Concern rising over dropping student attendance at college football games

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ESPN’s Darren Rovell has a lengthy look into the dropping student attendance rates at college football games, a problem that seems to be growing among powerful and weak teams across all conferences. It’s one that has university administrators worried given a school’s current students are counted on to be season ticket holders after graduating.

And if students aren’t taking in the game day atmosphere now, would they want to down the road?

The most common complaints included restrictions on tailgating at the stadium, or the quality of presentation of the games on television compared to the sight lines and breaks in the action at the stadium. Fans of the worst teams complained that the games weren’t competitive enough, yet so did did fans of the best teams. One thing that wasn’t an issue? Ticket prices, as most are either free or heavily subsidized.

Rovell spoke to a few students from across the country about declining attendance, and these two responses stuck out:

Sam Eichenblatt, Georgia Tech: “I want to be able to flip over to other football games while watching my team. I don’t want to miss the entire LSU-Alabama game because my team is playing at the same time.”

Greg Licht, Iowa: “There are students here who have been Hawkeye fans since birth and will show up every game. Others would rather drink away their fall Saturdays.”

Those are two complaints colleges can’t do anything about. Your upper-echelon football schools don’t have to worry too much about students ditching games to watch better ones on TV. But for middle or lower-tier schools, enticing students to spend money and time watching a pair of 3-3 ACC teams instead of a primetime SEC showdown would seem difficult.

And then there’s the issue of sobriety, though that’s hardly a new thing. What is new, though, is the amount of games on TV (or streaming online) and the accessibility and connectivity that’s gained from hanging back at an apartment, frat or bar to watch them all while drinking without the watchful eye of stadium security.

But the best thing a college program can do to combat all the no-shows: Win. There still will be no-shows for the FBS and directional Texas non-conference games, and even some of the bottom-feeder conference opponents. But winning breeds an atmosphere that’s often attractive enough to pull students in. It won’t fix everything, but it’s the best way to stem the no-show tide.

Whether these issues result in fewer season ticket holders and less money from boosters, we won’t know for a while. But it’s hard to resist the pull to go back to your alma mater once one graduates, and home football games are generally the best excuse for that trip.