SI: Unexcused Absence: Why Is College Football Attendance Tanking?

BleedGopher

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per SI:

As college football prepares to crown its latest champion, the game is facing a much bigger question than Clemson or LSU: namely, why are crowds at stadiums across the country shrinking? University administrators have tried fix after fix—but without ever diagnosing a root cause beyond 'kids these days.' To get to the heart of the problem, we set out on a journey across the college football landscape.

It’s a few hours before Florida hosts Vanderbilt, and hundreds of fans are hovering around the statues of Tim Tebow, Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel that grace Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Some pose for photos and then linger, as though hoping the school’s Heisman Trophy winners might unbend their bronze arms and offer benedictions. Tebow was 23 when his monument went up in 2011—too young to rent a car without added fees, but old enough to be canonized. Like religion, college football is full of miracles, steeped in nostalgia and not extremely logical.

I make my way through the picture-takers and around the curved walls of the stadium, passing tailgates set up under blue and orange tents. One lot is particularly packed, with fans pressed up against a rope-line running down its middle. Cheers erupt when coach Dan Mullen and his team parade through on their way to the locker room. The players high-five fans who’ve gotten close to them, the football gods. It’s game day in Gainesville.

As I enter the stadium a few minutes before kickoff, the audio system rumbles through the cement pillars and I’m ready for an overwhelming surge of energy. But when I make it out into the open air, the first thing I notice are empty metal bleachers reflecting rays of bright Florida sun. While the alumni section I’m standing in is filled, the top third of the student section opposite me is mostly empty, a scatter-plot weighted toward the bottom. I was expecting the frenzied vibe of a rave; what I’ve got is more of a buzzy mimosa brunch.

But in the press box, Tyler Nettuno, a reporter for the school’s student newspaper, The Alligator, is pleasantly surprised. “It’s a way better crowd than I thought it would be at kickoff,” he says, looking out at the fans. More students show up during the first quarter, but there are still empty rows. The general admission seats above both end zones are patchy, too. “For a 12 o’clock game,” Nettuno continues, “this is the best I’ve seen it.”

If this is the best, that’s not great for the Gators. After all, this is Florida football at the one and only Swamp. Almost every billboard along the highway leading to town is blue and orange. Alligators adorn special edition license plates. The whole town seems to know the words to "We Are The Boys From Old Florida." SEC football has been the lifeblood of this place. I am standing in a house of worship for a Saturday sermon.

But fans aren’t showing up the way they used to. Average attendance in 2018 was the lowest it’s been for Florida since 1990. While the ’19 season saw an uptick of about 2,000 fans per game—for an average of 84,684 in a 91,916-capacity stadium—attendance has still fallen nearly 6% over five years.


Go Gophers!!
 

A_Slab_of_Bacon

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It's an entertainment product.

I would expect it to ebb and flow.
 

Panthadad2

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per SI:

....
But when I make it out into the open air, the first thing I notice are empty metal bleachers reflecting rays of bright Florida sun. While the alumni section I’m standing in is filled, the top third of the student section opposite me is mostly empty, a scatter-plot weighted toward the bottom. I was expecting the frenzied vibe of a rave; what I’ve got is more of a buzzy mimosa brunch.

But in the press box, Tyler Nettuno, a reporter for the school’s student newspaper, The Alligator, is pleasantly surprised. “It’s a way better crowd than I thought it would be at kickoff,” he says, looking out at the fans. More students show up during the first quarter, but there are still empty rows. The general admission seats above both end zones are patchy, too. “For a 12 o’clock game,” Nettuno continues, “this is the best I’ve seen it.”
...


Go Gophers!!
Sounds like empty student sections aren't just a Gopher thing.
 

BeerFueledFF

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Sounds like empty student sections aren't just a Gopher thing.
They certainly are not just a Gopher thing. It's a challenge for the majority of schools right now, and something ADs need to figure out some solutions to.
 

4four4

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My young co-workers who are in their early 20s explain to me their generation would rather watch people play video games than go to a "boring" sporting event. IMO, sports will not be the same in the years ahead.
 

BleedGopher

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My young co-workers who are in their early 20s explain to me their generation would rather watch people play video games than go to a "boring" sporting event. IMO, sports will not be the same in the years ahead.
I have a feeling your young co-workers were never the type to go to sporting events if they describe them as "boring." Just a guess. But agreed there is an issue that spans all live entertainment.

