Why There is Still a Low Game Attendance Despite the Rise in Popularity of College Football

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Since football began, the popularity of the sport has flourished. Along with every good thing though, there’s always a bump in the road where the subject learns from its mistakes, and make some changes for the better. As of the last couple years, attendance at stadiums has decreased, but the popularity hasn’t. In fact it has increased. Many organizations are wondering why consumers aren’t attending games. Most of the answers come from how the media is developing so rapidly today, that many sport organizations aren’t able to keep up with the growth, and the attendance of students.

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The early history of American football can be found when looking at early versions of rugby and soccer. Both games have their origin in varieties of soccer played in Britain in the mid–19th century, in which a football is kicked at a goal or run over a line, which in turn were based on the varieties of English football games. There were several major developers of the game during the 19th and 20th century, in which two of them have names in football divisions (i.e. John Heisman, and Glenn “Pop” Warner). These coaches helped build the sport into what it is today, with a few modern changes, but helped the sport become popular among Americans. The popularity of college football grew as it became the dominant version of the sport in the United States for the first half of the 20th century. Bowl games, a college football tradition, attracted a national audience for college teams. Boosted by fierce rivalries and colorful traditions, college football still holds widespread appeal in the United States.

Game day is something that many generations of college graduates remember fondly. However, recent graduates might have very different memories. Thanks to advances in technology, more and more college students are choosing the comfort of their dorm room or apartment to watch games rather than actually attending. So, why is it so hard for college football teams to have a good student attendance rate? That’s the question that most athletics administrators and football coaches ask themselves today. According to a USA Today on a study about …how to get students to games and keep them there, “Everything from a lack of internet access in stadiums to ticket prices to quality of opponents had been posited as reasons even the biggest football schools had seen their attendance decline.” (Axon) Generally what stadiums need to do is find a way that includes the students, whether it be through perks (i.e. t-shirts), or mini-games that include a whole section (i.e. football toss, equals section 311 getting a coupon to McDonald’s). By including students into game day operations, it increases the hype of the stadium, influencing the whole stadiums atmosphere, even if the team has a losing streak.

Today college students love their media outlets, and don’t feel like they can function without it. It can be a huge concern for athletics because if they can never get someone interested while enrolled in the college, then it makes it near impossible to attract them after graduation. If stadiums can get students at the games, but they aren’t engaged in the game, not only does it deplete the fan experience but it reduces the home-field advantage that these teams have.

Perhaps most notably, technology presents both a threat and asset to student attendance, along with the experience fans can get from HD televisions that can give students better views than they get in the stadium. What makes people want to go to games is usually the interest in the sport, game time, ticket price, opponent, and team record. Even at major schools such as Alabama and Georgia, student attendance has been declining even during championship seasons. Since students have all the access to the game that they need at their fingertips when they’re just sitting on the couch. The goal for athletic coordinators is to make the game a better experience than the home viewing experience. Right now if you have to pay for tickets, you have to pay for parking, the seats aren’t comfortable, and it’s easier just to watch the game at home from your couch. In the meantime, technology isn’t going away anytime soon, and will only become a more prominent factor in the sports industry, teams and stadiums have to find a way to incorporate it into the fan experience, while still engaging the fans who show up towards the live game in front of them.

Most colleges can count greatly on first year’s students. They are always excited to see what a real game is like from a student’s perspective. Personally, I was excited about being in the student section, even though I went to every single game since I was a kid. The social atmosphere as a college student during games is something that has to be experienced, but having been involved in Otto’s Army until today, there are some things lacking. By viewing these opportunities I can see why upperclassmen may want to watch from the comfort of their couch, than be in the student section.

When students are in the stadium watching the game it can get boring a difficult to keep track of what is going on, plays take a matter of seconds, there’s an endless amount of time between plays when nothing happens, and the replays are limited. You can’t change the channel if the game is lousy. Most students either end up socializing with each other and not paying attention to the game, or end up leaving early because they’ve become bored.

Another factor that is harmful to attendance is the lack of traditional rivalries with some schools. For example, schools like Houston or Rice that have found themselves shoved into conferences with unknown schools like Marshall and East Carolina and ODU and UCF. The destruction of the UT rivalry has seemed to harm the Aggies, but then again, the Aggies have added teams from the SEC to the schedule, and that’s got to be better than having teams like Baylor and Texas Tech coming to Kyle Field. The weather conditions can also be difficult to predict and travel in, you’re often clueless about injuries, and the seating isn’t comfortable unless you’re in a suite. Then there’s the issue of games not always being on Saturday night, and games being an all-day endeavor, especially if you tailgate. Games can be played morning, noon or night. The night games can start so late they run into the next day. Colleges are now so dependent on TV money that they have no choice but to accommodate.

The reason that live game attendance is down is something that isn’t really acknowledged. That reason is that the game has become much more nationwide focused. While we still love our team and it holds top priority, the gap between how much we love our team and how much we love college football in general has lessened. The increased quality of high definition broadcasts isn’t what keeps us home. Rather, it’s the endless hype and discussion around the top stories, players, teams and coaches coming at us from our televisions that is causing us to pay attention to more of college football as a whole. Throw in the internet, Twitter and discussion with friends and we’re more college football obsessed these days than ever. According to a CBS Sports article about college football attendance dropping for a fifth straight year, 42 percent of college attendance increased, 55 percent decreased, and 3 percent stayed the same. (Solomon) With the decrease in attendance rate being so high it is a huge cause for concern.

When moving forward, it is important to recognize the significance of a good athletic program for every college and university. The team performance plays a major role in the experience as a student, but also the promotions and atmosphere at a game increases the attendance and engagement a fan has. This, in turn, carries over as the memories for young alumni and the experiences they want to give back too. If a school wants their graduates to give back, make the experience at sporting events one they will hold on to long after they graduate.

Even though attendance is down, one thing that a lot of legal-aged-consumers enjoy during sports, is beer. Beer has become one of the leading purchases at sports venues in the last couple years. For decades, beer sales at college football games were nearly unheard of. Now many programs are turning to alcohol to help boost attendance and revenue. As highlighted in an Inside Higher ED article, beer sales are now a prominent feature among concession stands to help attract more consumers, and bring in more revenue. Some place even sell wine now. “This season, Ohio State became one of several universities to sell beer at football games. In the last decade, alcohol sales at college stadiums have gone from nearly nonexistent to an increasingly popular — though largely unproven — solution for programs hoping to improve sagging attendance at home games.” (New) Also, in a quote from Don Tomkalski, the associate athletics director for communications at Tulsa, he says that “We studied the idea for a year, and we determined that it could be done responsibility and be a positive change. It gives us an additional revenue source and adds another element to our game-day fan experience.” By adding more selection to the concession menus, it gives the consumers the feeling as though the stadium is doing a good thing. Which ends up working out for both parties.

In conclusion, by students attending games more regularly, it increases the atmosphere which can make it more enjoyable for other spectators. When people travel for sports they are expecting everything to be perfect. Now you can’t control the final score, but the fan experience can trump the way the consumer view the final. I know that even though my team lost if I had a good experience at the stadium, I will remember that more so than the score. With the attendance decreasing every year it seems athletics needs to find new ways to attract fans. They can do this by starting with the students, moving to stadium seating, ticket prices, and then internet accessibility.

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