Football attendance at The Citadel: a review (including SoCon/FCS/COVID-19 observations)

Another (recent!) post about football at The Citadel:

Once upon a time, The Citadel was known as the Light Brigade

A less-than-recent post about football at The Citadel that I’ll highlight anyway, just because:

Homecoming at The Citadel: from 1924 to the present

This post is (mostly) about home attendance at The Citadel, which is a subject I’ve written about many times over the years. I will delve into the SoCon and national FCS attendance numbers, and I’ll also address the enormous elephant in the room: COVID-19’s affect on this season’s attendance.

First, a spreadsheet:

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2019

The above link is to a spreadsheet that tracks attendance for The Citadel’s home football games, which has now been updated to include the 2019 season. The spreadsheet lists year-by-year totals and average game attendance, and the win/loss record for the Bulldogs (both overall and at Johnson Hagood Stadium). 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 1970 (54.84%) is made up of the 1968, 1969, and 1970 seasons.

I include those categories mainly to see what impact constant winning (or losing) has on long-term attendance trends. While the answer to that question would seem obvious on the surface, it isn’t quite that simple.

In recent years, I have compared average attendance for the first two games of a season to the last two contests of the same campaign. There are definite sample-size issues when making such a comparison — weather, time of opening kickoff, opponent fan base, etc. —  but I’ve decided to keep up with it anyway. (After all, it’s not that hard to copy/paste.)

I’ve added the 2019 numbers, as part of an nine-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)
  • 2019 [6-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,817; final two home games, average attendance of 9,141 (including Homecoming)

Since 1964, the Bulldogs’ record at Johnson Hagood Stadium is 192-120 (61.5%). The average home attendance over that time period is 13,888. However, there has not been a season in which home attendance averaged more than 13,888 since 2006.

As many of those reading reading this are aware, the current stadium capacity is less than 12,000, due to the demolition of the East stands in the spring of 2017. Because of this, 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).

Of course, with the specter of COVID-19 looming over the 2020 campaign, the number of available seats at Johnson Hagood Stadium may not be quite as relevant this season.

Last year’s average home attendance of 9,344 was exactly one person per game higher than in 2018. It was the third-lowest average for any season since attendance figures at Johnson Hagood Stadium can be accurately determined. Over the previous 55 years, only one season featured lower home attendance — 2017. Thus, the three lowest average attendance figures since 1964 have occurred over the last three seasons.

A note that is worth mentioning every year: 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. (As for the attendance figures that are listed post-1964, well, I’m rolling with them — but as the saying goes, your mileage may vary.)

The largest home attendance at any pre-1964 contest was almost certainly 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.

The top average attendance marks at JHS 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
  • 2010-19: 11,147

As for FCS attendance in 2019:

