According to data recently released by the NCAA, college football attendance at the game’s premier level – the Foootball Bowl Subdivision – fell by an average of 1,409 fans from 2016 to 2017. That drop is the largest since the early days of the Reagan administration, when attendance fell 1,527 fans per game from 1982-83.
The attendance drop is alarming on a year-over-year fashion, and even more so looking at the continuation of the recent trend – since establishing a record-high in 2008 of 46,971, FBS attendance has fallen just over 10% in the nine years since. CBS Sports has a detailed look at the numbers, which include all teams at the top tier of collegiate football.
The factors for the rapid fall in attendance are widespread and in dispute. Student attendance has dropped 7 percent since 2009, while the ability of anyone to watch the game from nearly any device, either at home or in the tailgate lots, also likely plays a factor in those looking to save on the cost of tickets themselves, plus all the additional items one must spend a premium price on once inside a venue.
“It’s a technology issue,” said Wright Waters, Football Bowl Association executive director and former Sun Belt commissioner. “The public is ahead of us every day in what they can get from technology. We have not been able to keep up.”
One former Power Five athletic director called it a “societal shift” leading the powers that be scrambling to figure out the viewing habits of millennials as well as well-heeled alumni.
“This is not surprising to me,” said Bill Lutzen, a veteran sports TV programmer who is currently the CFO of a web optimization firm. “This issue is with lack of involvement of the college students. They no longer view attending sporting events as part of the university experience.”
Whatever the core problem may be, it is unlikely that recent change to the tax structure will help, as numerous athletic departments scramble to figure out how to address the fact that donations tied to the purchase of premium season tickets for major teams – which generated huge money for those departments – are no longer tax deductible.