Home football attendance at The Citadel, 1964-2011: an analysis

I’ve written about home attendance at The Citadel on the blog before, as far back as 2009. With this post, though, I’m going to compare yearly win/loss numbers with how many people were in the stands. Basically, I’m trying to see how a history of winning (or not winning) correlates with attendance.

There are a lot of factors that lead to attendance increasing or decreasing, but the biggest one is the product on the field. Fans want to see a winner. What I set out to determine, to the best of my ability, was whether ticket sales at The Citadel in a given year go up or down based on the team’s play that particular season, or if prior seasons also make an impact.

To do that, I compiled the attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium for every season since 1964 (seasonal totals; I don’t have that many of the individual game summaries). For some of the information, I received assistance from The Citadel’s Athletics Media Relations office, for which I am most grateful. Therefore, I promise to support Northwestern University football (preseason ranking: 59) throughout the 2012 Big 10 campaign. It’s the least I can do.

I’m going to take a few paragraphs to discuss the lack of available information for the pre-1966 years, and mention a few other odds and ends. Feel free to skip to the main section of this post if necessary…

Ideally, it would be possible to compare attendance totals all the way back to at least 1948, the year Johnson Hagood Stadium opened. However, compiling numbers from the pre-1966 years is problematic. I have checked newspaper accounts in an attempt to fill in gaps, but I am not confident in the accuracy of some of those listings. I am reasonably satisfied that the 1964 and 1965 seasons are accurate, so I included them in my study.

I value completeness as much as anyone, and I hope someday to have “good” attendance numbers for the 1940s/1950s/early 1960s. I know there are people interested in those years; I’m one of them. A few other notes on this subject:

- While I suspect newspaper writers of the time were generally good at estimating crowd totals, I was struck by how often scribes would suggest the crowd was actually larger than the stated attendance. In the 1960 home opener against Newberry, Ed Campbell wrote that “Citadel officials estimated the opening night crowd at 13,000 persons, although it was difficult to figure out how 8,000 more fans could have crammed into the [21,000 listed capacity] arena.”

On the front page of that same day’s paper, the estimated attendance was listed at “some 14,000 fans”, a “pleasant and generally sober crowd”.

The Citadel’s next home game that season was a notable contest against Florida State, a scoreless tie universally regarded as one of the Bulldogs’ all-time best results. Here again there were two different sets of attendance numbers in The News and Courier, with the game story describing “11,200 screaming fans”, while the front of the paper feature article listed a crowd of 12,000. That front-page piece includes one of the funnier alibis ever offered by a reporter unable to get a good quote or story:

The fans themselves were too interested in the ball game to provide material for journalistic comment.

Another example of a reporter questioning the attendance totals in 1960 (for the game against Presbyterian): was it 12,000 (per The Citadel) or “at least 15,000″ (the writer’s opinion)? Even the Homecoming game against VMI that year was subject to debate, as the official total was announced as 13,970 despite the fact that the crowd “looked to some veteran observers to be more like 17,000″.

- The totals in The News and Courier generally were rounded. For instance, the listed totals in the paper for 1962’s home games were as follows: 10,200 (Davidson); 10,500 (Presbyterian), 10,300 (William&Mary); 10,100 (VMI); and 10,600 (Memphis State). I don’t have much faith in those totals, based on how similar they are (10,X00) and the “rounded-off” nature of them. I also find it hard to believe attendance in 1962 only deviated by 500 people per game for the five games. I consider them decidedly “unofficial” until convinced otherwise.

- I do not have the newspaper’s estimated totals for one game in 1961 and one game in 1963, so I wouldn’t have included them anyway, even if I thought the numbers were accurate and/or official. This is too bad, particularly for 1961, as a listing of home attendance figures for that year’s SoCon title team would have been noteworthy. For the record, I’m missing the home opener that year against George Washington. Attendance for the other four home games that season had an estimated range of 7,250 (Richmond) to 16,200 (a big Parents’ Day battle with Furman with league title ramifications, won by the Bulldogs 9-8).

- A crowd of 10,600 (apparently a go-to number for attendance) watched The Citadel lose the 1963 home finale to Richmond. Included in that alleged 10,600 was the former king of Italy, Umberto II. I am guessing it will be a while before another Italian king watches a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

If the great Umberto Eco were to make an appearance at the stadium, however, that would more than make up for it. Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus.

