The Stanford Cardinal put together a great season on the field this year, finishing 11-2, winning the Pac 12 Championship and earning their first Rose Bowl berth since 2000. Head coach David Shaw rallied his team even after losing the No. 1 pick in last year’s NFL draft, Andrew Luck, to win his second straight Pac 12 Coach of the Year award. None of that seemed to matter, however, as Stanford somehow managed to have one of the worst average attendance marks in the Pac 12 conference.
On the season, Stanford had an average attendance of 43,343 people, good for 11th in the conference. The only team with worse attendance this season was the Washington State Cougars, who had just 30,252 people in Martin Stadium this season as they struggled to a 3-9 finish. Despite having a better team than anyone in the conference, the Cardinal couldn’t out-draw the majority of the league.
Most troubling, however, is that Stanford also suffered the largest drop in attendance of anyone in the conference. Their average attendance was down 13 percent from last season, despite winning the Pac 12 for the first time since 1999. Though college football attendance is down all across the country, to see such a startling drop off for the conference champion is disconcerting.
There are plenty of reasons that can be thrown at this attendance problem to justify it. Stanford’s first three games, all at home, took place before students were back on campus, so they didn’t have the full force of the student body for those contests. In all, the Stanford student body was available for just three home games.
In addition, three of Stanford’s big-game draws against the Oregon Ducks, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Cal Bears took place on the road. Their one big-draw game at home, against the USC Trojans, took place in the first three games when Stanford was hampered by a ghost campus.
But do any of those factors excuse the embarrassing scene during the Pac 12 Championship game against the UCLA Bruins? Stanford got to host and stadium remained less than half full well after the kickoff. The announced crowd for the game was a paltry 31,622. Some will blame the rain, some the fact that the two teams played just a week prior, but the bottom line is that the fans didn’t come out to see Stanford punch their ticket to the Rose Bowl.
And that is a problem. Stanford has built itself into a perennial power that is headed to its third straight BCS bowl game, but if nobody comes to see them, do the roses still smell as sweet?