College football attendance drops for fifth straight year, but at slower rate

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.

Florida fans returned to packing The Swamp in 2015. (USATSI)
Florida fans returned to packing The Swamp in 2015. (USATSI)

Conference breakdown

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
Michigan 110,168 +5%
Ohio State 107,244 +1%
Texas A&M 103,622 -1%
Alabama 101,112 Less than -1%
Tennessee 100,584 +1%
Penn State 99,799 -2%
LSU 93,441 -8%
Georgia 92,746 0%
Florida 90,065 +5%
Texas 90,035 -4%
Nebraska 89,998 -1%
Auburn 87,451 0%
Oklahoma 85,357 Less than +1%
Clemson 81,751 +2%
Notre Dame 80,795 0%
South Carolina 78,822 -3%
Wisconsin 78,014 -2%
USC 75,358 +3%
Michigan State 74,661 Less than -1%
Florida State 73,219 -11%
Arkansas 67,326 +1%
UCLA 66,858 -13%
Missouri 65,120 Less than -1%
Iowa 63,142 -6%
Washington 61,919 -4%
Mississippi State 61,784 +1%
Kentucky 61,295 +6%
Virginia Tech 60,824 -1%
Ole Miss 60,479 -2%
BYU 58,532 +2%
Oklahoma State 57,668 +6%
Oregon 57,631 Less than +1%
NC State 56,988 +5%
Iowa State 56,519 +8%
Texas Tech 56,340 -4%
West Virginia 54,826 -3%
Kansas State 53,100 Less than +1%
Arizona State 52,712 -8%
Minnesota 52,355 +9%
Arizona 51,393 +1%
Georgia Tech 50,707 +5%
Stanford 49,917 +4%
North Carolina 49,643 -9%
Louisville 49,069 -7%
California 48,800 +2%
Pittsburgh 48,150 +17%
Rutgers 47,723 -6%
Miami 47,561 -9%
TCU 46,767 +5%
Utah 46,533 Less than +1%
Baylor 46,160 -1%
Maryland 44,341 -6%
Indiana 44,314 -6%
Temple 44,159 +89%
Memphis 43,802 +29%
Virginia 43,285 +10%
East Carolina 43,274 -3%
Illinois 41,342 Less than -1%
Colorado 39,389 +4%
Purdue 37,508 +6%
Cincinnati 37,096 +29%
Oregon State 36,079 -14%
Houston 33,980 +20%
Boise State 33,612 +3%
Northwestern 33,366 -14%
Vanderbilt 32,134 -6%
Syracuse 32,102 -21%
Navy 31,669 -3%
Army 30,991 -10%
Boston College 30,205 -13%
Central Florida 30,065 -20%
Washington State 29,407 -5%
San Diego State 29,066 -10%
Fresno State 29,036 -17%
Southern Miss 28,335 +25%
UConn 28,224 +3%
Kansas 27,282 -20%
Wake Forest 26,674 -2%
South Florida 26,578 -13%
Duke 26,427 -3%
Marshall 26,322 -4%
Air Force 26,026 -8%
Colorado State 24,917 -6%
Hawaii 23,433 -15%
Texas-El Paso 23,212 -18%
Texas-San Antonio 23,008 -17%
Arkansas State 23,007 -7%
Tulane 22,930 -7%
New Mexico 22,562 +3%
Nevada 22,170 -7%
Louisiana-Lafayette 21,596 -16%
Appalachian State 21,459 -7%
Utah State 21,362 +4%
Ohio 21,323 +4%
SMU 21,043 +2%
Louisiana Tech 20,977 +5%
Toledo 20,842 +7%
Georgia Southern 20,780 -2%
Old Dominion 20,118 0%
Tulsa 19,622 Less than +1%
Bowling Green 19,608 +29%
Western Michigan 19,441 +24%
Troy 19,399 +16%
UNLV 19,371 +24%
Rice 19,339 +4%
Buffalo 18,457 -10%
Texas State 18,166 -12%
Akron 18,098 +97%
Wyoming 18,060 -8%
Western Kentucky 17,960 +10%
Florida Atlantic 17,617 +25%
New Mexico State 17,486 +43%
Middle Tennessee 17,210 -1%
South Alabama 16,039 -8%
Miami (Ohio) 15,707 -1%
Central Michigan 15,672 -4%
Florida International 15,381 +29%
San Jose State 15,312 +2%
Charlotte 14,618 +10%
Northern Illinois 13,942 +3%
North Texas 13,631 -29%
Kent State 12,561 -7%
Louisiana-Monroe 11,732 -35%
Idaho 11,653 -10%
UMass 11,124 -31%
Georgia State 10,347 -31%
Ball State 7,974 -15%
Eastern Michigan 4,897 -67%

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CBS Sports Senior Writer

Jon Solomon is CBS Sports's national college football writer. A former Alabama resident, he now lives in Maryland and also writes extensively on NCAA topics. Jon previously worked at The Birmingham News,... Full Bio

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