BL: Solution to College FB attendance woes… “cheap beer”?
I LOVE this subject – Diminishing on-site attendance for College Football. The issue has several components that I count among my most favorite… (1) Every fan has his/her opinion… (2) So-called “experts” are finally admitting they don’t have a clue… (3) Cultural evolution, like water and cockroaches, will ALWAYS triumph.
NOTE: Alas, I have to do something here that I rarely, if ever, do. I must post an entire article that appeared this week in The Athletic. The Athletic.com is my #1 source for “sportswriting”. It is a subscription-only site ($45/year) with no ads… no pop-ups… no auto-audio; and for the most part, real sportswriters and not glorified post-pubescent board monkeys who work cheap. If I simply post the link, you can’t access it unless you are a subscriber. The article will appear after my own incredibly insightful comments…
Among the ever-how-many “institutions” there are today in The ACC – is ND in or out or what – only three seem, so far, unaffected by the nation-wide trend in diminished on-site attendance for College Football. Those three are Clemson – Virginia Tech – and NC State University.
Clemson – with a very long tradition of “a rabidly loyal fan base”, has become a legitimate annual Super Power in the Dabo Era.
VaTech has not achieved Clemson’s status but did, in The Era of Beamer, become an annual Top Fifteen or better FB program. Indications are the new Coach Whatshisname is continuing that same level of success. Or maybe it is all due to Bud Foster?
NC State’s current “fill the stadium” success is less easy to categorize. Decades of being “a 5 or 6” level on-field program on a scale of “10” is now on track to be a legitimate 7-8 and, if everything goes perfectly, maybe even “a 9”. A coaching change could set all that back of course.
Regardless, State fans are, for the past several years, filling Carter-Finley on a consistent level to be envied by the many institutions who will NEVER be able to say that ever again. An ideal tailgating environment, in my opinion, plays a large part in Gameday @ The Fairgrounds.
The other ACC programs, even Florida State, are all seeing “empty seats” they have not seen in decades. If new FSU coach Taggert can immediately “wake up the Bowden echoes”, FSU can refill those seats.
UNCCH is, of course, reducing its number of empty seats “amid Kenan’s lofty pines” by simply eliminating 10,000 seats. Replacing bleacher seats with individual chair seats is a wise decision increasing the comfort factor of its core fan base and admitting “growing that base” is unrealistic. “Empty seats” in 2015 when Larry Fedora fielded an offensive juggernaut that was capable of (but fell short) winning The Swofford Bowl was proof to UNCCH’s sportsmarketers that win / lose / rain / shine / noon / 3:00 PM there are only 45-50,000 UNC FB fans maximum interested in trekking “amid those pines” on Autumn Saturdays… with / without a $32,000,000 IPF.
Paraphrasing the words of Homicide Detective Harry Callahan… “a College Football program gots to know its limitations…”
Nationally, there are only a handful of premier programs unaffected by this socio-cultural trend. That handful will likely grow smaller in coming years.
This “trend” in College Football was first noticed 5-6 years ago… but went “Tsunamic” the past 2-3 years.
Fingers have been pointed every which-a-way at all sorts of “whys”. To date “Donald Trump” and “The NRA” have NOT been accused but that is simply a matter of time.
My favorite ludicrous reason was “students are too hung over to get up for a noon kick-off”. For 50+ years, all kick-offs were at 1:00 PM and students “got up” early enough to actually “dress up” and pick-up dates at assorted regional institutions.
“Not good enough Wi-Fi” prompted some institutions to upgrade their stadium Wi-Fi. How one “upgrades stadium Wi-Fi” is a mystery to me, but so is “electricity” and “Oprah’s popularity”. Upgrading Wi-Fi had zero effect on diminishing attendance.
Now the most popular logical “why” is “every game is televised”… HDTVs are so good (and great graphics, replays, etc) that stadiums cannot compete for comfort, convenience and value.
I saw this coming and am on-record saying when “large flat-screens became easily affordable (under $1,000)” the battle was lost.
Institutions, of course, make millions $$$ from TV rights so the popularity of the sport is not the issue. As The Athletic article suggests… schools might be advised to go the UNCCH route and concentrate on holding on to their core fan base… not wasting marketing resources beyond that.
