NCAA Football

College Football: Attendance at All-Time Low, 2012 Numbers in Review

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College Football Attendance at a Record Low

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

So the 2012 College Football Regular Season has wrapped up and things were just grand...


Well it depends on how one looks at it...

But the bottom line is Attendance,Revenue and Wins.

And the initial numbers coming out are not looking too pretty for the bottom lines of most Athletic Departments...

For the second straight season, overall attendance at College Football Games dropped coming in at an average of 45,274 per game in 2012.

That number is at its lowest mark since 2003 and has declined 3% since peaking in 2008 at 46,739.

Now this is not trying to say the game is in dissary and everyone needs to panic...

Combined there were still more than 35 million folks that attended a college game this season according to the NCAA.

But what is troubling is that 56% of FBS Programs reported some sort of decline in attendance which means revenues.

Most were small percentage fractions while others posted some significant drops...

Overall five of the nations Top 20 schools in attendance reported a decrease in 2012...

That is simply a terrible trend University Presidents and Athletic Directors will not tollerate.

But whether they like it or not they first have to figure out where the reasons for the declines lie...

Are they a result of not enough wins...


Are they a result of this economy and the political division in the United States...


Or is there a much bigger issue to the problem...

There is no doubt there are things that can be done to fix the slide, but it’s going to take a lot of new thinking in an old game to accomplish this task of reinventing the business of college football.

So let’s take a look at the history, the numbers by conferences and teams and mull around some issues and solutions to understanding and fixing the Decline in Attendance in College Football.

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Top 10 Revenue Generating Athletic Programs in 2011-2012

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Before the numbers are revealed to just how good or bad your conference or team did in 2012, let’s take a look back at the Top 10 Most Profitable Athletic Departments in 2011-2012.

This list was compiled by Equity in Athletics Report.

10. Tennessee Volunteers - $105.9 Million (64% from Football)(5 Wins in 2012)

9. Auburn Tigers - $106 Million (73% from Football)(3 Wins in 2012)

8. Oklahoma Sooners - $106.5 Million (56% from Football)(10 Wins in 2012)

7. Penn State Nittany Lions - $108.3 Million (61% from Football)(8 Wins in 2012)

6. LSU Tigers - $114 Million (60% from Football)(10 Wins in 2012)

5. Florida Gators - $120.3 Million (62% from Football)(11 Wins in 2012)

4. Alabama Crimson Tide - $124.1 Million (66% from Football)(11 Wins in 2012)

3. Michigan Wolverines - $128.8 Million (66% from Football)(8 Wins in 2012)

2. Ohio State Buckeyes - $142 Million (41% from Football)(12 Wins in 2012)

1. Texas Longhorns - $163.3 Million (64% from Football)(8 Wins in 2012)

So there is the list of who did it best last season to generate the most revenue in College Athletics.

The amazing thing that jumps out from this data is that Ohio State finished second and only gets 41% from football...

This means the Buckeyes have figured something out that no other school has when it comes to making the rest of the athletic department streams of income instead of leeches of debt.

It is also impressive to see five SEC teams in the Top 10 followed by three Big 10 and two Big 12 schools.

Somewhat surprised there is not a Pac 12 or ACC school on this list...

But both of these conferences have missed out on the multiple BCS bids over the past few years and did last year as well.

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Conference Attendance Marks for 2012

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

So with the baselines of the Top 10 Revenue Generators from last year established, let’s turn the focus to the individual conferences for 2012.

The SEC led the nation in attendance at 75,444 per game this season but that is the conferences lowest average since 2007. That is a 2% decrease since peaking in 2008 at 76,844.

The Big 10 was second with an average of 70,387.

The Big 12 deleted the Texas A&M Aggies and the Missouri Tigers and added the TCU Horned Frogs and the West Virginia Mountaineers to post its lowest average since 2005 at 58,712.

The Pac 12 came in next with an average of 53,586 and was the only conference to with an increase. But that was due in large part to the Cal Bears playing in a new, bigger stadium this season. Overall, the conference is down 8% from its high in 2007.

No one struggled like the ACC, though, as it came in at 49,544 per game. That is the lowest total for the conference in 12 years and marks a decrease of 11% since 2004 when the Miami Hurricanes and the Virginia Tech Hokies joined.

