Not only does the SEC control the BCS, but for the 15th straight year, it leads the nation in total attendance and average attendance in its home games. In 2012, the SEC had a total attendance of 7,438,304, which was good for an average of 75,538. Overall, eight of the 18 schools that averaged more than 80,000 per game were from the SEC.
And with all that being said, the major topic of concern at the SEC Annual Spring Meetings in Destin is the dire future of attendance on Saturdays.
Yes. You read that correctly. The SEC is extremely concerned in what it needs to do to increase attendance.
The data behind their fears is the fact the average attendance at SEC games has fallen for four-straight seasons and that nine SEC schools reported a decline in attendance last season. And the biggest population that is not attending games are ones you would never have guessed in students. How in the world can the most passionate fans chose to stay at home? That has to be incorrect data, right? Unfortunately, it’s not.
Mostly every school is seeing a disturbing trend with students choosing other viewing options besides attending the games live. And the biggest reason they are not attending is because of the lack of cell service, waiting in lines for concessions, lack of instant replays and overall lack of technology at games. Looks like the youth of this generation who have grown up with 50-inch HDTVs and an iPhone would rather have a virtual experience over the live one.
“Every industry that depends on people showing up for your events has to worry about this one,” Mississippi State Bulldogs AD Scott Stricklin said at the meetings. “One of the biggest challenges we have to deal with is how good the product has become on TV. And we have to make the in-stadium experience as good or better than watching it at home on TV.”
And with the SEC Network on the verge of changing the college football landscape digitally, the SEC knows it has to create an even greater live game experience than the amazing one it will present in fantastic HD.
To figure out what needs to be done, the SEC has created the Working Group on Fan Experience Committee that will create a mandate for all conference schools to follow when it comes to live game experience. Their focus will be on Wifi, replays in stadiums, increasing student attendance, managing secondary ticket markets and the overall quality of games when it comes to quality non-conference opponents.
“It’s a real issue,” Florida Gators AD Jeremy Foley said. “A confluence of things is coming together and the world has changed. We have to change with it.”
The Georgia Bulldogs have already made a change for 2013 by decreasing the number of student tickets for each home game from 18,000 to 16,000. Those 2,000 tickets will be available to young alumni without having to pay the large season ticket deposit older season ticket holders and alumni currently pay.
Give the SEC credit. Even though they own the game, they know they have to remain proactive to continue their momentum. And if any conference can figure out how to make Saturdays even more amazing it will be the SEC.
But overall, one has to worry about us as a society when live games have to have video game features to fill the stands, especially in the SEC.
M Shannon Smallwood is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the US Basketball Writers Association.
Follow him @woodysmalls.