The final alternative as noted at the end of the article is …. “cheap beer”. That has always been on some lists but never on mine.
I can make a 6-pak last well over a year or more. “Free beer” won’t lure me… in fact, the mere thought of being surrounded by “a drunken mob” would further keep me from even considering “going to a game”.
What’s next… “skimpier cheerleader uniforms” ???
This week I added The Outlaw Platoon by Sean Parnell – a true account of an Army Ranger Platoon’s 16 months at an FOB (Forward Operating Base) in Afghanistan in 2006. This is not a Hollywood-ized account. Real people die because of incompetence and because that’s what happens in War…
Just finished The Ghost of Cannae (Can-nay) by Robert O’Connell. Cannae was The key battle in the 2nd Punic War between Hannibal’s Carthage and Rome in 216 BC. Hannibal, one of history’s greatest military tacticians, won at Cannae despite being greatly outnumbered… but would lose the war. I have read several books on Hannibal.
Gettysburg dead = 46,000…. Waterloo dead = 26,000… Cannae dead = 87,000 !!! Next time you are in a full Carter-Finley, imagine that many people plus dying on one battlefield on one day !!! … 95% by hand-to-hand combat with swords and spears.
When most folks think of Rome, they think of Julius Caesar. The Battle of Cannae was 100 years before Julius Caesar was born…
How did people refer to time / years in BC? The “modern” baseline for counting years had not been established (Jesus’ Birth)… so what “year” was it?
That promised article from The Athletic… several UNCCH professors are quoted.
Coming to grips with college football’s declining attendance
By Michael Weinreb Apr 6, 2018 78
Forty years ago, in the fall of 1978, a husband and wife purchased a pair of season tickets for a major college football program. The school in question had expanded its stadium capacity from 61,000 to 77,000. It was, at that moment, the eighth-largest college football stadium in the country. The couple did not have to pay any sort of seat-license fee or join a booster club to purchase tickets, as they would today, and though they cannot remember how much they paid, the face value on tickets at that point was somewhere between $5 and $10.
This year, that couple — who happen to be my mother and father (a Penn State professor, no less) — chose, for the first time since, not to renew their season tickets for Nittany Lions football. They made this decision for a number of reasons, but in large part, it came down to this: It was often easier and more enjoyable not to go to a game than it was to attend.
The stadium capacity has increased from 77,000 (which wouldn’t even land among the top 20 largest of today) to nearly 107,000, and the majority of the seats — at least until planned renovations are completed — are still stiff metal bleachers painted with numbers that are barely spaced wide enough to fit an actual human body.
The start times of games often slingshot between noon and 8 p.m. on the whim of the television networks, and the price of tickets has increased far faster than the rate of inflation. Often, at least two of those early-season games are scheduled against Group of 5 teams that are essentially being paid to serve as glorified scrimmage partners.
All of that made it more of a hassle than it was worth for my parents. And though they might be an exception to the rule at a competitively ascendant program like Penn State, their decision is far from unique: As reported by CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd, FBS attendance decreased by an average of 1,409 fans per game last season, the largest drop in 34 years. Attendance fell in every Power 5 conference except the Big Ten (which increased by 76 fans, or .01 percent), and attendance in the SEC, generally viewed as the beating heart of the college football universe, dropped the most, by 3.14 percent. (For more attendance figures from the NCAA, click here.)
There are a million theories as to why this happening, and some of those theories, with the benefit of additional research, will no doubt prove to be valid. And some of those theories will prove to be based on false assumptions. Obviously, winning and losing plays a huge role, particularly at schools that don’t traditionally have football success. But underlying all these potential variables are a couple of quandaries — posed to me by experts in this field — that I had never really pondered:
• What if college football, by nature of having the most consistently intense home-field atmosphere of any major sport, is actually alienating a segment of its potential fan base?
• On top of that, what if college football’s two primary revenue drivers — attendance and television — are inherently structured to work against each other?
Let’s dispel with one stereotype up front: This decrease is not taking place merely because of the inherent laziness of millennials. Yes, student attendance has decreased 9 percent since 2009, but probably not because, as one expert told Dodd, college students “no longer view attending sporting events as part of the college experience.”