School G Total Att. Avg. Rank
Jackson State 5 168,808 33,762 1
Montana 7 157,812 22,545 2
James Madison 9 162,974 18,108 3
Alabama State 5 88,997 17,799 4
North Dakota State 9 156,962 17,440 5
Montana State 8 138,246 17,281 6
Southern University 4 67,826 16,957 7
North Carolina A&T 5 84,633 16,927 8
Jacksonville State 7 117,800 16,829 9
Florida A&M 6 99,223 16,537 10
Delaware 7 99,926 14,275 11
Alcorn State 7 92,373 13,196 12
Yale 6 72,796 12,133 13
Youngstown State 7 84,150 12,021 14
Norfolk State 5 56,480 11,296 15
South Dakota State 8 87,764 10,971 16
Sacramento State 7 76,651 10,950 17
McNeese State 6 65,266 10,878 18
Harvard 5 54,060 10,812 19
Grambling State 3 31,188 10,396 20
South Carolina State 6 62,035 10,339 21
New Hampshire 5 50,527 10,105 22
North Alabama 5 47,738 9,548 23
UC Davis 5 47,502 9,500 24
Mercer 6 56,437 9,406 25
The Citadel 6 56,066 9,344 26
Illinois State 6 55,454 9,242 27
Texas Southern 4 36,814 9,204 28
Western Carolina 6 52,814 8,802 29
Tennessee State 6 52,723 8,787 30
Willliam and Mary 6 51,730 8,622 31
East Tennessee State 6 51,152 8,525 32
Northern Iowa 7 59,023 8,432 33
Penn 5 42,134 8,427 34
Holy Cross 5 42,067 8,413 35
Eastern Washington 5 41,833 8,367 36
North Dakota 6 50,040 8,340 37
Stephen F. Austin 4 33,294 8,324 38
Eastern Kentucky 5 41,568 8,314 39
Alabama A&M 4 32,527 8,132 40
Central Arkansas 6 47,652 7,942 41
Abilene Christian 6 47,291 7,882 42
Chattanooga 6 46,603 7,767 43
Richmond 6 45,205 7,534 44
Weber State 8 59,506 7,438 45
Stony Brook 7 51,214 7,316 46
Elon 5 36,209 7,242 47
Murray State 6 43,402 7,234 48
Princeton 5 36,125 7,225 49
Hampton 6 43,309 7,218 50
Arkansas-Pine Bluff 6 43,143 7,191 51
Lamar 6 43,037 7,173 52
Idaho 6 41,312 6,885 53
Nicholls State 6 41,221 6,870 54
Austin Peay 7 47,461 6,780 55
Lehigh 5 33,540 6,708 56
Tennessee Tech 6 40,203 6,701 57
Bethune-Cookman 3 19,981 6,660 58
Northwestern State 5 33,122 6,624 59
Northern Arizona 6 39,441 6,574 60
Cal Poly 5 32,815 6,563 61
Southeastern Louisiana 6 39,184 6,531 62
Towson 6 38,872 6,479 63
Southern Illinois 5 32,279 6,456 64
Missouri State 5 32,248 6,450 65
Maine 5 31,891 6,378 66
Prairie View A&M 5 31,820 6,364 67
North Carolina Central 5 31,674 6,335 68
Idaho State 5 30,645 6,129 69
Villanova 6 36,020 6,003 70
Furman 6 35,883 5,981 71
Kennesaw State 6 35,686 5,948 72
Rhode Island 5 29,432 5,886 73
Morehead State 6 33,969 5,662 74
Dartmouth 4 22,384 5,596 75
Campbell 6 32,403 5,401 76
Columbia 5 26,881 5,376 77
South Dakota 6 30,225 5,038 78
Indiana State 7 35,222 5,032 79
Eastern Illinois 5 24,413 4,883 80
Sam Houston State 6 29,267 4,878 81
Morgan State 5 24,074 4,815 82
Southern Utah 5 23,985 4,797 83
Lafayette 5 23,321 4,664 84
Northern Colorado 5 22,871 4,574 85
Mississippi Valley State 6 26,493 4,416 86
Samford 5 21,983 4,397 87
Southeast Missouri State 7 30,264 4,323 88
Wofford 6 25,867 4,311 89
Cornell 5 21,475 4,295 90
VMI 6 24,127 4,021 91
Portland State 6 23,995 3,999 92
Davidson 7 27,025 3,861 93
Albany (NY) 7 26,808 3,830 94
Howard 4 15,317 3,829 95
Central Connecticut State 5 18,974 3,795 96
Brown 5 18,946 3,789 97
Sacred Heart 5 18,194 3,639 98
Charleston Southern 5 17,762 3,552 99
Colgate 5 17,755 3,551 100
Fordham 5 17,042 3,408 101
Incarnate Word 6 19,643 3,274 102
Butler 6 19,593 3,266 103
Gardner-Webb 5 16,226 3,245 104
UT Martin 5 15,569 3,114 105
Monmouth 7 19,463 2,780 106
Bucknell 5 13,751 2,750 107
Dayton 5 13,702 2,740 108
Western Illinois 6 15,922 2,654 109
LIU 3 7,515 2,505 110
Houston Baptist 6 13,932 2,322 111
Drake 5 11,160 2,232 112
Bryant 6 12,916 2,153 113
San Diego 6 12,574 2,096 114
Wagner 6 12,447 2,075 115
Valparaiso 6 12,340 2,057 116
Georgetown 5 9,803 1,961 117
Marist 6 11,317 1,886 118
Duquesne 5 9,286 1,857 119
Jacksonville 6 10,842 1,807 120
Robert Morris 6 10,664 1,777 121
Presbyterian 7 11,810 1,687 122
Stetson 7 11,093 1,585 123
Delaware State 7 10,596 1,514 124
Saint Francis (PA) 5 7,208 1,442 125

Notes on the above table:

– I included North Alabama, technically a “transitioning” school last year, but one that played a full Division I schedule.

