College football has an attendance problem. Average announced attendance in football’s top division dropped for the fourth consecutive year last year, declining 7.6% in four years. But schools’ internal records show that the sport’s attendance woes go far beyond that.
The average count of tickets scanned at home games—the number of fans who actually show up—is about 71% of the attendance you see in a box score, according to data from the 2017 season collected by The Wall Street Journal. In the Mid-American Conference, with less-prominent programs like Central Michigan and Toledo, teams’ scanned attendance numbers were 45% of announced attendance.
Even teams in the nation’s five richest conferences routinely record thousands fewer people passing through stadium gates than they report publicly. 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.
“Attendance drives recruiting, attendance drives donations, merchandise sales,” said Rob Sine, who until earlier this year was president of IMG Learfield Ticket Solutions, which works with dozens of colleges. If fans don’t use their tickets, he added, “they’re more likely to not come back.”
Yeah, well, is anybody really surprised there’s usually a gap between reported attendance and actual butts in the seats?
A few bullet points:
- Georgia was one of about 30 teams that didn’t provide data. Wonder if this is something that will turn up in, say, oh… 90 days or so.
- It’s easy to brush this off if your program is selling out, but even if that’s the case, there’s still missing revenue from concessions, for example, not to mention funds that aren’t being paid out to local merchants.
- The excuse making, from Purdue’s “outdated equipment, connectivity problems and user error” to FSU’s “personnel and technical issues in scanning tickets”, is pretty pathetic.
- The least surprising thing in the article? Easily this: “The NCAA accepts the announced attendance numbers schools submit ‘at face value’”. That, despite the fact that schools are supposed to maintain a 15,000 “actual or paid” home attendance on a rolling two-year average to stay in D-1.