The Citadel’s football fans aren’t afraid to travel

This is just a quick post, with a theme more or less borrowed from an Andy Solomon “Solomon’s Mines” column. Solomon’s observations arrive via email from The Citadel Football Association (which you should join today!).

So, thanks and apologies in advance to Andy and the CFA…

Solomon pointed out something well-known to veteran observers, but not mentioned very often: The Citadel is absolutely the current top dog in the SoCon when it comes to fan attendance at road games in the league.

Our fans enjoy going on road trips, especially to scenic places like Western Carolina.  We have loads of fans in the Greenville/Spartanburg area, so our away games to Furman and Wofford rival their crowds for the higher number.  Games at Mercer are seeing better Citadel attendance, and while Chattanooga, Samford and VMI are the furthest away, we have better than respectable attendances there. And because I-26 now concludes in Johnson City, the future road games at ETSU should also see a large Citadel contingent.

He then put together a nice little table that included league average attendance for each school, alongside attendance at The Citadel’s 2016 four conference road games, and attendance at FCS institutions in South Carolina. We’re #1 on that list, too.

I want to further expound on The Citadel’s conference road attendance numbers.

The Citadel’s four road games in league action last season were against Mercer, Western Carolina, Wofford, and VMI.

– The game against Mercer was played on Thursday night, and had an announced attendance of 12,542. That number probably reflects tickets sold (it certainly doesn’t reflect actual attendance).

At any rate, that was the highest-attended game played at Mercer last season, even though it was played on Thursday night. It was also the most-attended game since Mercer began playing football again in 2013.

– Attendance in Cullowhee for The Citadel’s game against Western Carolina: 12,283. WCU averaged 10,465 per home contest; the matchup with the Bulldogs produced the Catamounts’ biggest crowd of the season at E.J. Whitmire Stadium.

In 2014, the game in Cullowhee between the two teams drew a crowd of 13,323, which was the largest home attendance that season for the Catamounts. It was also the largest crowd for a home game at Western Carolina since 2010.

– Wofford averaged 6,789 per home contest in 2016, but drew a season-high 11,102 fans for its game against The Citadel. No other game in Spartanburg had an attendance greater than 8,102 last year.

The contest was the highest-attended football game at Gibbs Stadium since 2010. Matchups against The Citadel also resulted in Wofford’s best-attended home games for the 2008, 2012, and 2014 seasons, and the most-watched regular-season home contest in 2010.

– Last season, a crowd of 8,251 was on hand in Lexington, Virginia, to watch VMI and The Citadel battle for the coveted Silver Shako. The Keydets’ other three home games in 2016 all drew between 5,000-6,000 fans.

From what I can tell, it was the largest home crowd for a VMI game since 2007, when 9,183 fans watched the Keydets play…The Citadel.

The 2014 matchup at Alumni Memorial Field was VMI’s highest-attended home game of that season. The Bulldogs and Keydets also played in the most-watched 2012 contest.

I also took a look at recent attendance for The Citadel’s road games against Furman, Chattanooga, and Samford.

– The attendance for The Citadel’s 2015 game at Furman was 12,124. That is the largest attendance for any game at Paladin Stadium since 2011.

– The Citadel’s game at Chattanooga in 2015 was the most-attended SoCon game (11,594 fans) at Finley Stadium that season. It was also better attended than any of the Mocs’ home games in 2016.

The 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013 matchups between the two teams produced the second-highest attendance for a SoCon matchup in Chattanooga in each of those respective years.

– One place where The Citadel’s fans have been less likely to appear in large numbers is Seibert Stadium, home field for Samford. Average attendance for the last three meetings between the two schools in suburban Birmingham: 5,915. Samford’s average home attendance in those three years was 6,731.

This is not altogether surprising, as it is the longest trek for Bulldog fans to make in the conference. However, that strikes me as a good reason for fans of The Citadel to make a special effort to attend the game between the two squads in 2017 (it takes place on September 30).

As mentioned by Andy Solomon, I-26 now runs through Johnson City, Tennessee (it ends one mile into the state of Virginia, past Kingsport). That wasn’t the case when ETSU was previously in the Southern Conference, so the trip for Bulldog fans should be that much easier when the two teams meet on September 16 in Johnson City.

The Citadel’s fans support their team. They travel, they stay in hotels, they eat in town and at the game, and they buy game programs.

(That reminds me: I’m guessing that Wofford will be better prepared when the Bulldogs play in Spartanburg again in 2018. The visitors side concession stand ran out of food at halftime during last season’s matchup.)

It is also something the coaches can point to when recruiting. Not only will future Bulldogs play in front of significant home crowds at Johnson Hagood Stadium, but they will see plenty of blue and white when they play on the road, as well.

By request, here is a table listing the top 20 league games in terms of attendance in the SoCon over the last three years. The Citadel played in seven of the top eight (four at home, three on the road) and twelve of the top 20 (six at home, six on the road).

Year Road team Home team Attendance
2016 Samford The Citadel 15015
2015 VMI The Citadel 14925
2016 Chattanooga The Citadel 14590
2016 Western Carolina ETSU* 13863
2014 The Citadel Western Carolina 13323
2016 ETSU The Citadel 12978
2016 The Citadel Mercer 12542
2016 The Citadel Western Carolina 12283
2016 Western Carolina Mercer 12247
2014 Furman Mercer 12227
2015 The Citadel Furman 12124
2015 Samford Western Carolina 12014
2016 Furman The Citadel 12009
2015 The Citadel Chattanooga 11594
2015 Western Carolina Chattanooga 11495
2014 Furman The Citadel 11488
2015 Samford Mercer 11273
2016 The Citadel Wofford 11102
2016 Mercer Chattanooga 11039
2016 ETSU Mercer 10913

* The Western Carolina-ETSU game last year was played at Bristol Motor Speedway, nominally a home game for the Buccaneers. Of the top eight SoCon contests (in terms of attendance) over the last three seasons, this is the only game in which The Citadel was not one of the two teams involved.

The Blue-White spring game is less than a month away. The 2017 opener against Newberry is getting just a little closer…

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