Updating history: attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2015

As always, home attendance is never far away from the thoughts of the person responsible for this blog. This year’s review of last season’s attendance follows.

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2015

The above link is to a spreadsheet that tracks attendance for The Citadel’s home football games, and which has now been updated to include the 2015 campaign.

For anyone wondering, 1964 marks the earliest year in which reliable attendance figures for all home games can be reasonably determined. Individual game totals prior to 1964 are sometimes available, but not for a complete season.

Thus, I am unable to include seasons like the title-winning campaign of 1961, or any of the other years from 1948 (when the “modern” Johnson Hagood Stadium opened) to 1963 (when the home finale was attended by the former king of Italy, Umberto II).

The spreadsheet lists year-by-year total and average game attendance, and the win/loss record for the team in each given season. There is also a category ranking the years by average attendance.

Other columns refer to the program’s winning percentage over a two-year, three-year, five-year, and ten-year period, with the “current” season being the final year in each category. For example, the three-year winning percentage for 1992 is made up of the 1990, 1991, and 1992 seasons.

I include those categories primarily to see what impact constant winning (or losing) has on long-term attendance trends. Last year, I wrote:

…the numbers seemed to suggest that a good season tends to drive walk-up sales more than might be expected, particularly compared to season ticket sales for the following campaign. It is also true that due to The Citadel’s struggles on the gridiron over the last two decades, it is hard to draw hard-and-fast conclusions about what the school’s attendance goals should actually be in this day and age.

I think that was borne out again in 2015, though there are obvious sample size issues. For the first two home games of the season (night games versus Davidson and Western Carolina), the average attendance was 8,356. For the final two games at Johnson Hagood Stadium last season (day games against Mercer and VMI), average attendance was 12,465.

Of course, one of those late-season games was Homecoming, so I decided to go back four more seasons:

  • 2014: First two home games, average attendance of 9,700; final two home games, average attendance of 9,563 (including Homecoming)
  • 2013: First two home games, average attendance of 13,370; final two home games, average attendance of 12,948 (including Homecoming)
  • 2012: First two home games, average attendance of 13,281; final two home games, average attendance of 13,715 (including Homecoming)
  • 2011: First two home games, average attendance of 12,756; final two home games, average attendance of 12,387 (including Homecoming)

During the seasons in which The Citadel finished with winning records (9-4 in 2015 and 7-4 in 2012), home attendance improved over the year, albeit not by a lot in 2012.

There was a similar attendance boost in 2007, when the Bulldogs also finished with a winning record (7-4). I am hesitant to put a great deal of stock in that increase, though, due to a wide variation in the quality of opponents (and the resulting fan interest level for the matchup).

The Citadel beat Webber International 76-0 in the second home game that season before 8,547 diehard supporters. I suspect that if the game had been scheduled later in the year, there wouldn’t have been much difference in the total attendance.

The Bulldogs were 5-7 in both 2013 and 2014, and 4-7 in 2011. That lack of on-field success is arguably reflected in the attendance totals.

Of course, it has to be mentioned that attendance in 2014 was at its lowest point in the 52 years that comprehensive records have been kept. While last year was an improvement, 2015 still ranked only 47th out of the seasons in that 52-year period.

The average attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium since 1964 is 14,164. However, there have now been ten consecutive years in which that number has not been reached for a season attendance average.

The folks in the ticket office continue to work hard at increasing sales for the general public. The most recent example of this is a Groupon promotion.

Not that anyone in the department of athletics needs me to say this, but I think it’s worth noting that The Citadel cannot afford to relax its sales push once the season begins. Attendance for late-season home contests can’t be taken for granted, regardless of the team’s record or if a particular game is scheduled on Homecoming weekend.

Let’s take a quick look at attendance from the viewpoint of the FCS as a whole (including the SoCon).

Link to NCAA attendance figures for the 2015 season

Montana led the division in average home attendance, with 24,139 (seven games, including the playoffs; all of these numbers include postseason contests). Eight FCS schools averaged more than 18,000 per game, with a significant dropoff after that (the ninth-highest, Delaware, averaged 15,826).

The Citadel ranked 22nd overall (10,678), just behind Mercer (10,692). Chattanooga (25th, averaging 10,152) and Western Carolina (26th, averaging 10,119) were other Southern Conference schools that finished in the Top 30.