- Speaking of things that happened in 1963 that don’t really have anything to do with attendance, but which I encountered while doing some research and figured were interesting enough to throw in anyway: Vince Petno was the featured subject in the first “live” color photograph ever published by a South Carolina newspaper (at least, according to The News and Courier). The photo was in print “less than nine hours after the action occurred.”

Okay, table time. I took the average per game attendance numbers at JHS for 1964-2011 and compared them to the team’s win/loss totals in the following categories: winning percentage from the previous season, winning percentage for the current season, combined winning percentage for the previous season and the current one, and the combined winning percentage over three-, five-, and ten-year periods (with the current season being the final year in each category).

I wanted to test theories such as:

- Is attendance generally predicated on how a team did the year before, or is the current campaign more important?

- How much “goodwill” does a program buy if it is successful for multiple consecutive seasons?

I’ve posted tables listing the top 10 seasons in each category for 1964-2011, along with the corresponding bottom 10. Occasionally, there will be eleven seasons instead of ten, because of ties.

First, average attendance per game:

       Year         Wins       Losses         T-Att     Avg-Att
1991 7 4 92,476 18,495
1975 6 5 109,920 18,320
1976 6 5 90,830 18,166
1979 6 5 89,190 17,838
1992 11 2 141,477 17,684
1989 5 5 70,457 17,614
1980 7 4 105,415 17,569
1969 7 3 100,759 16,793
2003 6 6 83,794 16,578
1990 7 5 97,730 16,288
1997 6 5 73,036 12,172
1973 3 8 73,020 12,170
2005 4 7 58,369 11,673
2010 3 8 68,669 11,445
1974 4 7 55,597 11,119
1968 5 5 55,088 11,017
1964 4 6 52,600 10,520
1965 2 8 62,394 10,399
2004 3 7 40,435 10,108
1966 4 6 49,060 9,812

The first ten years are the best years for average attendance. The second group is the bottom ten. (That is how all the tables to follow are set up as well.)

Although 1992 comes in fifth place for average attendance in a season, in my opinion it was actually first. The Citadel claimed its second Southern Conference title that year, of course, and won a school-record 11 games. It also hosted eight home contests, due to two playoff matchups.

The official totals for those two playoff games were 12,300 (North Carolina A&T) and 13,021 (Youngstown State). As someone who attended both games, I can attest that those numbers are ludicrous, underestimating the actual totals by at least 5,000 people for each game. I assume the NCAA had something to do with that.

Even if you conservatively credit attendance for those games as including an extra 3,500 fans, 1992 would hold the per-game record.

Next up, the top 10 and bottom 10 teams by winning percentage:

       Year         Wins      Losses       Win %         T-Att     Avg-Att   Rank-Att
1992 11 2 84.62% 141,477 17,684 5
1971 8 3 72.73% 89,440 14,906 21
1969 7 3 70.00% 100,759 16,793 8
1981 7 3 (1 tie) 68.18% 105,725 15,103 17
1988 8 4 66.67% 94,509 15,751 12
1991 7 4 63.64% 92,476 18,495 1
1980 7 4 63.64% 105,415 17,569 7
1984 7 4 63.64% 75,050 15,010 19
2007 7 4 63.64% 82,541 13,756 31
1990 7 5 58.33% 97,730 16,288 10
2001 3 7 30.00% 78,333 15,666 13
2004 3 7 30.00% 40,435 10,108 47
1983 3 8 27.27% 79,825 15,956 11
1986 3 8 27.27% 83,348 13,891 29
1973 3 8 27.27% 73,020 12,170 40
2010 3 8 27.27% 68,669 11,445 42
2002 3 9 25.00% 93,491 15,581 14
1965 2 8 20.00% 62,394 10,399 46
1999 2 9 18.18% 86,898 14,483 25
2000 2 9 18.18% 71,712 14,342 27
1995 2 9 18.18% 83,209 13,868 30

The bottom 10 is actually eleven teams, as there is a tie. The “Rank-Att” category is the actual rank of each year in per-game attendance; for example, 1969 is the eighth-best attended season in the 48-year period in this study. This column will be included in the remainder of the tables.

