starts in late summer…TV required this, most folks don’t want to sit in the direct sun in FL for several hours during the hottest months of the year.

    3) Boring product offensively….Spurrier’s fun and gun spoiled Gator fans for eternity.

    4) This past year, the team had a ton of injuries and was putrid.

  17. chicksdigthelongballs says: Jun 3, 2014 11:08 PM


  18. eugenesaxe1 says: Jun 7, 2014 2:43 AM

    Somebody has to stay behind and prepare the couches to be burned post-game.

    GO WVU!

  19. dhardy8207 says: Jun 26, 2014 10:38 AM

    I agree with Deb in regards to Bama’s attendance. They erected a Big Screen out on one side of the stadium last year because they had so many people trying to buy tickets to some of the biggest SEC rivalry games. Another problem speaking of tickets is the fact that now days there is the fear of buying fake tickets. That happened to a friend of mine who thought he was buying tickets from a reputable site, only to get to the game and find out what he had purchased was fakes. Big time investigation into that problem over the last two seasons…

  20. brownsmakemecrazy says: Jul 31, 2014 11:39 AM

    I agree with alot of the comments above. HD TV is one reason. Bad match ups is another. Who wants to watch a great team like Alabama play a scrub team like Joe Blow State. Cost is another reason. Some of these universities charge higher prices than NFL games which is absurd.

    The amount of timeouts is annoying. I know it is with NFL games. Doesn’t seem as bad as college games but it’s a deterrent

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