“There are a number of factors you can look at.”

It was the best of times ($$)

But college football’s 2019 regular season proved a refreshing departure for the networks that paid hundreds of millions of dollars to show it. TV audiences were up — in many cases, way up.

“The SEC on CBS” saw a remarkable 24-percent year-over-year increase, resulting in the network’s most-watched season (average 7.1 million viewers) since 1990. FOX enjoyed its most-watched season (3.7 million), with a 12-percent bump from 2018. ESPN’s networks, which include ABC, enjoyed a four-percent increase for their 247 games (3.9 million viewers for ABC, 1.8 million for the cable networks).

… it was not so much the best of times.

In fact, average SEC home football attendance this season was the lowest it has been in a long time.

The league’s 14 teams combined to play 102 home games in 2019 — a number that includes three neutral-site games between two SEC teams (Florida-Georgia in Jacksonville, Arkansas-Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, and the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta). Those games brought in a total of 7,418,914 fans. That’s 82,761 fewer fans than 2018 (7,501,675) despite there being two fewer games on the schedule that season (100).

The SEC averaged 72,735 fans in those 102 games in 2019. That’s a decrease of 2,282 from last season, and the conference’s lowest total since 2001, when it averaged 72,130.

The team’s high-water mark during that stretch, 78,274, came during the 2015 campaign. It hasn’t been a constant decline since then — the number dropped to 77,507 in 2016 and 73,571 in 2017, then went back up to 75,017 in 2018 before falling this season.

That looks like a mother of a canary in the coal mine, but Greg Sankey is quick to brush it off.

“Issues related to attendance are not unique to college sports,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said. “There are challenges that are common across sports, college and professional, such as viewing options through enhanced at-home and mobile technology and a new generation of fans with a changing set of attendance habits.”

And why not, with that sweet new TV deal just around the corner?  Well, maybe because of this:

Beck also said that, on the year-end surveys Auburn sends out to season-ticket holders, one of the most important things to fans is kickoff time. The seven teams with increased attendance this season combined to play 13 home games that kicked off at noon ET/11 a.m. CT. The seven teams with decreased attendance combined to play 14.

The SEC’s television broadcast partners decide kickoff times.

I think you misspelled “dictate” there, podnah.  But as long as the broadcast partner’s checks keep rolling in, nobody cashing them will care.  Even though they might pretend differently…

35 Comments

Filed under SEC Football

35 responses to ““There are a number of factors you can look at.”

  1. JasonC

    I think the model is going to stadiums that are entirely luxury boxes and letting the plebs watch on TV.

    Like

    • The other Doug

      I see that at a school like UGA, but what about at smaller places like GT? This is all just more of the haves vs the have nots.

      Like

      • Russ

        I agree with both of you. There will be a split with a “super conference” that will mimic the NFL (in both the good and bad ways), and the “lesser” conferences will be either minor leagues, or go back to a fully college model like the smaller divisions follow now where ~10-20k fans, students and family members show up to watch student-athletes play football.

        The problem will be with the ones that are just outside the “super conference” and spend millions trying to get over the hump. Sort of like now.

        Like

      • 79Dawg

        Huh? Don’t you know how all those Trek guys are our rich bosses, just ask one!

        Like

  2. W Cobb Dawg

    We’re gonna need smaller stadiums.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gaskilldawg

    Notice that reducing timeouts for advertising is never mentioned as a solution?

    I would rather sit through a 2 1/2 hour game than 3 hours 45 minutes to 4 hour games.

    Liked by 1 person

    • California dawg

      Not to mention the safety concerns with forcing college athletes to play 4+ hour games week to week.

      Like

    • Castleberry

      Spot on. I was tracking this earlier in the season. CFB is becoming unwatchable compared to other sports. It’s naive for me to hope this, but I really wondered if the declining attendance might trigger conferences to negotiate maximum stoppage time into their TV deals. I’m afraid it won’t happen until attendance has fallen WAY off AND broadcasters (looking at CBS here) start pumping other options that are cheaper to produce and have a younger fanbase. Thinking eSports here. Give it a decade. But the millions of 12-18 year-olds playing Fortnite 8 hours / day won’t be lining up to give CFB $2k / year for season tix or patient enough to spend four hours glued to a TV show with 20 minutes of action.

      Like

  4. ScenicCityDawg

    Good article. No sports league (pro or college) treats its actual fans with the disdain the SEC does. When you don’t know the kickoff time till 10 days before, or even 6 days before (the fan-friendly 6 day option), it is impossible to plan travel around other life events (some of us actually have a life outside of SEC football). This exacerbates no-shows, but also longer term drives people to say I’m done with it. It ruins the ability to get affordable flights, hotels, get a solid pre or post tailgate in, and plan other activities around the game itself. It is so simple, even professional sports understand this and rarely keep their fans waiting till the last minute to announce game times. Its more important in the SEC where many of the locations are not in big cities (and with expansion of Mizzou and A&M) make more locations flight destinations. Seems the SEC would negotiate something better for its fans in the new deal….but why do I doubt this is on Sankey’s to-do list?

    Like

    • Russ

      All conferences do this.

      Like

      • ScenicCityDawg

        True, but SEC was the first do treat its fans with this disdain as included in the previously negotiated ESPN/CBS contract. This has worked out great for ACC, Pac-12, and Big 12 attendance too. Its a significant factor in the drop in attendance.