And last and least is the Big East as it pulled only 39,185 per game. That is without its top draw in West Virginia which hurt the conference. But the troubling factor and the reason why most feel the conference is a dead man walking is that four of the top five attendance and revenue generators will be playing in another conference in 2014.

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Individual Teams Attendance Marks for 2012

Rick Osentonski-USA TODAY Sports

So with the baseline and the conference break down on the board and scaring the fool out of you all, let’s just jump right in and take a look at which school did the best and the worst in attendance in 2012.

The following data is collected from the NCAA Attendance Data in 2011 and 2012 and the graph was compiled by John Soloman at Al.Com.

Michigan 112,252 Minor increase
Ohio State 105,330 Minor increase
Alabama 101,722 Minor decrease
Texas 100,884 Minor increase
Penn State 96,730 -5%
Georgia 92,703 Minor decrease
LSU 92,626 Minor decrease
Tennessee 89,965 -5%
USC 87,945 +18%
Florida 87,597 -2%
Texas A&M 87,014 Minor decrease
Nebraska 85,517 Minor increase
Oklahoma 85,243 Minor increase
Auburn 82,646 -4%
Notre Dame 80,795 No change
Wisconsin 80,006 Minor increase
South Carolina 80,001 +1%
Clemson 79,429 +2%
Florida State 75,601 -3%
Michigan State 75,382 +2%
Iowa 70,474 Minor decrease
UCLA 68,481 +21%
Arkansas 68,046 +2%
Missouri 67,476 +9%
Virginia Tech 65,632 Minor decrease
BYU 61,161 +1%
Washington 58,617 -6%
Oregon 57,490 -3%
Texas Tech 57,209 +3%
Ole Miss 57,066 +1%
Arizona State 56,835 -4%
Oklahoma State 56,557 -1%
West Virginia 55,916 -1%
California 55,876 +48% (Off-campus stadium in 2011)
Mississippi State 55,628 Minor decrease
Iowa State 55,274 +3%
N.C. State 54,106 -4%
North Carolina 50,286 -10%
Kansas State 50,278 +3%
Louisville 49,991 +3%
Kentucky 49,691 -17%
Rutgers 49,188 +12%
Arizona 47,931 -2%
Miami (Fla.) 47,719 +2%
East Carolina 47,013 -6%
Virginia 46,650 -3%
Minnesota 46,637 -2%
TCU 46,047 +37%
Illinois 45,564 -8%
Colorado 45,373 -10%
Utah 45,347 Minor increase
Indiana 44,802 +8%
South Florida 44,130 -1%
Georgia Tech 43,955 -9%
Purdue 43,588 -4%
Oregon State 43,424 +2%
Stanford 43,343 -13%
Pittsburgh 41,494 -10%
Kansas 41,329 -2%
Baylor 41,194 Minor decrease
Syracuse 37,953 -6%
Vanderbilt 37,860 +15%
Boston College 37,020 +4%
Maryland 36,023 -15%
Northwestern 35,697 +7%
Boise State 35,404 +4%
Connecticut 34,672 -5%
UCF 34,608 +1%
Navy 32,363 -6%
Army 32,205 -3%
Air Force 32,015 -9%
Fresno State 30,915 +6%
Washington State 30,252 +5%
San Diego State 30,227 -24%
Hawaii 30,031 -6%
UTEP 29,374 +11%
Cincinnati 29,138 -10%
Wake Forest 28,912 -10%
Duke 28,170 +15%
Houston 27,247 -14%
Temple 26,580 -5%
Arkansas State 26,398 +24%
Louisiana Tech 25,841 +20%
Southern Miss 25,751 -9%
Louisiana-Monroe 24,981 +61%
Marshall 24,896 -4%
Memphis 24,371 +21%
Nevada 23,432 +49%
Louisiana-Lafayette 22,865 -22%
New Mexico 22,307 +11%
Ohio 21,844 +10%
SMU 21,292 +2%
Troy 20,952 +17%
Toledo 20,552 -7%
Rice 20,325 +17%
Utah State 20,054 +15%
Tulsa 20,020 -11%
Wyoming 19,555 -12%
Colorado State 19,250 -12%
North Texas 18,927 Minor increase
Tulane 18,085 -8%
Kent State 17,880 +54%
Middle Tennessee 17,738 -4%
Western Kentucky 17,415 +5%
Central Michigan 16,036 +5%
Northern Illinois 15,670 -17%
Bowling Green 15,632 +4%
UAB 15,271 -8%
UNLV 15,208 -28%
Miami (OH) 14,733 -9%
Western Michigan 14,579 -27%
New Mexico State 14,247 -6%
Florida International 13,634 -26%
Florida Atlantic 13,459 -23%
Buffalo 13,242 -27%
Ball State 12,930 -14%
Idaho 12,582 +5%
San Jose State 10,789 -41%
Akron 9,275 -41%
Eastern Michigan 3,923 -8%

