Ohio State No. 1 in fan turnout, and 5 other 2014 college football attendance takeaways
Michigan’s 16-year streak of leading the country in attendance is over. The Buckeyes are the new leader.
College football teams have struggled with attendance in recent years, particularly when it comes to students, as a younger generation of fans isn’t attending games. Even some blue bloods like Alabama and Georgia have dealt with those struggles. However, it’s not just students.
According to CBS Sports’ Jon Solomon’s rankings, overall attendance figures have dropped to their lowest level in 14 years. That’s likely due to a variety of factors, including weak non-conference schedules, neutral site games, more small schools moving up from FCS, and poor fan experience. And it could be that some schools just aren’t as worried about attendance as TV and neutral-site money keeps flowing in.
Here’s a look at the most surprising numbers from Solomon’s report.
1. UAB’s attendance was better than 36 schools
UAB dropped football because the school claimed it was too unprofitable. But the Blazers claimed an attendance increase of 107 percent this year, and the average of 21,841 was better than the average at 36 other schools. The number could be inflated a bit, but it’s clear that the UAB program, which was bowl eligible, was improving, and so was fan support.
2. Despite losing, Texas A&M’s attendance is up
Texas A&M struggled to a 7-5 record, and the Aggies didn’t have a single marquee home win, winning just one SEC game at Kyle Field. But despite the struggles and the boring home non-conference schedule — Lamar, Rice, and ULM — A&M claimed a 21 percent increase, the largest of any power school. The stadium’s expansion appears to have paid off for now.
3. Traditional powers Michigan, Florida, and Texas saw decreases
As all three struggled to average or subpar seasons, fans stopped attending. Michigan saw a 6 percent fan decrease, giving rival Ohio State the No. 1 spot on the year.
And a 6 percent drop at a 100,000-seat stadium impacts the national average numbers more than a 6 percent drop elsewhere would. If the blue bloods start winning again, then college football’s overall attendance number should rise, too.
4. Mixed bag for FBS newbies
Appalachian State and Georgia Southern both moved to the Sun Belt this year. GSU won the conference outright with an 8-0 record, and the Eagles nearly took down ACC runner-up Georgia Tech. Appalachian State wasn’t quite as successful, but the Mountaineers were still a respectable 7-5.
However, GSU saw far better attendance returns, as the Eagles claimed a 43 percent increase and the Mountaineers claimed a 7 percent decrease. Still, Appalachian State remained ahead in average attendance, 23,166 to 21,102. Old Dominion, which fully joined Conference USA this year, had no change.
5. Eastern Michigan claims a home attendance increase of 247 percent. That can’t be true.
Unless the gray field truly was a draw to the Ypsilanti locals, Eastern Michigan did not actually have that big an increase between last year’s 2-10 season and this year’s 2-10 season.
More likely, the Eagles were just inflating their numbers to meet the NCAA FBS requirement of averaging 15,000 fans every other year. Every few years, EMU’s attendance — which hovers around 4,000 — jumps to over 15,000 for that reason. In 2011, EMU claimed 15,885 before two years of claiming about 4,000.