        Like

  5. The other Doug

    Teams are going to start marketing to the visitor’s fanbase to increase ticket sales.

    Like

    • Gaskilldawg

      You would think so but the League has reduced the number of tickets each team has to give visitors.

      Like

      • 79Dawg

        And all the schools have jacked up the price they charge to visiting fans, for the privilege of sitting in the crappiest seats!

        Like

        • We match whatever the visiting school charges for the visiting ticket allotment. If a school charges $100 for a ticket in our allotment, that’s what we charge them in the Fech deck.

          Like

  6. Hogbody Spradlin

    Things that strike me as off kilter in our society:
    — Lawyers seeking lawsuit plaintiffs are one of the leading advertisers on TV
    — Those gigantic fortresses used 6 or 7 days a year are by far the biggest buildings on our college campuses.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jrod1229

      Stadiums have been the single largest building (outside of airports) in whatever setting they are placed in since the Roman days? I don’t see where the causation/correlation is there.

      Like

  7. Jim

    Wonder if the fact there were biblical rains thru much of the south a couple saturdays this season had anything to do with it. Serious question

    Liked by 1 person

    • Reverend Whitewall

      Tickets sold are usually counted in “attendance” numbers, rather than actual butts in the seats. Since most tickets are bought/sold long before the weather forecast is known, I doubt if this had a huge impact.

      Like

  8. I wonder what this would look like if SC, Arkansas, and Ole Miss were factored out of the equation?

    Like

  9. So according to this UGA is guaranteed to fall in attendance next year if they don’t add 600 extra seats for a game and then sell out every game. The sky is falling!

    Like

  10. Brandon M

    Attendance isn’t hurting for conference games and the Notre Dame games. It’s the cupcakes. Pre-SEC Network, if you wanted to see the Dawgs play that day, you had to have your ass in Sanford stadium. Now even Georgia v. Southeast Louisiana A&M is broadcast live. Why go through the hassle of all that comes with a gameday in Athens for a non-competitive game in the blazing September heat when you can enjoy it and other marquee matchups that day from the comfort of your own living room?

    Like

  11. 79Dawg

    We had “sellouts”, because all our season tickets are sold out, and we have people who buy all the leftover visitors tickets. The dozen or so unused tickets sitting in my dresser drawer will attest to the fact that average attendance was much, much less….. (as someone said above, the torrential rain for Kentucky and A&M didn’t help!)

    Like

  12. PTC DAWG

    The $$$ lost from a few less ticket sales is dwarfed by the TV $$$, hence the lack of hand wringing by the higher ups.

    Like

    • Russ

      That’s true. It’s when the TV money starts to dry up that school will be screwed. By that time, it will be hard to draw in the fans.

      Like

  13. The powers that be have sold out to the TV devil. When the bubble bursts, the AD at the time won’t know what hit him.

    The question is whether all of the rank and file alumni and fans who end up exiting season tickets will also stop giving to the school in general. That’s a bubble that will get attention.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Bulldog Joe

    No matter how many different ways you try to squeeze, it’s still a turnip.

    Like

  15. 79Dawg

    To circle back to your post from a few days ago and reference what some posted just above, it is hard to get people hooked to watch the games on TV, unless they have gotten hooked by actually going, in my opinion.
    While this HAS been a virtuous circle (and apparently will be at least virtuous enough to get us through the next tv deal), you really have to ask yourself if this is the turning point where tv accelerates the hollowing out of attendance and turns it into a vicious nosedive…
    As others have also mentioned, you would think the NASCAR example of wringing every last dollar available and killing the golden goose in the process, would be a cautionary tale. Bulls make money, bears make money, pigs get slaughtered!

    Like

  16. duronimo

    Now days there are so many options for entertainment. Technology is providing much easier and quicker options than going anywhere in person. It’s hard, any longer, to get the kids out of the house to play basketball, hide-in-seek or ride their bicycles for goodness sake. Sports managers don’t help by making it harder and more expensive to take the family to a game. I became a Dawg fan as a kid. Sad to say that among my grandkids, college football has no appeal. Teams are downsizing their venues because the numbers of those who can afford the experience is dwindling. However, they are still living large off TV revenue. As with NASCAR, this will end as our kids grow up with no interest in watching the team their parents so passionately followed.

    Like

  17. Debby Balcer

    I wonder if weather was a factor we had two games where the weather was miserable. I think it rained all over the southeast those weekends.

    Like

  18. Actuary Dawg

    I don’t get the point of the data. 7 teams had improved attendance and had 13 noon games. 7 teams had worse attendance and had 14 noon games. Are they attributing the primary driver of decreased attendance to a single extra noon kick-off. That is way, way less than than statistically significant. How about crappy teams get lower attendance and crappy teams also have a lot of noon games. Common cause is the team is crappy. Classic case of correlation does not imply causation, but in this case I’m actually surprised the number of noon games didn’t make a bigger difference in attendance. If anything, the fact that the better attended schools only had one fewer noon game, makes me think that kick-off time has little to do with overall attendance.

    Like

  19. ApalachDawg

    The EPL does it right and they are the biggest sporting league on planet earth.
    No stoppage for 45 mins per half with a 15-20 halftime.

    Like