Go Gophers!!
 

A_Slab_of_Bacon

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Sounds like empty student sections aren't just a Gopher thing.
Indeed it is everywhere.

There used to be this old tagline that I hated seeing where you'd get all these ignorant "only at the U!" type comments anytime anything that seemed like a problem at the university came up.... except that's not the case.
 

BeerFueledFF

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I have a feeling your young co-workers were never the type to go to sporting events if they describe them as "boring." Just a guess. But agreed there is an issue that spans all live entertainment.

Go Gophers!!
Agreed, and it is likely they have just never gotten into sports. If they cared to, they'd likely enjoy it if they like esports, but some folks just prefer not watching sports which is fine.

The bigger issues are definitely related to cost, time commitment, ease of access and other such issues which add to the annoyance and cost factors of attending live events.
 

Schnauzer

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It is easier and easier to watch the games on TV (better equipment, clear picture, bigger screens, agreeable kickoff times, complimentary internet information, massively long breaks to get food, etc. etc.)

Meanwhile, it is harder and harder to enjoy a game in person (increased security hassles, game times not announced until a week ahead of time, uncomfortable required time outs with the red hat guy, sky high ticket prices, High concession prices for low quality food, limited replay info in stadium, poor wifi in many stadiums, inconvenient game times, etc. etc.)

With all this happening at the same time, there are questions why attendance is declining nationwide?
 

MplsGopher

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Football is a hard game to get into, or just watch for the enjoyment of the game itself, if you're not invested in one of the teams playing. A lot of stop and start to the action, lot of confusing rules.

Also think for some colleges, the tailgating "scene" is a bigger attraction than the game itself.
 

theTurning

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Too expensive
Too many TV timeouts
Ridiculously difficult to physically get into the venues
Too many other things to do on a fall Saturday
 

Gold Rush

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It is easier and easier to watch the games on TV (better equipment, clear picture, bigger screens, agreeable kickoff times, complimentary internet information, massively long breaks to get food, etc. etc.)

Meanwhile, it is harder and harder to enjoy a game in person (increased security hassles, game times not announced until a week ahead of time, uncomfortable required time outs with the red hat guy, sky high ticket prices, High concession prices for low quality food, limited replay info in stadium, poor wifi in many stadiums, inconvenient game times, etc. etc.)

With all this happening at the same time, there are questions why attendance is declining nationwide?
You just nailed it - couldn't have said it any better. What also might be interesting though is to see what the numbers are for TV as well as the numbers at all the sports bars. The Gophers started out fairly quietly, but the numbers must have been off the charts down the stretch. This means there was a massive growth of people watching the games as the team won some big games and were relevant up to the end. There are still a lot of people (and I would say that is a growing number!) watching the games, they are just watching them at different venues. This still bodes well for the maroon and gold as there was a substantial increase in fans watching the games this year compared to years past. The next thing you should see is an increase in tickets sold as well as an increase in merchandising as this fan increase continues.
 

salzie

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Sounds like empty student sections aren't just a Gopher thing.

I've been to Wisconsin games. Student section is 1/2 full @ kickoff, pretty close to full by half time, they chant out Eat Shit Fuck you a few times, and after the Jump around starts emptying


NDSU I believe tickets are free for students and they don't fill up, they actually shrunk their student section
 

salzie

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Too expensive
Too many TV timeouts
Ridiculously difficult to physically get into the venues
Too many other things to do on a fall Saturday
I know for me, joy of going to game outweighs all that. Granted, I buy my tickets in no donation cheap seats, but I find it a bargain
 

Winnipegopher

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Attendance is dropping in almost all sports. Gameday experience has gotten too expensive and the tv viewing experience has gotten very good. I think we will see a plateau or even a drop in ticket prices over the next few years.
 

MplsGopher

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Attendance is dropping in almost all sports. Gameday experience has gotten too expensive and the tv viewing experience has gotten very good. I think we will see a plateau or even a drop in ticket prices over the next few years.
As long as TV keeps paying dearly for the golden goose that is keeping the live TV business alive (live sports), I can live with this arrangement.

About the only thing worth tuning in. Live TV is just a horrible experience to watch anything else. Nothing but commercials every damn 10 minutes.
 

highwayman

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TV, clear and simple. Until 25 years ago you were lucky if the Gophers were on twice a season. Only a few years ago were all games finally available.
 