Obviously, winning in the current season correlates strongly with improved attendance. Five of the top 10 winning seasons of all time are also in the top 10 for the most-attended campaigns. Only one year in that group (2007) is outside the top half for attendance.

Four of the bottom 10 in winning percentage are also in the bottom 10 for attendance. Average attendance for the top 10 winning teams: 16,150. For the 10 losing teams: 13,464.

What about success (or a lack thereof) from the year before? This time the category is “last year’s winning percentage”:

        Year         Wins       Losses   LY Win %         T-Att     Avg-Att    Att Rank
1993 5 6 84.62% 89,016 14,836 22
1972 5 6 72.73% 66,287 13,257 33
1970 5 6 70.00% 74,690 14,938 20
1982 5 6 68.18% 91,320 15,220 16
1989 5 5 (1 tie) 66.67% 70,457 17,614 6
1992 11 2 63.64% 141,477 17,684 5
1981 7 3 (1 tie) 63.64% 105,725 15,103 17
1985 5 5 (1 tie) 63.64% 88,603 14,767 23
2008 4 8 63.64% 73,568 12,261 38
1991 7 4 58.33% 92,476 18,495 1
2002 3 9 30.00% 93,491 15,581 14
2005 4 7 30.00% 58,369 11,673 41
1984 7 4 27.27% 75,050 15,010 19
1987 4 7 27.27% 83,490 13,915 28
2011 4 7 27.27% 76,758 12,793 37
1974 4 7 27.27% 55,597 11,119 43
2003 6 6 25.00% 83,794 16,578 9
1966 4 6 20.00% 49,060 9,812 48
2001 3 7 18.18% 78,333 15,666 13
2000 2 9 18.18% 71,712 14,342 27
1996 4 7 18.18% 76,860 12,810 36

Again, another “bottom 10″ with eleven teams. Just to make things clear, the record for each year is that year’s record; the “LY Win %” column lists the winning percentage from the prior season.

This category didn’t correlate as strongly to attendance as I thought it would. Only three of the top 10 attendance years are in this top ten as well, and the reverse is also true for the bottom 10. The difference in attendance between the two groups (15,407/13,602) is not as great as might have been expected.

Incidentally, the 1989 campaign only includes four home games. The two games played at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia following Hurricane Hugo are not counted as home contests.

The only other season with as few as four home games in the 48-year period was 2004, when another hurricane played havoc with the schedule, leading to the cancellation of the would-be home opener against Charleston Southern.

The 2004 season (the year of “half a stadium”) also included what may have been the worst-attended home game of the 1964-2011 time frame, a Thursday night matchup against Benedict that drew 5,127 diehard fans. The fact there was little interest in attending a game in a dilapidated stadium on a Thursday night against a Division II school should not have come as a shock.

This is a post about home attendance, but while checking numbers I read a summary for the 1987 contest against Boston University, played at historic Nickerson Field in Boston. Official attendance for that game: 2,103. Yikes. That may be the lowest attendance for any game involving The Citadel in the last 30 years, if not longer. Not coincidentally, BU dropped football a few years later.

Now I’ll factor attendance based on winning percentage over two-year, three-year, five-year, and ten-year periods. In each case the final season in the grouping is the “current” campaign — for example, for three-year 1992 the seasons included are 1990, 1991, and 1992. I hope that makes sense.

Two-year winning percentage:

        Year         Wins       Losses         T-Att     Avg-Att    2-yr W%    Att Rank
1992 11 2 141,477 17,684 75.00% 5
1993 5 6 89,016 14,836 66.67% 22
1981 7 3 (1 tie) 105,725 15,103 65.91% 17
1991 7 4 92,476 18,495 60.87% 1
1969 7 3 100,759 16,793 60.00% 8
1980 7 4 105,415 17,569 59.09% 7
1971 8 3 89,440 14,906 59.09% 21
1972 5 6 66,287 13,257 59.09% 33
1989 5 5 (1 tie) 70,457 17,614 58.70% 6
1970 5 6 74,690 14,938 57.14% 20
1999 2 9 86,898 14,483 31.82% 25
1987 4 7 83,490 13,915 31.82% 28
2011 4 7 76,758 12,793 31.82% 37
2010 3 8 68,669 11,445 31.82% 42
1974 4 7 55,597 11,119 31.82% 43
1965 2 8 62,394 10,399 30.00% 46
1966 4 6 49,060 9,812 30.00% 48
2002 3 9 93,491 15,581 27.27% 14
1996 4 7 76,860 12,810 27.27% 36
2001 3 7 78,333 15,666 23.81% 13
2000 2 9 71,712 14,342 18.18% 27

The bottom ten is yet again made up of eleven teams.