Others of varying interest among the 125 FCS squads (counting Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word, which are transitioning to the division, but not Charlotte, which is moving to FBS):

  • Jacksonville State — 2nd (20,598 per game)
  • Yale — 3rd (20,547)
  • James Madison — 4th (19,498)
  • Montana State — 5th (19,172)
  • Liberty — 6th (18,990)
  • North Dakota State — 7th (18,497)
  • South Carolina State — 10th (15,629)
  • Harvard — 17th (12,799)
  • Eastern Kentucky — 23rd (10,350)
  • William & Mary — 33rd (8,967)
  • Kennesaw State — 35th (8,820)
  • Coastal Carolina — 36th (8,818)
  • Richmond — 45th (8,099)
  • Elon — 46th (7,841)
  • East Tennessee State — 55th (7,128)
  • Wofford — 58th (7,007)
  • Furman — 60th (6,795)
  • Villanova — 61st (6,767)
  • Samford — 79th (5,544)
  • VMI — 90th (4,778)
  • Charleston Southern — 96th (4,487)
  • Gardner-Webb — 100th (3,882)
  • Presbyterian – 102nd (3,810)
  • Jacksonville — 104th (3,580)
  • Davidson — 113th (2,758)
  • Duquesne — 125th (1,372)

Odds and ends:

– Duquesne, a playoff team last year, ranked last in the division in home attendance.

– Furman finished behind Wofford in home attendance, the second consecutive season that has happened.

– Montana’s home attendance average was higher than 41 FBS programs, including every single school in the Sun Belt and the MAC. It was higher than the average home attendance for the Mountain West and C-USA.

– Montana State may have only had the second-best home attendance in its own state, but that was still higher than 17 FBS programs.

– The Citadel had a higher home attendance average than three FBS schools — Georgia State, Ball State, and Eastern Michigan (which averaged only 4,897 fans per game).

Undergraduate enrollment for those three institutions: 32,842 (Georgia State), 18,621 (Eastern Michigan), and 16,652 (Ball State).

– The decision of the Sun Belt to extend a membership invitation to Coastal Carolina instead of Liberty was definitely not based on money, and it clearly wasn’t based on fan support either, if football attendance is any guide.

– For those curious, without the home playoff game last season Charleston Southern would have averaged 3,694 per home contest.

– Despite declining attendance numbers at Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel has still finished in the Top 30 of FCS attendance in each of the last ten years. I think that’s pretty good for a small military college.

While there has been a bit of angst concerning attendance (or lack thereof) at home games in recent years, it has to be remembered that The Citadel still enjoys a wildly greater level of support than would normally be the case for a school of its size — both in terms of undergraduate enrollment, and alumni base.

Sometimes, that gets lost in the shuffle. For example, I distinctly remember at least two members of the local media cohort who forgot that last season.

Football season is getting closer…

 

2 Responses

  1. I think sometimes looking year to year (or AD to AD) you get different numbers. I can remember when the Brigadier Club gave out free tickets with membership, there would be thousands of seats paid for and empty at the game. I believe these where counted in the attendance number for those games.

  2. Thank you for your response. I appreciate the feedback.

    You are right that it can be difficult to draw hard-and-fast conclusions from the raw data, particularly given varying standards over the years of counting attendance — or, to put it another way, of what actually constitutes attendance. We’ve had five modern-era ADs at The Citadel, and I am sure each had his own ideas on that subject.

    My general thoughts on attendance, from a macro perspective, are admittedly based in part on personal experience, which I realize is not exactly the scientific method at work. However, I think it is relatively safe to say that attendance over the past 20 years has declined to a significant degree from what it was in the preceding 20 years.

    I think there are two main reasons for that.

    One is the incredible amount of college football that is televised (or streamed) these days. Fans now have a lot more options when it comes to what they can watch, and the days of only two or three games on the tube on a fall Saturday are long gone.

    As recently as 1989, for example, South Carolina had only one game televised all year. Now the Gamecocks have all their games televised every season, which doesn’t really benefit The Citadel (except of course when we beat them on national TV).

    The other reason for the attendance dropoff is that we simply haven’t had a lot of on-field success over the last 20 years. That matters, even at The Citadel. We haven’t always won a lot of games, to be sure, but we’ve never had a sustained period of non-winning quite like we’ve had in the past two decades.

    Let’s hope last year was the end of that run.

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