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College Football's Attendance Problem

What's with all the empty seats? The average attendance at NCAA top tier college football games has fallen almost 8% over the past four years, and most schools are finally beginning to recognize that they have a problem. In fact, the actual, "scanned" attendance is far lower (about 71% of what is reported in a game's box score), and it has become common practice for schools to misrepresent actual attendance by using "paid" attendance numbers. In fact, attendance has been dropping for several years.

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Although TV and sponsorship represent equally important revenue sources for many schools, gate receipts are still a big deal. Attendance drives recruiting, donations, merchandise sales and overall affinity among avid fans. Avid fans are far more involved in the product than are the casual ones who are happy to consume the game at home. Indeed, it is probably the fault of the at-home option, a substitute for the in-game experience, that threatens college football the most. Clearly, TV is "cannibalizing" attendance, and denying this new reality doesn't make for very good marketing strategy .

 Image result for college football empty seats

After several years of relatively "dry" stadiums, many stadiums have resumed beer sales in hopes of making a game that lasts over three hours but has only 11 minutes of action more palatable. This is particularly true if you are a Wyoming Cowboys fan (Go Pokes!) and you are playing in Laramie at 830 pm to accommodate a far more comfortable television audience. Even the big schools like Alabama are experiencing a drop off, but now that this consumer trend has been established, it is clear that the proverbial "genie" probably won't go back into the bottle.

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And since schools do get lots of revenue by being on TV, perhaps they will have to get used to a revenue model that isn't so dependent on in-game attendance, build smaller stadiums, and find new ways to engage avid fans. My 50" TV is hard to beat, and I have almost always have access to many other games if the one I am watching gets boring. And most college football games aren't terribly competitive and do get boring. Plus, the beer and lemonade are always cold, there are usually snacks, and parking is free at my house. But marketers must strive to offer a better in-game experience for those who do want to attend. It's just that market conditions have changed, television is a good substitute for going to the game, and it is always best that marketers recognize reality and adjust strategy accordingly.


Discussion: What can schools do to increase attendance at college football games? What can schools do to better engage avid fans outside of the games themselves?

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