Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2017: an annual review

This post will cover home attendance at The Citadel, which is a subject I’ve written about several times before. I’m also going to discuss NCAA football attendance in general (including FCS and SoCon-specific numbers), because I think it is important to consider the program’s attendance issues in context with the rest of the sport.

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2017

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 2017 season.

The spreadsheet lists year-by-year totals and average game attendance, and the win/loss record for the Bulldogs in each 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 (69.44%, the highest percentage for that category since 1964) is made up of the 1990, 1991, and 1992 seasons. Incidentally, the second-highest percentage in this category since 1964 happens to be the overall record for The Citadel’s most recent three campaigns.

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

In past years, I’ve noted that walk-up sales appear to have had an impact on yearly totals; in other words, if the team is good, it is reflected in that season’s attendance. This is certainly not a spectacular revelation, but the numbers for The Citadel appear to be higher than expected when compared to attendance for the following year (when you might naturally expect an increase in attendance as a result of the previous season’s on-field success).

In the last few years, I have compared average attendance for the first two games of a season to the last two contests of the same campaign. Of course, there are plenty of opportunities for discrepancies when making such a comparison (weather, opponent fan base, etc.), but it strikes me as something worth following. I’ve added the 2017 numbers, so there is now a seven-year period to check:

  • 2011 [4-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 12,756; final two home games, average attendance of 12,387 (including Homecoming)
  • 2012 [7-4 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,281; final two home games, average attendance of 13,715 (including Homecoming)
  • 2013 [5-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,370; final two home games, average attendance of 12,948 (including Homecoming)
  • 2014 [5-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 9,700; final two home games, average attendance of 9,563 (including Homecoming)
  • 2015 [9-4 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,356; final two home games, average attendance of 12,465 (including Homecoming)
  • 2016 [10-2 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,299; final two home games, average attendance of 13,996 (including Homecoming)
  • 2017 [5-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,718; final two home games, average attendance of 9,496 (including Homecoming)

Since 1964, the Bulldogs’ record at Johnson Hagood Stadium is 187-114 (62.1%). The average home attendance over that time period is 14,055. However, there has not been a season in which home attendance averaged more than 14,055 since 2006.

As the current stadium capacity is less than 12,000 due to the demolition of the East stands in the spring of 2017, it will be a while before The Citadel can expect to enjoy a season with average game attendance in excess of 14,055. Whether or not surpassing that benchmark is even realistic going forward, regardless of the size of the facility, is an open question.

Last season’s average home attendance of 8,994 was the lowest for any year since attendance figures at Johnson Hagood Stadium can be accurately determined (in other words, the lowest in the last 54 seasons).

Note: that cutoff for accuracy in attendance numbers means that years like 1959 (eight wins), 1960 (bowl victory), and 1961 (SoCon championship) cannot be included for comparison in this review, not to mention any of the other years from 1948 (when the most recent iteration of Johnson Hagood Stadium opened) through the 1963 season. “Official” attendance figures prior to 1948 are (for the most part) even more dubious.

Now let’s look at FCS attendance as a whole.

2017 NCAA football attendance (all divisions)

Montana easily led the division in average home attendance again, with 25,535 (six games). That was higher than 45 FBS programs, and higher than the average home attendance for three FBS conferences (Sun Belt, MAC, C-USA).

James Madison was second overall, averaging 21,724. That included nine games, three of which were playoff contests (all of these numbers include playoff games).

Without the postseason matchups (and their generally lackluster attendance numbers), JMU would have averaged 24,841 fans per home game.

Seven FCS schools averaged more than 18,000 fans per game. Last season, five FCS schools hit that mark (after eight had done so in 2015).

The Citadel ranked 34th out of 123 FCS schools, but only fourth in the Southern Conference (behind Western Carolina, Mercer, and Chattanooga). Last year, the Bulldogs ranked 1st in attendance among fellow league teams. It was the first time in the last 12 years that The Citadel did not finish in the top 30 in FCS attendance.

Here is a table that includes various FCS squads and their respective attendance totals:

