College football attendance saw its biggest drop in 34 years last fall. And the SEC was not immune.
According to a report from CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd, the mighty football conference was actually one of the Power 5 leagues hit hardest by a decline in bodies in seats for the 2017 season.
The SEC saw attendance decline by 3.14 percent last fall, dropping from an average crowd of 77,507 in 2016 to 75,704 in 2017. It was the sharpest decline in attendance among Power 5 conferences, with four of the five leagues losing ground year over year.
The Big Ten was the only conference to maintain its attendance from the previous season, enjoying a slight uptick from 66,151 in 2016 to 66,227 in 2017.
While it may have experienced the worst decline, the SEC still enjoyed the best attendance numbers of any Power 5 league, sitting at an average of nearly 9,500 more people per game than the Big Ten.
As a whole, college football saw its biggest drop in year-over-year attendance since 1983. Dodd’s report cites a 3.23 percent drop for major college football in 2017, which is just shy of the 3.5 percent change experienced after the 1982 season.
Dodd’s report also acknowledges a decline in bowl game attendance, which is down 23 percent since 2010.
So why are people not going to football games anymore? The answer is complex but a few hypothesis are not hard to concoct.
First, college football is more available to multimedia consumers than ever before. Not only is practically every major college football game televised, they’re also often simulcast on the internet making them available to anyone with a phone and a WiFi connection.
Next, because of the crowded television market for these games, they’re often spread beyond your traditional Saturday afternoon or evening kickoff times. There are 11 a.m. kickoffs and 11 p.m. kickoffs, and pretty much any time in between. And games aren’t just confined to Saturdays any longer. Put all of that together, and you’re giving engaged fans an easier decision to both enjoy the football they crave without giving up a significant portion of their day to travel to and from a large venue.
The status of the SEC in the fall of 2017 can’t be ignored, either. Coaches like Butch Jones and Jim McElwain was ousted from major program in the middle of the season, while others such as Bret Bielema and Kevin Sumlin finished the year as proverbial dead men walking. The result of that may have been a disinterested fan base for a significant portion of the league’s schools.
But that’s not all.
According to Dodd’s report, there may be other factors at play. Those include the priorities of the students on campuses.
“This is not surprising to me,” veteran sports TV programmer Bill Lutzen told Dodd. “This issue is with lack of involvement of the college students. They no longer view attending sporting events as part of the university experience.”
The solution is not simple, but one step being taken by some schools is the reduction in volume of seating to create a “premium ticket” environment for those who are choosing to be in attendance.