Football attendance at The Citadel: an annual review (also including SoCon discussion and assorted FCS observations)

Other recent posts about football at The Citadel:

– 2019 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel and the rest of the SoCon

– During the 2019 football season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

This post is (mostly) about home attendance at The Citadel, a subject I’ve written about many times over the years. However, I’ll also delve into the SoCon and national FCS attendance numbers.

First, a spreadsheet:

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2018

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 2018 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.

This year, I have also included the home win/loss records for each season.

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 1970 (54.84%) is made up of the 1968, 1969, and 1970 seasons.

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

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. Clearly, there are sample-size issues when making such a comparison (weather, opponent fan base, etc.), but I’ve decided to keep up with it anyway. I’ve added the 2018 numbers, as part of an eight-year stretch:

  • 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)
  • 2018 [5-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 9,559; final two home games, average attendance of 9,511 (including Homecoming and a rescheduled game)

Since 1964, the Bulldogs’ record at Johnson Hagood Stadium is 189-117 (61.8%). The average home attendance over that time period is 13,978. However, there has not been a season in which home attendance averaged more than 13,978 since 2006.

The current stadium capacity is less than 12,000, due to the demolition of the East stands in the spring of 2017. Obviously, The Citadel cannot expect to see an increase in attendance to the levels of the early part of this century anytime soon (to say nothing of the attendance figures for the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s).

Last year’s average home attendance of 9,343 was the second-lowest for any season since attendance figures at Johnson Hagood Stadium can be accurately determined. Over the previous 54 years, only one season featured lower home attendance — 2017.

As always, it is worth mentioning that the cutoff for accuracy in attendance numbers means years like 1959 (eight wins), 1960 (Tangerine Bowl victory), and 1961 (SoCon title) 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. I am not particularly confident in any season attendance figures prior to 1964. (It could be argued that I shouldn’t be overly confident of the attendance numbers that followed, either.)

From what I can tell, the largest home attendance at any pre-1964 contest was probably for the Homecoming game against Clemson in 1948, when an estimated 16,000 fans were present for the dedication of the “new” Johnson Hagood Stadium.

In case anyone was wondering, here are the top average attendance marks over two-year, three-year, five-year, and ten-year periods:

  • Two years: 1975-76 (18,250). Rest of the top five: 1991-92, 1979-80, 1990-91, 1989-90
  • Three years: 1990-92 (17,457). Rest of the top five: 1989-91, 1978-80, 1991-93, 1975-77
  • Five years: 1988-92 (17,126). Rest of the top five: 1989-93, 1975-79, 1976-80, 1990-94
  • Ten years: 1975-84 (16,250). Rest of the top five: 1983-92, 1974-83, 1976-85, 1984-93

Average attendance by decade:

  • 1964-69: 11,998
  • 1970-79: 15,053
  • 1980-89: 15,398
  • 1990-99: 14,955
  • 2000-09: 13,850
  • 2010-18: 11,398

I wrote this in April of 2018:

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.

Well, The Citadel now has a new school president, and it also has a permanent AD. Despite that, there hasn’t been a lot of public discussion about the stadium.

A scan of the minutes from recent meetings of the Board of Visitors doesn’t reveal anything, either. A couple of brief snippets from the January 25/26 minutes:

Mr. [Mike] Capaccio discussed the results of recruitment efforts, competitions and practice opportunities, and a student-athlete academic summary for fall of 2018, including degrees that the student-athletes are pursuing. His noted his goal is to “pay off off past debt and to move forward” and “our fans are loyal and regularly support” Citadel teams…

…Dr. [Jay] Dowd gave an overview of fundraising for 2018 for TCF [The Citadel Foundation], TCBF [The Citadel Brigadier Foundation], and an update on TCREF [The Citadel Real Estate Foundation]. Both TCF and TCBF achieved or exceeded their 2018 goals.

During the meeting on March 1, the field did get a mention:

The donor of the new artificial turf on the field at Johnson Hagood Stadium has opted for a better quality product which has delayed the beginning of the project.

I wish there could be a little more “buzz” about the stadium, to be honest. I’ve been told that it is going to happen, which is good. It would be a touch more reassuring, though, if someone in a position of authority put his or her name on a public statement that said something along the lines of “We’ll have the new East stands ready to go by [a year in the very near future].”

