On the field, the arrival of Les Miles produced no difference for Kansas. The Jayhawks went 3-9 under Miles in 2019, just as they did under David Beaty in 2018.
The box office, though, told a different story. The Miles hire produced a 74 percent spike in attendance at KU’s seven home games, a jump from 19,424 fans per game in 2018 to 33,875 last fall — good enough to Kansas the biggest gainer according to the NCAA’s 2019 attendance figures.
After failing to top 30,000 fans once in 2019 — KU peaked with 28,000 and change to see Rutgers on Sept. 15, but failed to crack 20,000 once in four Big 12 home games — Kansas welcomed Miles with a crowd of 32,611 to see a 24-17 win over Indiana State on Aug. 31, then drew 33,493 for a 12-7 loss to Coastal Carolina a week later. Kansas fell below 30,000 only once in seven home dates — 22,531 came to see Baylor club the Jayhawks 61-6 on Nov. 30 — but nearly 36,000 came to see a 29-24 loss to West Virginia, and 34,402 witnessed a 45-20 loss to Oklahoma on Oct. 5.
The calendar clearly helped matters, as KU hosts K-State in the Sunflower Showdown in odd-numbered years, but the 47,233 that saw a 38-10 Wildcats win represented a 30 percent increase from the 2017 game. That game represented KU’s first sellout since a 31-17 loss to Nebraska on Nov. 14, 2009, and the first Jayhawk home game to crack 40,000 since 2013.
(Full disclosure: These numbers have been out for a while, but I just came across them while writing this earlier in the week. Deal with it.)
Here are the other schools to enjoy notable attendance leaps from 2018 to ’19.
2018 average: 30,178 | 2019 average: 38,816 | Increase: 8,638 (28.6%)
After years of knocking on the door, Mike Norvell’s Tigers finally broke through and won the American title in 2019. The year began with a crowd of 44,107 fans for a 15-10 win over Ole Miss, then peaked with 59,506 for an ABC Saturday Night Football defeat of SMU. The year closed with back-to-back home games against Cincinnati, which saw crowds of 36,472 and 33,008.
2018 average: 37,915 | 2019 average: 46,190 | Increase: 8,275 (23%)
Minnesota fans bought in early, filling 40,000-plus seats for close wins over South Dakota State and Georgia Southern. That faith was rewarded when the Gophers started 9-0, capped by a win over undefeated Penn State before a nationwide ABC audience and a crowd of 51,883. Minnesota remained in the Big Ten and national title hunts until their finale against Wisconsin, a 38-17 loss that drew 53,756, the fourth-largest crowd in the (admittedly short) history of TCF Bank Stadium and the largest since the capacity dropped to 50,805.
2018 average: 39,705 | 2019 average: 47,863 | Increase: 8,158 (20.5%)
57,826 showed up on Sept. 14 to see the Cavaliers stab a wounded Florida State team with their own spear, UVa’s largest crowd since 2015. Virginia fell below 40,000 only once, and topped 52,000 again for wins over Duke and Virginia Tech, the latter of which snapped a 15-game Commonwealth Cup losing streak and send the Cavs to their first ACC Championship.
2018 average: 52,476 | 2019 average: 59,547 | Increase: 7,071 (13.5%)
The season began with a crowd of 61,626 for a 30-12 loss to Utah, then 62,546 two weeks later for a 30-27 win over USC. BYU drew 62,117 for a 45-19 loss to Washington the following week, then hosted 58,930 for a 28-25 defeat of Boise State in their next home game on Oct. 19. Utah, USC, Washington and Boise State is pretty much a murder’s row of opponents for Kalani Sitake and the Cougars, but it’s a dream lineup for BYU’s bean counters.
6. North Carolina
2018 average: 43,622 | 2019 average: 50,500 | Increase: 6,878 (15.8%)
“We were fortunate enough to win the first two games. We told the fans, “You’ve got to come,” Mack Brown told me in March. “It’s unfair to ask your team to win when you’re not showing up.” And then we got home for the first home game against Miami, and it’s a sellout. Students are waiting 3-4,000 deep because they can’t get in, and the players are just overwhelmed.”
The numbers proved the Mack Effect real. Kenan Stadium lists a capacity of 50,500, and UNC reported exactly 50,500 spectators for all six Tar Heels home games.
2018 average: 30,519 | 2019 average: 35,985 | Increase: 5,466 (17.9%)
Cincinnati open with a 24-14 win over UCLA before a crowd of 38,032, then peaked with a crowd of 40,121 to see the Bearcats snap UCF’s 20-game conference winning streak.
2018 average: 37,043 | 2019 average: 42,164 | Increase: 5,121 (13.8%)
After their upset win in 2017 and the close call in 2018, many people pointed to Syracuse’s Sept. 14 home date with Clemson as a de facto ACC title game. ABC put it in prime time, and 50,248 filled the Carrier Dome to watch… a 41-6 Orange loss.
9. Coastal Carolina
2018 average: 10,463 | 2019 average: 15,019 | Increase: 4,556 (43.5%)
Coastal hit 15,000 or came damn close for all but one home game, the one immediately after the Chanticleers brought home a 12-7 win over Kansas. (The opponent, Norfolk State, surely had a lot to do with that.) The 17,249 crowd for the Oct. 12 loss to Georgia State was the largest in the history of Brooks Stadium.
10. South Carolina
2018 average: 73,628 | 2019 average: 77,962 | Increase: 4,334 (5.9%)
Alabama’s first visit since 2010 resulted in a crowd of 81,954, beating out the crowd of 80,580 that showed up for Clemson’s 38-3 win to close the year on Nov. 30.
And the best of the rest:
|School||2018 average||2019 average||Increase|
|New Mexico State||13,706||17,905||4,199 (30.6%)|
|Texas State||13,115||17,140||4,025 (30.7%)|
|Iowa State||56,010||59,794||3,784 (6.8%)|
|Miami (Ohio)||14,253||17,794||3,541 (24.8%)|
|Southern Miss||21,615||24,765||3,150 (14.6%)|
|Louisiana Tech||17,525||20,439||2,914 (16.6%)|
Around the country, Michigan once again won the attendance title with a 111,459 average, while LSU played in front of the most cumulative fans — 1.28 million — across its 15 games.
Attendance fell by an average of 379 fans per game at the FBS level, 23 fans in FCS, two in Division II, and increased by 57 fans a game in Division III. The SEC drew the largest average crowd at 72,723, but also saw the largest drop of 1,271. The Big 12 was the only Power 5 league to see its attendance average increase (481 fans per game), the American saw the largest total increase (594), and the MAC and Conference USA saw gains of 72 and 55 fans per game, respectively.