The Sun ran an Associated Press story last week concerning attendance at college bowl games. This year continued in a recent downward trend, to the point that the stands at many bowl games were half empty.
But, unfortunately for college football officials, it is not a trend that is limited to bowl season. On its website right now, Sports Illustrated has a huge story about the plummeting attendance across the board in college football.
Perhaps most surprising to local fans it that the story led not with some struggling program in the middle of nowhere, but with the University Florida. Now the Gators may not be Alabama, in terms of sheer name recognition and on-field track record, but even fans of Florida State and UCF have to admit that they have a national reputation and seemingly enjoy all the trappings of a successful college program.
But the Sports Illustrated piece points out that Florida's average attendance in 2018 was the lowest it’s been since 1990. The Gators' successes in Dan Mullen's second season may have helped fuel an increase of about 2,000 fans per game — for an average of 84,684 in a 91,916-capacity stadium —attendance has still fallen nearly 6% over five years.
But this is a much wider issue. From 2014 to ’18, attendance across the FBS fell by 7.6%.
SI points out that last year, on average, 41,856 fans went to games. That’s the lowest turnout since 1996; even major programs like Ohio State, Virginia Tech and Ole Miss suffered declines of greater than 5%.
Colleges are trying a variety of things to stem the tide, specifically targeting the student section, from pregame food trucks at Florida to the well-publicized ticket geo-tracking at Alabama. It appears to be making little difference.
In researching this subject, it all seemed slightly familiar to me. Then it hit me that a lot of the concerns about attendance and about attracting a younger fan base were similar to those in which I wrote about in the last spot in my journalism life, in Daytona. The difference is, then I was writing about NASCAR.
There are certain similarities between to the two sports. Both enjoyed enormous popularity in the South and both are weekend and event driven. While NASCAR's problems go much deeper, the sport may never truly recover from the death of Dale Earnhardt, the search for answers to raising attendance problems has proven similarly vexing to those who run the sports.
The effects are being felt elsewhere as well. While the top teams continue to draw fans, MLB attendance has dropped 7.1% since 2015, and NFL attendance saw its lowest numbers since 2004 this season.
Yet football remains popular among fans in general. SI points out that a 2018 Gallup Poll found that Americans care about college football more than any professional sport besides the NFL.
Unlike NASCAR, the TV numbers remain good.
So what is the answer? I'm not sure there is a solution. College football attendance, and for sports in general, may be facing the same problem as network television and movie theaters across the country.
There are now so many ways and platforms on which fans can consume sports and entertainment that it's increasingly difficult to capture and keep the younger audience demographic.
Why should a younger college football fan pay money to go to a game, pay for parking, squeeze into a seat and sweat or freeze for three hours when they can, more comfortably and cheaply, watch it on a big screen in the comfort of their living room or or their phone from the beach?
Why do you think college football attendance is down?
Email Sports Editor Scott Zucker at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @scottzucker