Now it is time to take a look at FCS attendance across the board.

2018 NCAA football attendance (all divisions)

Jackson State led the division in average home attendance, at 24,770 (four games). That was higher than 50 FBS programs, including several bowl teams and one Power 5 school (Kansas).

JSU also had a higher average home attendance than the school average for four FBS conferences (Mountain West, Sun Belt, C-USA, MAC). Overall, Jackson State ranked 81st in NCAA home football attendance, regardless of division.

Montana was second overall in FCS, averaging 24,677 (six games). Four FCS programs ranked in the overall top 100 in home attendance — Jackson State, Montana, James Madison, and Southern.

Those four joined North Dakota State in averaging more than 18,000 fans per game. Last season, seven FCS schools hit that standard.

The Citadel ranked 24th out of 125 FCS schools, and third in the Southern Conference (behind Western Carolina and Mercer). Despite the lack of permanent seating on the east side of the stadium, the program finished in the top 30 of FCS in attendance for the twelfth time in the last thirteen years.

Here is a table that includes all 125 FCS squads (including “transitioning” North Alabama) and their respective home attendance totals/averages/rankings for the 2018 season:

Team G Total Att. Average Rank
Jackson State 4 99,079 24,770 1
Montana 6 148,064 24,677 2
James Madison 6 125,466 20,911 3
Southern 4 75,212 18,803 4
North Dakota State 10 181,055 18,106 5
Florida A&M 6 107,239 17,873 6
Jacksonville State 6 101,421 16,904 7
Montana State 7 115,299 16,471 8
Delaware 6 97,791 16,299 9
Alabama State 4 64,293 16,073 10
North Carolina A&T 5 77,468 15,494 11
Alcorn State 6 91,103 15,184 12
Alabama A&M 4 50,086 12,522 13
Youngstown State 6 69,322 11,554 14
Idaho 5 56,400 11,280 15
McNeese State 5 54,814 10,963 16
Western Carolina 5 52,900 10,580 17
Tennessee State 4 41,688 10,422 18
South Dakota State 7 71,243 10,178 19
New Hampshire 6 60,921 10,154 20
Harvard 5 49,211 9,842 21
Mercer 5 49,015 9,803 22
South Dakota 5 47,098 9,420 23
The Citadel 5 46,715 9,343 24
Northern Iowa 6 56,020 9,337 25
North Dakota 5 46,682 9,336 26
Illinois State 6 55,561 9,260 27
William & Mary 4 36,922 9,231 28
South Carolina State 5 45,871 9,174 29
Abilene Christian 5 44,953 8,991 30
Norfolk State 6 53,211 8,869 31
North Carolina Central 5 44,318 8,864 32
Idaho State 5 44,134 8,827 33
Chattanooga 5 43,761 8,752 34
Prairie View A&M 4 34,620 8,655 35
UC Davis 5 42,529 8,506 36
East Tennessee State 6 50,619 8,437 37
Elon 5 41,336 8,267 38
Weber State 7 57,817 8,260 39
Southern Utah 5 41,019 8,204 40
Grambling State 4 32,738 8,185 41
Richmond 5 40,428 8,086 42
Eastern Washington 8 63,795 7,974 43
Sam Houston State 5 39,554 7,911 44
Stony Brook 5 39,068 7,814 45
Northwestern State 5 38,914 7,783 46
Penn 5 38,839 7,768 47
Nicholls State 6 46,180 7,697 48
Central Arkansas 5 38,416 7,683 49
Yale 5 38,286 7,657 50
Austin Peay 5 37,810 7,562 51
Sacramento State 4 29,850 7,463 52
Missouri State 6 44,432 7,405 53
Eastern Kentucky 6 43,775 7,296 54
Maine 5 35,468 7,094 55
Lamar 6 42,462 7,077 56
Northern Arizona 5 35,178 7,036 57
North Alabama 5 33,774 6,755 58
Princeton 6 39,371 6,562 59
Southern Illinois 5 32,786 6,557 60
Cal Poly 6 39,175 6,529 61
Hampton 5 32,634 6,527 62
Murray State 5 30,945 6,189 63
Furman 4 24,555 6,139 64
Towson 6 36,681 6,114 65
Bethune-Cookman 4 24,310 6,078 66
Lafayette 5 29,219 5,844 67
Cornell 5 29,121 5,824 68
Tennessee Tech 5 29,053 5,811 69
Wofford 6 34,837 5,806 70
Kennesaw State 7 40,295 5,756 71
Howard 4 22,806 5,702 72
Arkansas-Pine Bluff 5 28,435 5,687 73
Columbia 5 28,435 5,687 74
Villanova 5 28,303 5,661 75
Indiana State 5 28,283 5,657 76
Holy Cross 5 27,614 5,523 77
Southeastern Louisiana 5 27,477 5,495 78
Samford 5 27,131 5,426 79
Eastern Illinois 5 26,715 5,343 80
Stephen F. Austin 4 21,189 5,297 81
Campbell 7 35,405 5,058 82
Rhode Island 5 24,662 4,932 83
Colgate 5 24,414 4,883 84
Lehigh 5 24,271 4,854 85
Morgan State 5 23,406 4,681 86
Savannah State 5 23,243 4,649 87
Morehead State 6 27,505 4,584 88
Albany (NY) 6 27,096 4,516 89
Southeast Missouri State 6 26,990 4,498 90
Texas Southern 5 21,773 4,355 91
Northern Colorado 6 25,293 4,216 92
Brown 5 20,563 4,113 93
VMI 5 20,556 4,111 94
Dartmouth 5 20,034 4,007 95
Fordham 6 23,781 3,964 96
Mississippi Valley State 4 15,580 3,895 97
Portland State 5 18,993 3,799 98
Central Connecticut State 5 18,490 3,698 99
Davidson 7 25,884 3,698 100
Incarnate Word 4 14,383 3,596 101
Bryant 5 17,831 3,566 102
Western Illinois 5 15,897 3,179 103
Gardner-Webb 6 18,842 3,140 104
Butler 5 14,997 2,999 105
Dayton 5 14,797 2,959 106
UT Martin 5 14,430 2,886 107
Sacred Heart 5 13,746 2,749 108
Monmouth 6 16,463 2,744 109
Bucknell 5 13,144 2,629 110
Wagner 4 9,070 2,268 111
Valparaiso 5 11,264 2,253 112
Houston Baptist 6 13,304 2,217 113
San Diego 5 10,653 2,131 114
Presbyterian 5 10,287 2,057 115
Stetson 6 12,008 2,001 116
Jacksonville 5 9,945 1,989 117
Drake 5 9,201 1,840 118
Georgetown 5 9,201 1,840 119
Charleston Southern 5 8,820 1,764 120
Marist 5 8,657 1,731 121
Delaware State 4 6,836 1,709 122
Duquesne 6 9,802 1,634 123
Robert Morris 5 7,614 1,523 124
St. Francis (PA) 6 7,804 1,301 125