It appears that having two bad seasons in a row is definitely a bigger drag on home attendance than just having a bad season. The two averages for this category are 16,133 (top 10) and 12,956 (bottom 10). Compare that to seasonal averages for the top 10, as listed above earlier: 16,150 (top 10) and 13,464 (bottom 10).

Three-year winning percentage:

        Year         Wins       Losses         T-Att     Avg-Att    3-yr W%    Att-Rank
1992 11 2 141,477 17,684 69.44% 5
1993 5 6 89,016 14,836 65.71% 22
1994 6 5 90,158 15,026 62.86% 18
1971 8 3 89,440 14,906 62.50% 21
1981 7 3 (1 tie) 105,725 15,103 62.12% 17
1982 5 6 91,320 15,220 59.09% 16
1990 7 5 97,730 16,288 58.57% 10
1991 7 4 92,476 18,495 57.35% 1
1969 7 3 100,759 16,793 56.67% 8
1970 5 6 74,690 14,938 54.84% 20
1974 4 7 55,597 11,119 36.36% 43
2003 6 6 83,794 16,578 35.29% 9
2004 3 7 40,435 10,108 35.29% 47
2011 4 7 76,758 12,793 33.33% 37
1965 2 8 62,394 10,399 33.33% 46
1966 4 6 49,060 9,812 33.33% 48
2010 3 8 68,669 11,445 32.35% 42
2000 2 9 71,712 14,342 27.27% 27
2002 3 9 93,491 15,581 24.24% 14
2001 3 7 78,333 15,666 21.88% 13

This is very similar to the two-year category. Top 10 average: 15,947. Bottom 10 average: 12,835. The only bottom 10 season in either the two- or three-year winning percentage categories to actually finish in the top 10 in average attendance was Ellis Johnson’s 2003 squad, which went 6-6 (5-1 at JHS).

The home schedule that year, as it is in a lot of “odd-numbered” years, was conducive to a potential attendance bump, with games against Furman and Wofford (both of which were nationally ranked when they played The Citadel that season), along with Appalachian State and Charleston Southern. It’s still a bit of an outlier. Actually, home attendance for all three years of Johnson’s tenure was somewhat anomalous.

Five-year winning percentage:

        Year         Wins       Losses         T-Att      Avg-Att   5-yr W%    Att Rank
1992 11 2 141,477 17,684 65.25% 5
1994 6 5 90,158 15,026 62.07% 18
1993 5 6 89,016 14,836 61.21% 22
1971 8 3 89,440 14,906 57.69% 21
1972 5 6 66,287 13,257 56.60% 33
1982 5 6 91,320 15,220 55.45% 16
1981 7 3 (1 tie) 105,725 15,103 55.45% 17
1991 7 4 92,476 18,495 55.26% 1
1995 2 9 83,209 13,868 54.39% 30
1984 7 4 75,050 15,010 53.64% 19
1967 5 5 64,060 12,812 38.00% 35
2006 5 6 72,814 14,562 37.50% 24
1999 2 9 86,898 14,483 34.55% 25
2000 2 9 71,712 14,342 34.55% 27
2005 4 7 58,369 11,673 34.55% 41
1966 4 6 49,060 9,812 34.00% 48
2001 3 7 78,333 15,666 33.33% 13
2004 3 7 40,435 10,108 30.91% 47
2003 6 6 83,794 16,578 28.57% 9
2002 3 9 93,491 15,581 27.27% 14

The average attendance for the top 10 in this category: 15,403. For the bottom 10: 13,705.

