Why aren't you people going to more football games? Division 1 attendance numbers from the 2014 season are in, and they're the lowest they've been in 14 years.
As a long time frequent attendee of college football games throughout this great country, I believe there are two broadly summed up "game day experiences." I would liken the "good" game day to experiencing an action thriller, rock concert, and religious conversion all rolled into one 3.5 hour roller coaster ride. You can't hear yourself think. Your stomach is in knots. The food is great. You make tons of new friends. And if the home team wins? Well.
But that's not always how it goes, is it? It's usually too hot, or too cold. You can't find anywhere reasonable to park. The away fans are obnoxious, drunk, and rude. There are too many commercial breaks. They don't sell beer inside. The food is overpriced. The lines to go anywhere or do anything are way too long. The traffic leaving? Awful. And worst of all, you can't even get service to check the score of the game you actually care about. Sound about right?
So what's the difference between the two? The game itself. All those pains of attending a public sporting event exist at a Georgia game just as much as they do at a Purdue game, you just don't bother to notice because of the action. And even if you do notice, the game is still worth it.
So why are attendance numbers down? Because people more and more and deciding that the games are no longer "worth it".
Traditional powers have long been able to withstand "down years." A good chunk of college football's best programs are in rural towns in flyover states, so there isn't much competition on a Saturday in the Fall. Renewing season tickets was never a question.
Yet, based on the numbers from 2014, consistent winning seems to matter more and more. Florida and Texas are both in the top 10 of attendance, just as you'd expect. But their on field struggles are impacting the numbers. Both schools are down a few thousand fans from 2013.
If their struggles continue at this pace, they may find themselves in the precarious position Michigan is now in. Long time members of the 100,000+ club, they have resorted to giving away nearly 15,000 tickets to keep up appearances.
So, does this matter? Not to these guys. A few thousand tickets won't impact the operating budget at Texas or Florida. Of course, it is embarrassing to get trounced by Missouri in front of smaller home crowds, but the financial hit is negligible.
Where this trend does matter is outside the circle of tradition powers. If once dependable consumers start deciding the games are no longer "worth it" once the team hits the skids, it will be much harder to slow the negative momentum.
The Akron Zips logged the worst attendance figures in the country, coming in with an average just over 9,000 fans. They didn't even finish last in their division! Imagine if they had!
Once the numbers dip this low, a shift by a few thousand attendees one way or another makes a much greater impact.
Knowing that not every school can win 10 games every year, the shortened attention span of the consumer is going to become every athletic director's problem at some point. So what can they do ahead of time, knowing that losing will now negatively impact their revenue streams more than ever? Make the games more interesting, even in down years. And how can they make the games more interesting? By scheduling with the consumer in mind.
Purdue's attendance dropped 28% from 2013. Were they a good team this year? No. But they weren't in 2013 either. And if you're a Purdue season ticket holder, you have the home opener against Indiana State to look forward to in 2015. Now, the Boilermakers play Virginia Tech at home the following week, and that's nice. But why are we still doing the Indiana State thing?
They've already got Marshall and Bowling Green as G5 opponents to try and juice their win total before conference play, and a win against Indiana State won't count towards bowl eligibility. If I'm Purdue, I know that by the time my home game against Illinois rolls around in November, the excitement surrounding my season will be long gone. Thus, I can assume my stadium will not be full on November 7th. So when could it be full? September 12th when I figuratively hose Stanford, or UCLA, or Ole Miss.
Those match ups are interesting. Those games? "Worth it". Indiana State? Not so much.
The SEC has already insisted that its members play at least one Power 5 opponent outside the conference each season. That's a start, but if we're going to be treating college football like a business, the athletic directors need to start making smart business decisions and give the people something to be excited about long after the hope for an undefeated season is gone.