It also is not about the lack of consistent Wi-Fi coverage at stadiums. Nels Popp, an assistant professor of sport administration at the University of North Carolina, says that despite colleges’ obsession with improving Wi-Fi, connectivity is the “lowest reliable variable” when it comes to attendance. In other words: People don’t stay home because of lousy Wi-Fi, even if they consider good Wi-Fi to be a bonus when they do show up.
“Our response when we see students aren’t coming tends to be, ‘Let’s throw more shit at them,’ ” says Robert Malekoff, Popp’s colleague in UNC’s Department of Exercise and Sport Science.
In a way, that might be true, but it’s not about literally hurling T-shirts or network passwords in their general direction (it may not be about social media blasts, either, if Popp’s research on the lack of impact of social media on attendance bears out with further study). It’s a more subtle, experiential thing — and it might extend beyond the student body and into older generations, as well.
One example of a potential prototype may exist in Starkville: In 2016, Popp notes, Mississippi State constructed eight luxury cabanas on the terrace of Davis Wade Stadium. The cabanas had televisions, food and shade from the heat. Each cost $18,000 per season and sold out in 48 hours — and it seems relevant to note here that the cabanas don’t have a direct view of the action on the field.
This is an extreme example, but in a way, it comports with the decision my parents made. Now that every game is available on television, the majority of casual fans value comfort and an overarching experience, which is why UCF fans flocked to the beach cabana built at their stadium in 2015.
Sure, I know what you’re thinking, because when I heard this, I thought the same thing: That’s idiotic. Why go to a college football game if you’re not interested in watching football? Isn’t that what sets our game apart from professional sports, where the atmosphere has long been sucked dry of any soul by television, corporate sponsorship and luxury-box culture? Aren’t we proud of the fact that college football is not as casual an experience as, say, minor league baseball? When I was a kid, we used to wait on the overcrowded ramps to get to our seats while mooing like cattle. Isn’t the inherent discomfort of attending a game part of the experience?
But here’s what those of us who grew up as hardcore fans must come to terms with: We’re not the ones who need to be marketed to, because we’re not going anywhere.
“I think it’s an old-school mentality, that if you come to a game you’re going to sit on the edge of your seat,” Popp says. “But this is a six-hour commitment. And I don’t think we can ask them to make the game the only draw. People want a lot of other entertainment options. The mindset of the attendee is changing.”
There will always be a cadre of students who prefer to be crammed in tight, who prefer to paint team colors on their chests, who are too busy shouting to take note of the amenities. But those fans are going to the games, no matter what. It’s the rest of the people who make the difference between sellouts and empty sections. If they’re students, they might want to go if their friends are going or if the game feels more like a social event. If they’re adults, they might want to go if their children feel more welcome or if they have access to more comfortable seating and an experience that can compete with television.
And that brings me to the second quandary, which is that, in a way, college football is competing against its own televised product. “They’re kind of going head-to-head,” Malekoff says. “TV is much more like the game-day experience now. There’s food. There’s a bathroom right there.”
By shifting many kickoff times six to 12 days before the game, television has made it harder for people to plan ahead to attend. People with children may have their Saturdays scheduled around soccer games; older people might not want to drag themselves to an 8 p.m. game, and students might not want to drag themselves out of bed for a noon start against a subpar opponent. People are always going to complain about the cost, but in a way, Popp wonders, the time commitment could matter more than the monetary commitment.
How do schools remedy all of this? First, says Malekoff, we need to find out more about the why. “Don’t just guess why fans don’t come,” he says, “Ask.”
In that same vein, says Popp, don’t merely “crowd-blame” — look inward instead. Given the impact of television, it might be time for the schools to ask what matters more to them: maximizing revenue through television or having a full house? (This is an idea professional sports has largely come to terms with, for better or worse.)
It’s a quandary that will take time and study to resolve, but in the meantime, says Popp, there’s at least one idea that has proved far more positive and far less destructive than administrators thought it would. And it no doubt enjoys near-universal generational acclaim.
“Two words,” Popp says. “Cheap beer.”