We at Underdog Dynasty have already taken a look at some of the Conference USA attendance numbers, so of course the Sun Belt deserves some love as well. We'll take a look at total and average attendance, how well the programs fill their stadiums to capacity, and how much attendance has changed positively or negatively since last year.
Sun Belt powers ULL and A-State unsurprisingly bring in the most fans on a consistent basis as they have the two largest on-campus stadiums in the conference and have combined for the last three Sun Belt titles. The next tier features the two first year newcomers out of the FCS Southern Conference and 2nd-year newcomer Texas State.
South Alabama's and Idaho's numbers are deflated by having played only two games, but having an extra game or two over the rest of the conference hasn't kept Georgia State from having the 2nd lowest total attendance numbers in the Sun Belt.
Once again there are a few tiers in attendance numbers: Power programs ULL and A-State, the (non-Georgia State) newbies, then everyone else. South Alabama's average attendance number was inflated by 38,129 fans at the Mississippi State game, many of whom were wearing maroon with cowbells in tow. The announced attendance for the Georgia Southern game in Mobile: 11,348. Not so great.
Troy, NMSU, and Georgia State struggling to fill their stadiums with a combined 4-15 record is no surprise, but the average attendance numbers at UL-Monroe remain stubbornly low despite the Warhawks' having beaten ACC member Wake Forest and having a defense that could make them a contender in conference play. Neighboring ULL might see their average attendance number regress later in the season as the Cajuns have struggled and two of their three home games featured in-state opponents Louisiana Tech and Southern, both of whom had sizable traveling fanbases.
Percent Filled to Capacity
Appalachian State and Georgia Southern were already powerful programs in the Southern Conference before they moved up to the FBS, and they also have the two smallest stadiums in the Sun Belt outside of the Kibbie Dome, so their stadiums aren't that hard to fill. That said, they've been averaging far more than South Alabama (15,879) and Texas State (18,062) did in their first year of Sun Belt play. Georgia Southern should keep getting close to selling out their home games as they rampage through the Belt, but how long can Appalachian State keep up those numbers after losing to the likes of Liberty?
Idaho's tiny Kibbie Dome makes it easy to fill as well, and the Vandals do have a Petrino at the helm to provide some excitement. If they can keep improving and finally get some wins, look for Idaho to get some sellouts. On the other side of the table, there's New Mexico State, who hasn't made a bowl since 1960, and Georgia State, whose fanbase has apparently already given up on their FBS experiment despite the athletic department dropping money (!) from the rafters to attract more people to the dome.
Percent Change in Attendance From 2013
Georgia Southern's positive attendance change is hardly a shock as they expanded Paulson Stadium from around 18,000 to 25,000 fans after the 2013 season. South Alabama's positive change was obviously skewed by hordes of Mississippi State fans and will go down over the course of the season.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in a positive change in attendance is Texas State, who is likely riding goodwill from last season's run to bowl eligiblity and has been averaging about 5,000 more fans per game than last season. A sellout against Navy positively skews those numbers somewhat, but the Bobcats are still cracking 20,000 regularly no matter the opponent, which wasn't the case last season. Texas State's positive attendance change will be tested with two weeknight games on national television yet to come against powers ULL and A-State.
That Troy's attendance has fallen is no surprise because they faceplanted with a 1-5 start and have been stuck in a cycle of mediocrity of late. Although I hate to pick on the Panthers, Georgia State fans have continued the proud tradition of Atlanta sports fans disguising themselves as empty seats. A 31.7% drop in attendance is still fairly stunning, and it raises worrying questions as to whether GSU can survive in the FBS over the long term unless they start winning, and winning soon.