So a quick analysis...

The biggest losers were the Kentucky Wildcats (17%), the Maryland Terrapins (15%) and the Standford Cardinal (13).

Losing 10% were the North Carolina Tar Heels, Cincinnati Bearcats, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Pittsburgh Panthers and the Colorado Buffaloes.

That’s a scary list of teams folks...

The biggest gainers were TCU at 37% (thanks to the Big 12 Schedule and a new stadium), the UCLA Bruins (21%), USC Trojans (18%), Vanderbilt Commodores (5%) and the Duke Blue Devils (5%).

Cal doesn’t count because of its new, huge stadium as compared to last season...

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No Better Seat Than SECTION HD

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

So what in the sam heck does all this mean...

Why are fans not attending like in years past...

There are multiple factors, but the key one has to be folks enjoy sitting in Section HD better than watching their team live.

And this sports writer is one of them...

First of all the tickets are expensive, the food is expensive, purchasing a tailgating location is uber expensive.

And the Conference Championship Games were proof of this...

The SEC pulled the biggest College Football of the entire season at a 9.8 (16.2 million viewers).

The Big 10 and Pac-12 were both around a 3 (5 million viewers) while the Texas Longhorns versus Kansas State Wildcats pulled a 3.3 (5.2 million viewers).

The ACC is trying to regroup after it only pulled a 1.2 (2.5 million viewers) for its lowest total ever...

(pathetic for the ACC but a discussion for another day)

Don’t confuse what is being said with the fact that there is nothing on earth like the fun and excitement of a home tailgate, especially in the south...

But an 80-inch screen with 20 friends over and the grill going is almost the same...

For the first time this season, the SEC saw ticket prices hit $100 for face value.

Even the amazing match up between the Missouri Tigers at the Kentucky Wildcats was $65.

That was once the price for the hardest ticket in the SEC, the Iron Bowl.

Now even the cheapest seat for the SEC Championship Game is $450...

So what can be done to reverse this trend?

Well, it starts with the ticket prices that get families back into the game in the lower deck and not in the nosebleed seats.

Second, it is up to the schools to deliver on their end of the equation from a high tech standpoint...

More and more stadiums have upgraded their jumbotrons and improved the digital experience throughout the stadium.

This trend needs to continue to give the fan a full experience to make it worthwhile heading into the game or at least at their tailgate.

A better wireless and 4G presence is a must as well...

Third, it’s out of their hands, but the economy has to turn around too...

Gas is ridiculous, food is expensive and even the college student can't afford a fee for a ticket.

The impact of the economy is clearly evident right now as there are very few compelling Bowl Games and compelling reasons for fans to travel to spend the money.

Most every school has already discounted tickets by up to 50%.

Yes, times are hard...

But with a playoff system looming, schools are going to have to reverse this trend immediately.

Each conference is jockeying for better programs as the Strength of Schedule will be the most important factor next to wins.

Fans are broke and bored of the cupcakes and the imperfections of the BCS.

And it is letting the schools know loud and clear by staying in the comforts of Section HD...


M Shannon Smallwood has over 10 years of experience in broadcasting and journalism in professional baseball and college athletics and is the ACC Football Guru, SEC Voice of Reason and College Football Comedian for Rant Sports. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the US Basketball Writers Association.

Follow him @woodysmalls.