Team G Total Average FCS Rank
Montana 6 141,212 23,535 1
James Madison 9 195,514 21,724 2
Florida A&M 4 76,190 19,048 3
Yale 5 94,699 18,940 4
Montana State 6 111,702 18,617 5
Jacksonville State 6 110,328 18,388 6
North Dakota State 9 164,996 18,333 7
Prairie View A&M 5 89,016 17,803 8
Delaware 6 99,890 16,648 9
North Carolina A&T 5 78,486 15,697 10
South Carolina State 5 59,414 11,883 19
Western Carolina 5 52,735 10,547 23
Mercer 5 52,725 10,545 24
Harvard 5 52,055 10,411 27
Eastern Washington 5 50,617 10,123 28
South Dakota 5 46,736 9,347 32
Chattanooga 5 45,848 9,170 33
The Citadel 5 44,972 8,994 34
Texas Southern 5 43,994 8,799 35
Austin Peay 5 41,708 8,342 39
Norfolk State 6 49,908 8,318 40
Sacramento State 6 49,891 8,315 41
William and Mary 5 41,182 8,236 44
Richmond 5 40,925 8,185 45
East Tennessee State 6 48,050 8,008 46
Nicholls 6 47,295 7,883 47
Furman 5 38,875 7,775 48
Princeton 5 36,831 7,366 51
Lehigh 6 42,827 7,138 56
Elon 6 42,118 7,020 58
Kennesaw State 7 46,874 6,696 63
Wofford 6 38,831 6,472 68
Villanova 5 28,244 5,649 74
Campbell 6 33,276 5,546 77
Towson 5 26,884 5,377 80
Samford 6 32,024 5,337 81
Penn 5 26,374 5,275 82
Gardner-Webb 5 23,017 4,603 90
VMI 5 21,623 4,325 94
Savannah State 4 17,046 4,262 95
Davidson 6 20,119 3,353 100
Charleston Southern 5 11,727 2,345 110
Presbyterian 8 18,558 2,320 111
Georgetown 5 10,829 2,166 116
Delaware State 4 8,432 2,108 119
Jacksonville 6 12,536 2,089 120
Robert Morris 5 10,099 2,020 121
Stetson 6 11,647 1,941 122
Saint Francis (PA) 5 8,065 1,613 123

Apologies if that table is a bit too long, but I was trying to include a varied cross-section of FCS teams. I didn’t want to list all 123, but I wound up including 49 of them anyway…

Observations:

  • Yale ranked 3rd overall in FCS attendance in 2015, 35th in 2016, and 4th in 2017. Why the yo-yo effect? It’s all about the location of the Harvard-Yale game, which was played at the Yale Bowl in both of the odd-numbered years. Last season, that matchup drew 51,426 fans.
  • The lowest average home attendance for a team that made the 2017 playoffs: San Diego (2,142, which ranked 117th). Lowest average home attendance for a team that actually hosted a playoff game last season: Wofford.
  • Furman’s home attendance jumped over 2,000 fans per game in 2017, from 5,771 to 7,775. For the first time in four seasons, Furman outdrew Wofford.
  • Montana and Montana State combined to average 21,076 per home contest. No other western school packed in more than 10,123 fans per game (Eastern Washington). Keep in mind that neither Montana nor Montana State made the FCS playoffs last year; the two Treasure State institutions had a combined record of 12-10.
  • North Alabama, which is transitioning from Division II to D-1 and will be in the Big South for football, averaged 7,498 fans per home game last season.
  • Other D-2 home attendance averages of interest: Benedict (5,180); Newberry (3,212); North Greenville (3,147); Lenoir-Rhyne (4,330); Chowan (2,904); Catawba (2,472); Carson-Newman (3,109).
  • Hampton, which is also moving to the Big South (assuming its nasty fight with the MEAC is finally over), averaged 7,088 fans per home contest in 2017.
  • Campbell is adding football scholarships and moving its football program from the Pioneer League to the Big South (you will need a scorecard to keep up with the Big South for the next few years). Average home attendance for Campbell last season: 5,546.
  • Moving the other direction, Presbyterian is going to be playing football in the Pioneer League, leaving the Big South in that sport. PC averaged only 2,320 fans per game last season. On the bright side, that isn’t out of line with its soon-to-be colleagues in the Pioneer League, four of which averaged less than that total in 2017. The highest-ranked Pioneer League school in terms of attendance was Morehead State (72nd overall).
  • The football additions for the Big South will greatly help that league in terms of fan support. Last season, four of the five schools in the conference (not counting Liberty) ranked 90th or below nationally in FCS attendance.
  • South Carolina State got a nice bump in attendance (an increase of 1,702 fans per home contest) thanks in part to games in Orangeburg against North Carolina A&T and Howard (the latter was Homecoming).

The average home attendance for SoCon teams was 7,827, a decline on average of 559 fans per game from 2016. League averages for the last four years:

  • 2014: 8,204
  • 2015: 8,210
  • 2016: 8,386
  • 2017: 7,827

East Tennessee State could be considered the median of the SoCon in terms of home attendance, finishing fifth in the league with an average of 8,008 fans per game.

Average attendance across FCS last season was 7,798, though the median attendance was 6,762. Thus, the SoCon was just slightly above the national average in terms of attendance, despite ranking only 9th out of 13 FCS conferences in average attendance.

I decided to break down attendance by league games only — in other words, not counting any non-conference home games (regular or post-season) played by SoCon teams. The average attendance for those games (a total of 36) was 7,937. The median attendance in this category was 7,783.

The most attended conference game last season was Wofford’s game at Mercer on September 9, with an announced attendance of 12,727. On October 7, Samford played at VMI, a game that drew just 3,310 spectators, the smallest crowd to watch a league contest in 2017.

Major-college football experienced its largest per-game attendance drop in 34 years and second-largest ever, according to recently released NCAA figures.