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There are a lot of factors. Every game is televised in HD and for many fans that is a more enjoyable viewing experience. The kids in college today have grown up with the internet and the many entertainment options it offers for their entire lives and aren't as tuned into sports as past generations.

It must also be said that these massive capacities that schools have were easier to fill in the pre StubHub era when the only way to get tickets was through conventional means. Today when a fan wants a ticket, he's as likely to hit StubHub to either find a really good seats or get tickets when someone is having a fire sale on game morning as to go to the team's official website and buy unsold tickets from the school. If 3,000 tickets get sold on StubHub that aren't sold by the school when it has supplies, it means there are 3,000 empty seats. There are schools that have 85,000 seats that might be better off with 72,000 as well as ones with 62,000 seats that ought to have 50,000 and so on in order to reset the supply/demand equation.

Going back to younger fans, in many cases they want to have experiences as opposed to just watching. Stadiums with no wi-fi where the cellular data networks collapse when the crowd gets big (see our home games against Penn State and Wisconsin) play against the experience aspect because there are ways to create that experience with internet connectivity, particularly the social media aspect.
 

DarrenTheGreek

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It's been hashed many times but the moment the guy with the red hat was allowed to make a 2 hour event last 3.5 hours, that was it. There is only so much that one can do to occupy themselves during the extra 90 minutes that television has dragged out.

To compete, then the LIVE experience has to offer something that can't be captured on television.
1. Tailgating
2. College party atmosphere
3. In game entertainment during the commercial breaks
 

Panthadad2

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It's been hashed many times but the moment the guy with the red hat was allowed to make a 2 hour event last 3.5 hours, that was it. There is only so much that one can do to occupy themselves during the extra 90 minutes that television has dragged out.

To compete, then the LIVE experience has to offer something that can't be captured on television.
1. Tailgating
2. College party atmosphere
3. In game entertainment during the commercial breaks
The time a big deal for me. I love college FB halftime shows but it drags the game out even longer. The lengthy game is one reason I can't stand to watch a full baseball game anymore, especially MLB. On the flip side, I originally got into watching fastpitch softball because my daughter plays it, but became a big fan of the Gopher team and college in general because it's a fantastic fast-paced game that's done in about 2 hours or less.

The lengthy gametime part of college football probably can't be fixed totally, but, to your point, that's where the importance of fun tailgating and general fun gameday experience need to be emphasized. The Nebby, PSU, and Wiscy pre-game scenes were awesome. Now....get those cell phone towers up to snuff so young people (and middle-aged guys like me too!) can share experiences via social media.
 

salzie

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That security line / chaos at the Wisconsin game this last year ... like man that sucked.
we headed in earlier than normal to avoid that cluster

I think it was first season of TCF, I Missed nearly the entire first quarter of the game waiting in line for security, and we got in line half hour prior to kick off
 

Panthadad2

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we headed in earlier than normal to avoid that cluster

I think it was first season of TCF, I Missed nearly the entire first quarter of the game waiting in line for security, and we got in line half hour prior to kick off
The whole gameday organization at TCF was a total cluster that first year. It soured my wife and daughter enough that they didn't want to attend games after that.
 

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The points that have been shared are all valid. However, those that were at the Penn State game this year know that seeing the game live better than any drug. For a program on the rise after a 50 year drought, it's worth the hassle.
 

gopherjay

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It is easier and easier to watch the games on TV (better equipment, clear picture, bigger screens, agreeable kickoff times, complimentary internet information, massively long breaks to get food, etc. etc.)

Meanwhile, it is harder and harder to enjoy a game in person (increased security hassles, game times not announced until a week ahead of time, uncomfortable required time outs with the red hat guy, sky high ticket prices, High concession prices for low quality food, limited replay info in stadium, poor wifi in many stadiums, inconvenient game times, etc. etc.)

With all this happening at the same time, there are questions why attendance is declining nationwide?
All true. I have have no questions for the fans but I do question why the NCAA, NFL, MLB still hang on to their value proposition. Other entertainment businesses have changed and maintained or grown. They all make it very difficult for their future customers...in the end it is greed. Greed is blind.
 

Word

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The points that have been shared are all valid. However, those that were at the Penn State game this year know that seeing the game live better than any drug.
Until someone overdoses on Gopher football I am not sure I will buy that statement.
 
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