Odds and ends:

– Furman’s home average attendance fell from 7,775 to 6,139, almost back to where FU was in 2016 (5,771). Despite that decline, Furman still outdrew Wofford for a second consecutive season, after a four-year period in which the Spartanburg school had the higher average attendance.

Of course, Furman lost a home game last year when its matchup against Colgate was canceled due to Hurricane Florence. As for Wofford, hosting a first-round playoff game did not help its attendance numbers (as only 2,157 fans were at Gibbs Stadium to see the Terriers play Elon).

– After an increase of 1,702 fans per home contest in 2017, South Carolina State slipped back to an average of 9,174 fans per game last year. While still good enough to finish in the FCS top 30, it was a per-game decline of 2,709 supporters.

SCSU’s average attendance was significantly affected by a rescheduled game against North Carolina Central, which was played in November instead of its original September 15 date. The matchup (one of many postponed by Hurricane Florence) drew only 3,996 fans.

– Three Division II schools (Morehouse, Tuskegee, and Grand Valley State) all had higher home attendance averages than four FBS institutions (Coastal Carolina, Northern Illinois, Massachusetts, and Ball State).

– Other D-2 home attendance averages of interest: Benedict (4,223); Newberry (2,971); North Greenville (3,243); Lenoir-Rhyne (4,998); Chowan (2,981); Catawba (1,903); Carson-Newman (3,639); Valdosta State (4,890); Mars Hill (3,166); Shorter (1,662).