– Average home game attendance for FCS schools declined last season, from 7,325 in 2018 to 7,296 in 2019.

– The Citadel ranked 26th out of 124 FCS schools, and second in the Southern Conference (behind 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 thirteenth time in the last fourteen years.

– Jackson State led FCS in attendance, as it did in 2018. Attendance for the Tigers’ five home games at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium ranged from 26,341 (a game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff) to 40,085 (versus Southern).

JSU’s home attendance was higher than that of 67 FBS teams, including six P5 schools. Five FBS conferences (AAC, C-USA, MWC, Sun Belt, MAC) had lower average per-school attendance figures.

– Montana and James Madison joined Jackson State in averaging more than 18,000 fans per home game. Four FCS schools accomplished that feat in 2018; seven did so in 2017.

– Furman’s average home attendance over the last four years: 5,771 (2016); 7,775 (2017); 6,139 (2018); 5,981 (2019). That is not a promising trend, though the Paladins did outdraw Wofford for the second consecutive season.

– South Carolina State’s average home attendance over the last four years: 10,148 (2016); 11,883 (2017), 9,174 (2018); 10,339 (2019). Buddy Pough is doing his best to keep things on an even keel in Orangeburg.

– Charleston Southern’s home attendance improved year-over-year from 1,764 (2018) to 3,552 (2019). The Buccaneers were helped on the attendance front by hosting North Carolina A&T and its estimable fan base (5,112 for that game), but CSU had significantly better per-game numbers last season even when taking the Aggies’ supporters into account.

– Morehouse College topped Division II in home attendance, averaging 10,924 fans per game. The top four Division II schools in home attendance were Morehouse, Grand Valley State, Tarleton State (which is now transitioning to FCS), and Tuskegee. All four of them outdrew Northern Illinois, an FBS school; the Huskies only averaged 8,518 per home contest.

Those Tuesday night MAC games are not designed with home attendance in mind. For example, NIU managed to attract 3,568 fans on a rainy Tuesday night versus Western Michigan.

– Other D-2 home attendance averages of interest: Benedict (5,024); Newberry (2,933); North Greenville (3,228); Lenoir-Rhyne (4,769); Chowan (2,320); Catawba (2,140); Carson-Newman (3,441); Valdosta State (4,992); Mars Hill (3,152); Shorter (1,132).

The SoCon’s average attendance fell below 7,000 per game, the first time that had happened this century, and almost certainly the first time the conference had fallen below that number in several decades.

Among FCS leagues, only the MVFC had a larger dropoff in attendance from 2018 to 2019.

Average home attendance for SoCon teams (all games):

  • 2014: 8,204
  • 2015: 8,210
  • 2016: 8,386
  • 2017: 7,827
  • 2018: 7,611
  • 2019: 6,998

2019 home attendance by school, SoCon:

Team Games Total att. Average Nat’l rank
Mercer 6 56,437 9,406 25
The Citadel 6 56,066 9,344 26
WCU 6 52,814 8,802 29
ETSU 6 51,152 8,525 32
Chattanooga 6 46,603 7,767 43
Furman 6 35,883 5,981 71
Samford 5 21,983 4,397 87
Wofford 6 25,867 4,311 89
VMI 6 24,127 4,021 91

I have to note here that not everyone trusts the home attendance numbers released by Mercer. Of course, you could say that for a lot of schools (possibly most of them), but the Bears’ figures in particular have been questioned in recent years by opposing fans and neutral observers alike.

Chattanooga was the median for the conference in terms of home attendance, finishing 5th in the SoCon with 7,767 fans per game. There was a significant difference between 5th-place UTC and 6th-place Furman (5,981), and almost as big a differential between Furman and 7th-place Samford (4,391).

