College football attendance drops for fifth straight year, but at slower rate
Home attendance at major college football games declined for the fifth straight year, though the rate at which crowds decreased has slowed, CBS Sports' Jon Solomon reports.
Home attendance at major college football games declined for the fifth consecutive year, though the rate at which crowds decreased has slowed.
Football Bowl Subdivision attendance for home games averaged 43,288 fans per game, down less than 1 percent from 43,483 in 2014, according to a CBS Sports analysis of NCAA attendance data. Crowds declined by 4 percent in 2014.
This year may offer some hope of stabilization for the industry, which in recent years has seen fans stay home due to ticket prices, inconvenience and the comfort of watching on high-definition televisions.
Still, this year’s average was again the lowest since the FBS drew 42,631 per game in 2000. Attendance stayed below 46,000 for the seventh consecutive season since it peaked at 46,456 in 2008.
The data used for this analysis counts only home games -- not neutral-site venues. Figures represent the announced crowd totals schools reported to the NCAA and not necessarily actual attendance. Many athletic departments count attendance differently.
Michigan returned atop the attendance leaders (110,168 fans per game) after its 16-year run was ended by Ohio State in 2014. Forty-four percent of the top 25 attendance leaders this year experienced increases or remained the same, down from 72 percent in 2014.
Among the top 25 attendance leaders, the biggest declines were experienced by UCLA (13 percent), Florida State (11 percent), LSU (8 percent) and Iowa (6 percent). Before the Hawkeyes went 12-0 in the regular season, they lost many season ticket-holders who were disappointed with the team's performance in previous years. The NCAA attendance figures count what was initially an LSU road game that got moved to Baton Rouge due to flooding in South Carolina. Fewer fans purchased than normal purchased tickets at the last minute.
The biggest increases among Power Five schools: Pittsburgh (17 percent), Virginia (10 percent), Minnesota (9 percent), Iowa State (8 percent), Kentucky (6 percent), Indiana (6 percent) and Purdue (6 percent). Pittsburgh and Virginia benefited by each playing a home game against Notre Dame.
The biggest decreases in the Power Five: Syracuse (21 percent), Kansas (20 percent), Oregon State (14 percent), Northwestern (14 percent), Boston College (13 percent), UCLA (13 percent), Florida State (11 percent), North Carolina (9 percent) and Miami (9 percent).
There was mixed news among some powerhouse programs. While Michigan rebounded under Jim Harbaugh, Texas dropped to 90,035 fans per game. The Longhorns are down 12 percent since their record-breaking crowds in 2009 (the season in which they reached the BCS Championship Game).
Tennessee cracked 100,000 fans for the first time since 2008, which was Phillip Fulmer’s final season. Fulmer's dismissal started a long, downward trend of lower crowds for the program, which is ticking back up. The Vols averaged 100,584 this year under coach Butch Jones, up 12 percent since Derek Dooley’s final season in 2012.
After four consecutive years under 90,000 in the Will Muschamp era, Florida averaged 90,065 in 2015. The Gators were up 5 percent during Jim McElwain's first season.
SEC: Once again it led the country in attendance and set a record by averaging 78,720 fans per game. Kentucky was up 6 percent after a major stadium renovation. LSU dropped 8 percent, in part due to the South Carolina game being moved to Baton Rouge.
Big Ten: Average attendance was 65,998, down from 66,939 in 2014 and 70,431 in 2013 (prior to Rutgers and Maryland joining the conference). Nine of the 14 Big Ten schools saw smaller crowds this year, including a 14-percent decline by Northwestern, which went 10-2.
Big 12: The league dipped 1 percent to 56,831 fans per game. For the third straight year, the Big 12 had its smallest average since 2005. One year after almost making the College Football Playoff, TCU’s crowds were up 5 percent and Baylor was down 1 percent.
Pac-12: Crowds dipped again by 1 percent to 51,795 and are down 11 percent since peaking in 2007. Pac-12 attendance leader USC ranked 18th nationally. Seven of the 12 conference schools had an increase in crowds.
ACC: Once again this conference ranked last among Power Five schools at 48,577, down 3 percent from last year. No. 1 Clemson was up 2 percent and jumped Notre Dame and South Carolina -- two teams it beat on the field -- among national attendance leaders.
American: The league’s average crowd (31,782) won’t get mistaken for a Power Five conference. But the American enjoyed a banner year with huge increases by Temple (89 percent), Memphis (29 percent) and Houston (20 percent) as they all cracked the top 25 rankings. Temple and Memphis averaged larger crowds than 13 teams in Power Five conferences.
|College Football Attendance|
|School||2015 Average||Difference from 2014|
|Alabama||101,112||Less than -1%|
|Oklahoma||85,357||Less than +1%|
|Michigan State||74,661||Less than -1%|
|Missouri||65,120||Less than -1%|
|Oregon||57,631||Less than +1%|
|Kansas State||53,100||Less than +1%|
|Utah||46,533||Less than +1%|
|Illinois||41,342||Less than -1%|
|San Diego State||29,066||-10%|
|Tulsa||19,622||Less than +1%|
|New Mexico State||17,486||+43%|
|San Jose State||15,312||+2%|
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