Attendance among the 129 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams in 2017 was down an average of 1,409 fans per game from 2016. That marked the largest drop since 1983 when average attendance declined 1,527 fans per game from 1982.

The 2017 FBS average of 42,203 fans per game is the lowest since 1997.

That average attendance drop marked the second-sharpest decline since the NCAA began keeping track of college football attendance in 1948. For the first time in history, average attendance declined nationally for four consecutive seasons…

…Since establishing an all-time high average attendance in 2008 (46,971), FBS attendance has slipped a record 10.1 percent over the last nine years.

That quoted section is from a story on college football attendance written by Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports. Dodd also noted that the decline had even affected the ever-popular SEC. The reasons for the falloff in attendance are varied, but a former Southern Conference commissioner had some thoughts on the issue:

“It’s a technology issue,” said Wright Waters…”The public is ahead of us every day in what they can get from technology. We have not been able to keep up.”

A former TV executive quoted in the article put most of the “blame” on the lack of attendance on students not showing up to games, but a very good article in The Athletic strongly suggested that notion was a bit faulty. I’m not going to quote a lot from that particular piece, which is behind a paywall, but as the author (Michael Weinreb) wrote:

Let’s dispel with one stereotype up front: This decrease is not taking place merely because of the inherent laziness of millennials…

…It also is not about the lack of consistent Wi-Fi coverage at stadiums. Nels Popp, an assistant professor of sport administration at the University of North Carolina, says that despite colleges’ obsession with improving Wi-Fi, connectivity is the “lowest reliable variable” when it comes to attendance. In other words: People don’t stay home because of lousy Wi-Fi, even if they consider good Wi-Fi to be a bonus when they do show up.

“Our response when we see students aren’t coming tends to be, ‘Let’s throw more #### at them,'” says Robert Malekoff, Popp’s colleague in UNC’s Department of Exercise and Sport Science.

In a way, that might be true, but it’s not about literally hurling T-shirts or network passwords in their general direction (it may not be about social media blasts, either, if Popp’s research on the lack of impact of social media on attendance bears out with further study). It’s a more subtle, experiential thing.

That research article by UNC professor Nels Popp on the impact of social media on attendance is quite interesting. One of its conclusions: “Twitter ‘Followers’ and Facebook ‘Likes’ had no statistically relevant impact on either attendance or ticket revenue”. Rather, historical and current on-field (and on-court) success were the decisive factors, along with “belonging to a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) Conference”.

The Citadel is probably not going to be joining a power-five conference anytime soon, so let’s just win a lot of games…

Circling back to the subject of attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, I have to mention the beer sales, or lack thereof:

The Citadel lost money selling beer at home football games in 2017, and it’s unclear whether beer sales will continue at Johnson Hagood Stadium for the 2018 season.

The school sold $21,718.24 worth of beer at five home games last season, The Citadel’s first effort to sell beer in public areas of the stadium.

But expenses to sell the beer, including $5,000 per game in rental costs to set up a beer garden, amounted to $32,858.62, leaving a net loss of $11,140.38.

The Citadel’s athletic department split the loss with corporate partner Sticky Fingers, leaving each party with a loss of $5,570.19 for the season.

Interim athletic director Rob Acunto told a committee of The Citadel’s Board of Visitors on Wednesday that the school’s beer vendor would not partner with The Citadel next season if the beer garden setup remains the same.

However, Acunto said, the beer vendor is interested in an expanded concept “because profitability would be virtually guaranteed if rental costs were eliminated.”

Without rental costs, he said, net revenue for beer sales would have been $13,859.62.

To be honest, I think $5,000 per game to set up a tent is a bit absurd, but maybe I’m missing something. Putting that aside for a moment:

  • The beer garden was located on the visitors’ side of the field, when most of the would-be customers were on the other side of the stadium
  • It was located next to a children’s play area
  • From what I understand, you couldn’t really watch the game from the tent; oddly enough, some people do like watching the game

I don’t know if selling beer is going to do much for attendance, and truthfully I’m somewhat ambivalent on the concept of selling beer at a small-college sporting event as it is. However, if you’re going to sell beer, my suggestion is to go ahead and make it part of the regular concessions package. Let the people sitting in the stands buy beer if they are of age (cadets excepted).

Also, if we’re determined to put food/beverage options on the visitors’ side (and why not?), add food carts to the mix.

One obvious issue with attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium is that currently about half of the stadium does not exist. Of course, right now nothing is going to happen on that front, because the school doesn’t have a president or a permanent director of athletics.

When the new president is in place, one of his top priorities should be getting a permanent structure built on the east side of the stadium. It should be the top priority for the new AD.

The first game of the season is less than five months away. Are you ready?

One Response

  1. There seems to be a significant drop in attendance starting with the 2004 season (when the Home side was demolished), from which we have never recovered. Attendance thru 2004 was consistently 12 – 16K, with an occasional spike to 16 – 17K.. Since 2004, looks like yearly average attendance is in the 9 – 12K range with an occasional spike to 13 – 14K.

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