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SEC Football Attendance Declines For Three Straight Years, But…

gfx - by the numbersAs we noted earlier today, the University of Florida — fresh off an 11-win season and BCS bowl trip — is still a tad behind last year’s tally of football tickets sold.  If the Gators fail to match last year’s average attendance, it will mark the fourth consecutive drop in attendance for one of the SEC’s premier programs.

Below is a quick look at the average attendance numbers for each current SEC school from 2009 through 2012, according to the NCAA’s official figures.  Obviously, there have been stadium overhauls, capacity increases and decreases, some good home schedules and some bad, some positive seasons for SEC squads and some poor.  Coaching changes and economic factors also play a role in ticket sales.  So to does the increase in televised games.

Still, this is a pretty good bird’s-eye view of what’s going on in terms of SEC football attendance.  The schools are listed in order of their average attendance over the full four-year span:

 

  School   2012 Avg.   2011 Avg.   2010 Avg.   2009 Avg.   4-Year Avg.
  Alabama   101,722   101,821   101,821   92,012   99,344
  Tennessee   89,865   94,642   99,781   99,220   95,877
  Georgia   92,703   92,613   92,746   92,746   92,702
  LSU   92,626   92,868   92,718   92,489   92,675
  Florida   87,597   89,061   90,511   90,635   89,451
  Auburn   82,646   85,792   86,087   84,614   84,784
  Texas A&M   87,014   87,183   82,477   76,800   83,368
  S. Carolina   80,001   79,131   76,668   75,369   77,792
  Arkansas   68,046   66,990   68,932   65,112   67,270
  Missouri   67,476   62,095   61,540   64,120   63,807
  Kentucky   49,691   60,007   66,070   69,594   61,340
  Ole Miss   57,066   65,488   55,898   55,767   56,304
  Miss. State   55,628   55,949   54,999   53,792   55,092
  Vanderbilt   37,860   32,873   33,269   35,015   34,754

 

The underlines represent a drop in average attendance from the previous season.  You’ll note that eight of the SEC’s 14 schools saw a dip (for one reason or another) last fall.  Three schools have seen two drops out of a possible three during that span: Tennessee, Auburn, and Vanderbilt.  And two schools — Florida and Kentucky — have seen their average attendance drop for three straight years.

(Keep in mind that these attendance figures represent tickets sold, not actual turnstile attendance.  Take into account the number of people not showing up and not paying for concessions, merchandise and parking and you’re talking about an even bigger drop in revenue at most schools.)

As a whole, the SEC still easily leads the nation’s conferences in attendance.  Those overall school-by-school numbers would please a whole lot of athletic directors at a whole lot of schools.  But there’s a reason the conference has put together a task force charged with finding ways to improve the in-stadium experience at schools across the SEC.  That reason becomes clear when you look at the chart below:

 

  2012 Avg. SEC   2011 Avg. SEC   2010 Avg. SEC   2009 Avg. SEC
  1,049,941   1,057,513   1,063,517   1,047,285

 

For two straight autumns, SEC average attendance has dropped.  That’s the kind of storyline that forces ADs, presidents and conference commissioners to start asking questions and searching for solutions.  That said, there are at least two ways to look at every issue.  On the one hand, economic factors and a more finicky sports fan are making it harder and harder for schools to sell out their home football games.  On the other, the league is still way up in attendance over where it was 15 years ago.

Here are the attendance numbers for the 14 current members of the SEC from 1998, the first season of the BCS system.  For comparison, we’ve included each school’s most recent four-year average.  The schools are listed alphabetically:

 

  School   1998 Avg.   2009-12 Avg.   Difference
  Alabama   82,670   99,344   Up 10,000+
  Arkansas   52,600   67,270   Up 10,000+
  Auburn   81,110   84,784   Up
  Florida   85,299   89,451   Up
  Georgia   85,618   92,702   Up
  Kentucky   57,737   61,340   Up
  LSU   80,290   92,675   Up 10,000+
  Missouri   57,335   63,807   Up
  Miss. State   37,385   55,092   Up 10,000+
  Ole Miss   46,092   56,304   Up 10,000+
  S. Carolina   74,744   77,792   Up
  Tennessee   106,914   95,877   Down 10,000+
  Texas A&M   58,293   83,368   Up 10,000+
  Vanderbilt   31,731   34,754   Up

 

As you can see, Tennessee is the only school that has a lower average attendance figure now than it did in 1998.  But just as other schools have added seats, UT actually did away with several thousand seats in order to create more club and box seats.  That’s a trend that we at MrSEC.com expect to see continue across the country.

As attendance boomed in the 1990s, expansion projects were the big fad.  But by the economic downturn and HDTV boom of the late-2000s, attendance began to decline inside most of the new monster facilities.  Faced with unused seats and the prospects of continued drops in tickets sold, more schools will likely follow Tennessee’s lead and shave seats by the thousands to make room for pricier luxury seating options.

On the whole, SEC attendance — including Missouri and Texas A&M to create a fair comparison — has jumped from 937,818 in 1998 to 1,054,560 in 2012.  A casual observer might look at those numbers and calmly state, “All’s well.”  That’s the glass half full approach.  While numbers have dropped in many areas recently, overall, things are better than they were 15 years ago.

But the folks in leadership positions across the SEC aren’t casual observers.  They run businesses.  And they take the glass half empty approach.  They’ve see two straight years of declining ticket sales and they’ve created a “fan experience” committee to try and reverse the trend.