– The three lowest average home attendance totals in FCS last year: Duquesne, Robert Morris, and St. Francis (PA), all of which play in the Northeast Conference. Duquesne won that league and its automatic bid to the playoffs.

– The lowest average home attendance for any NCAA school last season was at Earlham College (IN), of Division III, with 188 fans per contest. Earlham, which has not won a football game since 2013, suspended its football program after last season, and will not compete in 2019.

Western New Mexico had the lowest attendance in Division II, averaging 292 patrons per game. There is a discrepancy between the NCAA’s numbers and the school’s, as Western New Mexico’s statistical attendance summary is incomplete, as this boxscore may indicate. The Mustangs finished with an 0-10 record.

There were 669 football-playing colleges and universities in the NCAA’s three divisions last season.

The average home attendance for SoCon teams (all games) was 7,611, the second consecutive year league attendance has declined:

  • 2014: 8,204
  • 2015: 8,210
  • 2016: 8,386
  • 2017: 7,827
  • 2018: 7,611

As was the case in 2017, 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 8,437 fans per game. League attendance could be easily broken down into two tiers, with a significant difference in average attendance between 5th-place ETSU and 6th-place Furman.

Average attendance across FCS last season was 7,325, though the median attendance was 6,527. Thus, the SoCon was above the national average in terms of attendance (6th out of 13 FCS conferences).

In terms of 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 was 7,697, a decline of 130 fans per contest from 2017. The median attendance in this category for 2018 was 8,069, an increase of 286 fans per game from the previous season.

Eight of thirty-six conference games were attended by more than 10,000 people. The most attended SoCon matchup last season was VMI’s game at Western Carolina on September 2, with an announced attendance of 12,759.

VMI also was involved in the lowest-attended league matchup, on September 14, a home game against East Tennessee State that drew only 2,764 fans. It should be noted that ETSU-VMI was played one day earlier than scheduled, on a Friday afternoon, because of (yet again) Hurricane Florence.

Average home attendance, league games only:

  • Western  Carolina: 10,197
  • The Citadel: 9,709
  • Mercer: 9,703
  • Chattanooga: 8,685
  • East Tennessee State: 8,400
  • Wofford: 6,751
  • Furman: 6,138
  • Samford: 5,457
  • VMI: 4,234

The Citadel was easily the top overall road draw in league play last season, with the Bulldogs playing before an average of 9,400 fans in four conference contests away from home. Three of those four games (against Wofford, VMI, and Mercer) featured the top home crowd for The Citadel’s opponents in 2018. That is no surprise, given the Bulldogs’ fan base.

Samford finished second in this category (league road attendance average of 9,094). SU was the only other conference team to be the top opposition draw for multiple conference games, with Devlin Hodges and company drawing the best home crowds of the season for Chattanooga and The Citadel.

Western Carolina, which led the conference in average home attendance, was at the bottom of average attendance for league road games, at 6,420.

The average attendance at FCS games decreased by 4.5 percent in the 2018 season, reflecting a continued problem in recent years…

…Seven of the top 13 attendances came from HBCUs – historically black colleges and universities. That helped the Southwestern Athletic Conference to average an FCS-high 15,240 fans per game, with the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference ranking third out of 13 conferences at 9,815. The Missouri Valley Football Conference was second at 9,864.

On the other levels of NCAA football, the average attendance in the FBS was down 0.8 percent; Division II, 6 percent; and Division III, 9 percent.

I think it is interesting that while FBS attendance decreased only marginally last season, there was a substantial decline in attendance for FCS, D-2, and D-3 (and that the dropoff got worse further down the divisional totem pole).

One of the popular theories about declining attendance revolves around fan access to games via TV/streaming. However, very few D-2/D-3 games are televised, and streaming for teams in those divisions is certainly not as widespread as it is in FBS/FCS — yet numerous schools in D-2/D-3 have eroding attendance numbers.

Incidentally, the SWAC and the MEAC were the only two FCS leagues that did not see a decline in attendance. Some of the conferences really took a hit in 2018 (particularly the Ivy League, Southland, and Patriot League).

There are no easy answers to the attendance conundrum. However, there is consensus on the surest way to maintain and/or increase attendance. A former assistant coach at The Citadel said it best:

Just win, baby.

Football season is getting closer…

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