Attendance numbers were down across the board in college football in 2017 — nearly three percent across the board. The FBS saw its largest year-over-year drop in 35 years, where even the SEC was down by a greater margin than the national average, a 3.14 percent fall.
But that’s not all. The attendance numbers are actually worse than originally reported.
The Wall Street Journal ran the numbers and found that the actual numbers of scanned tickets was far below the total attendance numbers.
On average, only 71 percent of the reported attendance actually put their rear ends in the seats at the FBS level in 2017. The numbers tended to be more extreme at the Group of 5 level, too. For instance, Louisiana-Monroe claimed a total attendance of 49,640 fans at the Warhawks’ five home games last season. However, according to WSJ numbers, ULM actually drew 13,302 fans — just 26 percent of the reported attendance, and 2,660 fans per game. And ULM wasn’t even the worst number-fudger in FBS last season.
Among the 96 schools for which WSJ got its hands on the real attendance figures, only one school — Navy — reported 100 percent of its scanned attendance. The Midshipmen actually drew their 34,756 announced attendance average. Only four schools topped 90 percent and just a dozen topped 80 percent.
There are a number of reasons why fans aren’t attending as many games as they used to, and each of them can be debated until we’re all six feet under. The games are too long. The WiFi isn’t good enough. The ticket prices are too high. The TV product is too good. Maybe not as many people like football as they did in the past.
But it’s something college football as a whole needs to fix. Football programs can’t survive without fans, and the connection between team and fan is most often birthed in person, not through a screen.