That’s the wise approach.

 


16 comments
OtownGator
OtownGator

MrSEC, it would be helpful to fully understand the impact and analysis of this issue if you had an article with some numbers attached to the attendance figures.  Such as average face value of tickets (now vs 15 years ago), average cost for season tickets purchased thru the University (booster contribution plus cost of tickets to get tickets), and so on for each school. 

MissUT
MissUT

Re your attendance comparison between 1998 and 2012, you have Tennessee listed as the only school with lower average attendance.  However, according to your records, Georgia is also down in attendance:  1998 - 85,618  and 2012 - 82,702.  Are these numbers correct? 

AllTideUp
AllTideUp

Others have touched on it, but I would like to see the averages when you factor out the cupcake games.  Improving the quality of the schedule could only help attendance.

WillFry
WillFry

While I think Tennessee removing seats may have something to do with the drop since 98. I would also remind you that UT had something much better to watch in 1998 than it did from 2009-2012.

viciousdawg
viciousdawg

If you really want attendance to go up it's simple. Stop playing the Georgia States and start home and home with the Michigan and Oklahoma's.  People just will not pay those high prices to see the auto wins.

BonzaiB
BonzaiB

I think the Swamp's decline in numbers shows there needs to be a rethink. It is obvious we have a huge number of students who want to go to games, but are stuck with a lottery system that restricts students to a smaller footprint than is now available. Perhaps one way to solve part of this problem is to enlarge the student section. The overall problem is pricing. It's a 360 mile trip to G'ville from my house, and to get the whole game day experience, I really need a hotel room for 4. That's two rooms at almost $200 bucks for the night, parking, meals and then the OMG price for decent tickets, and they are outrageous (all that costs me well over a grand to go to a decent game with the family). I used to go to every home game, then we won the NC. Prices went through the roof and we cut back to one primo game and one cupcake. Now, the cup cake is what we can afford, and that is less worth the effort than it used to be. Money is an alum's biggest problem these days, so pile more students in and fill the stadium.

Speedy98
Speedy98

I think one thing that might help attendance is lower ticket prices.  This is especially true of games against non-AQ teams or worse FCS teams. 

Maybe attendance could be helped by some type of dynamic ticket pricing, where the schools start to discount their unsold seats as gameday gets closer.

sojourner
sojourner

in re Tennessee

Hamilton and Dooley.  Amazing what rank incompetence can do to a once proud program.


HoustonVol
HoustonVol

John, there are a lot of cracks that are showing at UT, first that the rest of the conference has to deal with. A lot of my friends complain about the number of early and late games. This increases the cost of attending the games. When you kick off at 11am or for a night game that ends at 11pm, it forces an overnight stay. Mid-afternoon games allow someone to drive in from 3-4 hours a way to attend the game, and make it back home the same day. So the early and late games are removing a lot of the fans from Charlotte, Lousiville, Nashville and Atlanta from the mix. As one of my friends put it, It costs me about $250 to attend a mid-afternoon game, but well over $1000 to attend an early or late game because of the hotel stay, food, and other activities. They are willing to pay that extra $1000+ for Florida, Bama, etc, but not Akron, and BFE school. The hidden cost of TV. Plus charging the students $10 a game has decreased student attendence from 17k a game to around 5k.

5LittlePiggies
5LittlePiggies

As far as Arkansas goes, adding seats helps to up the average, but also going from 3 games down to 2 games in Little Rock probably helped the average a little as well.  Adding 20,000 seats for one game a year will definitely help boost your average, which is one reason why I think we'll see it go down to one game in Little Rock in the next few years.  I hope not, but I think there are more pros than cons on the university side for them to move another game to Fayetteville in the coming years.  But will they do it knowing it will alienate some fans from other parts of the state, which affects their donation dollars?  

5LittlePiggies
5LittlePiggies

F.Y.I.  Think you forgot to hit the divide button on S. Carolina.  311K is a pretty high average!  LOL!!  

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

@OtownGator 

Thanks for reading the site, but if we'd gone to that length and tracked down those numbers -- anyone's welcome to look 'em up and send 'em to us, by the way -- someone would have written in to say that we really needed to go back and look at the weather for each game played over the last four years because that could impact attendance, too.  And it does.

We tried to give everyone an idea of the attendance trends in the league... as well as the overall attendance issue that's already being addressed by the SEC.  But as long as we're doing the writing, others will always have different ideas about what we should have included.

Again, many thanks for reading,

John

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

@the_voice 

True enough.  When the Cowboys built their enormous video board over the field in JerryWorld, they tried to use the same screensize-to-seat ratio that exists in the typical American living room.

Again, I believe you're going to see more stadiums give up seating capacity in order to create more luxurious, big-dollar viewing areas for fans.  "If I'm going to leave my house to see a game live, the experience had better be better than my house."

Thanks for reading,
John

sojourner
sojourner

@5LittlePiggies  vol grad stranded in piggyville since 75.  back in the day, when broyles, holtz, and hatfield were strolling the sidelines, playing in little rock, in a stadium that would embarrass a good high school program wasn't that big a problem.  come the 90s and the move to the sec, it made absolutely no sense at all.  it was tantamount to piling up a mound of cash in war memorial and setting it afire, not to mention how it looks to recruits.  the only remaining excuse is that it satisfies the overweening ego of a certain little rock based fat cat.

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