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…

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?