Ten-year winning percentage:

        Year         Wins       Losses         T-Att     Avg-Att  10-yr W%    Att-Rank
1993 5 6 89,016 14,836 55.26% 22
1994 6 5 90,158 15,026 54.39% 18
1997 6 5 73,036 12,172 53.95% 39
1992 11 2 141,477 17,684 53.51% 5
1964 4 6 52,600 10,520 53.03% 45
1984 7 4 75,050 15,010 52.27% 19
1996 4 7 76,860 12,810 52.19% 36
1985 5 5 (1 tie) 88,603 14,767 51.82% 23
1998 5 6 66,453 13,290 51.77% 32
1995 2 9 83,209 13,868 51.32% 30
2011 4 7 76,758 12,793 38.39% 37
2010 3 8 68,669 11,445 37.84% 42
2009 4 7 65,147 13,029 36.94% 34
2007 7 4 82,541 13,756 36.36% 31
2006 5 6 72,814 14,562 35.45% 24
2003 6 6 83,794 16,578 35.14% 9
2008 4 8 73,568 12,261 35.14% 38
2002 3 9 93,491 15,581 34.55% 14
2005 4 7 58,369 11,673 34.55% 41
2004 3 7 40,435 10,108 32.73% 47

This can be looked at in two different ways…

Perhaps Larry Leckonby can take solace in the fact that there is no obvious correlation at all for this category. In other words, the difference in attendance for the top 10 (14,177) and the bottom 10 (13,252) can easily be attributed to more recent campaigns, and not any permanent decline due to a long stretch of futility.

On the other hand, look at that bottom 10. It is actually completely made up of the last 10 seasons!

That says it all about the current cycle of Bulldogs football, and the need for a sustained stretch of success. An argument could be made that The Citadel’s struggles on the field since 1995 have erased what possibly could have been a continued gradual increase in attendance. I personally do not subscribe to that view in full — there are many other factors at play — but it is true that the losing has made it difficult to determine what The Citadel’s “natural” attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium should be in this day and age.

One small caveat: over this 48-year period there have been four different ADs at The Citadel (Eddie Teague, Walt Nadzak, Les Robinson, and Larry Leckonby). It is possible (even probable) that they each had their own approach to reporting attendance. That is something to keep in mind when evaluating these trends over a long period of time.

It appears that good years for attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium are usually a result of the team being successful in that specific season, which is not big news. The fact that a “one-year lag” (a good season leading to improved attendance the following year) is not particularly evident in the numbers, however, does strike me as surprising. That may suggest something about the relationship between the number of season tickets sold versus the walk-up crowd; it’s hard to say.

One bad season does not in itself result in poor attendance, but two bad years in a row? The bandwagon begins to empty out in a hurry.

As stated earlier, there are many other factors that impact attendance, including weather, quality of opponent, time of game, modern restroom facilities, etc. I wrote three years ago that The Citadel needed to continue appealing to its alumni base while reaching out to “unaffiliated” fans in the Charleston area, and to make the experience of going to a game as family-friendly as possible. Those points are still valid today, although it’s easy to see that an effort in all those areas has been made.

I would like to see the Junior Bulldog Club become something more substantial than a “Coming Soon!” webpage, though.

Ultimately, the biggest attraction of the game, other than the game itself, is the Corps of Cadets. I trust that when it comes to making sure the Corps is at the forefront of an exciting gameday atmosphere, the administration has a plan of attack for this season.

This year’s home attendance will probably come down to how the team fares in its first four games, both at JHS and on the road. Charleston Southern (home), Georgia Southern (home), Appalachian State (road), North Carolina State (road) — that is a tough stretch, particularly the three games following the opener.

If The Citadel can complete the gauntlet with a record of at least 2-2, that should result in a better crowd showing for the September 29 home game versus Chattanooga. The difference between 1-3 and 2-2 (to say nothing of 3-1 or, dare we dream, 4-0) could be critical when it comes to packing the stands that day.

It won’t be easy. Then again, it never is.

Edited 8/1/13:

The Citadel averaged 13,574 fans per game at Johnson Hagood Stadium in 2012, the highest attendance figures since 2007. Not coincidentally, the Bulldogs had their first winning season since 2007. However, that average still wasn’t enough to crack the top 30 of season attendance averages at JHS (post-1964). 

To  increase the number of fans in attendance in 2013, the football team has to continue to win games. It’s that simple. The first two home games of the season will be critical in this respect.

In 2008, the Bulldogs went 4-8, and attendance declined by 11%. Let’s hope that scenario is not repeated.

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