In 2018, the SoCon finished 6th out of 13 FCS conferences in home attendance; last year, the league finished 8th out of 13.

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 in 2019 was 6,889, a decline of 808 fans per contest from 2018 (there had been a smaller decline in 2017 as well).

Four of thirty-six conference games were attended by more than 10,000 people (there were eight such contests the year before). The Citadel hosted two of those four games (versus VMI and Mercer); the other two matchups were Wofford at Mercer, and Mercer at Western Carolina.

Average home attendance, league games only:

  • The Citadel: 9,608
  • Western  Carolina: 8,433 (a decline of over 1,700 fans per home league contest)
  • Mercer: 8,421 (a decline of almost 1,300 fans per home league contest, with just 5,714 on hand for a game against VMI)
  • East Tennessee State: 8,296
  • Chattanooga: 7,388 (a decline of almost 1,300 fans per home league contest, though all four home games had attendance of greater than 7,000)
  • Furman: 6,632 (an increase of almost 500 fans per home league contest)
  • Wofford: 5,024 (a decline of over 1,700 per home league contest, with a low of 3,463 versus Samford)
  • VMI: 4,186
  • Samford: 4,012 (a decline of over 1,400 fans per home league contest)

Some notes related to this category:

– Mercer had two non-conference home games last season, playing Austin Peay and Campbell at Five Star Stadium. The listed attendance for both games exceeded 11,000.

– Conversely, Furman’s home attendance was hurt by its season finale versus Point (just 3,432 in the stands for that one). The Paladins didn’t really get much out of playing Charleston Southern in its opener, either (6,146, which was a lower total than three of its four league home games).

– Samford only drew 1,521 fans for its game against East Tennessee State. The conditions were not ideal (rain), but that still seems like a serious outlier.

– In 2019 conference play, more people attended games played by Mercer than any other school. In eight games (four home, four away), the Bears competed before a total of 70,456 fans, an average of 8,818 per contest. The Citadel was the second-most watched team, followed by Western Carolina.

Least-watched team: Samford, with Wofford second from the bottom.

All of that is in the past. What is in the future?

Unfortunately, right now the same thing that is in the present: a world in which daily life is impacted by COVID-19.

No one knows how long that will continue. Another thing that is still an unknown, as I write this in mid-June, is how the omnipresence of the virus will affect the 2020 football season.

While most states seem to be gradually moving toward a “new normal”, there are major concerns about the ability for large groups of people to safely gather this fall. We’ve already seen some cautionary tales, including the University of Houston’s announcement that six of its returning football players tested positive for COVID-19 (and were all symptomatic).

The city of Houston has become a virus “hotspot”, and Texas is one of a number of states experiencing rising numbers of COVID-19 cases as late spring turns to early summer. Another one of those states: South Carolina.

That has led to discussions about limiting the number of fans in attendance. In an article about this issue, The Citadel’s director of athletics, Mike Capaccio, explained:

One model among several that The Citadel has been studying is to have about 3,000 to 4,000 spectators in the stands for home games at Johnson Hagood Stadium, which seats about 11,500 in its current configuration. The Citadel averaged 9,344 fans for six home games last year.

But that’s just one possibility, Capaccio said during the meeting.

“We’ve been looking at a lot of different models, obviously,” he said. “But there is one that we are looking at where we would have three to four thousand people at the game, possibly. We are hoping for a lot more, to be back to normal by that point.

“But say that happens. You have a couple of thousand cadets to start with, and then family members and so forth. And then, how do you handle club seats and things like that? There are really some unknowns that we have, and that’s all across the board in college athletics.”

The next couple of months are going to be very difficult, as administrators determine just what they are going to be able to do, and how they are going to do it. There is still uncertainty about whether or not college football’s collective schedule will begin — or end — as planned.

I would very much like to see a normal college football season, one that includes attending home and away games. At this point, however, I tend to think that won’t happen.

I really hope I’m wrong about that.

One Response

  1. […] – Football attendance at The Citadel (and elsewhere); my annual review […]

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