VP of Brand & Sponsorship Consulting
Why did attendance at college football games decline last season and what are schools doing to ensure fans come to their games?
The good news is that attendance is stable. But it’s still a concern for conferences and universities. Looking at the numbers, 2012 attendance for NCAA football games of the Division I-FBS 120 schools was over 34M and almost 50M when including D2 and D3 schools. Those are impressive figures. The bad news is that 2012 attendance was down 740,000 compared to 2011 figures. Not a massive slide, but something that should be examined nonetheless.
What explains the downturn in attendance?
One answer you hear frequently is that HDTV makes watching a game at home more appealing. One of the biggest challenges universities have to recognize is the quality of the in-home experience compared to what is available in-venue. The in-venue experience has to rival or exceed the TV-watching experience. Most college facilities have history and charm, but many are pretty dated. Some are a little tired; others are really antiquated. They fall short on the consumer’s elevated expectations of a live event experience. From a marketing perspective, this experience has to be positive and it needs to be memorable — something that will result in the fan sharing the experience with others and wanting to return.
In the battle to improve the in-stadium experience, college football is not alone. The NFL battles this same situation and has been actively working to stabilize its attendance, which has been on the decline since 2007. We’ve seen the NFL take a proactive approach in working with cities and league owners to help build new stadiums or renovate older ones to improve the live event experience. Fans now benefit from increased amenities such as video board displays, more bathrooms and expand ed concession menus, among other upgrades.
There are some traditional factors that typically impact attendance. The first consideration is tickets. Are they available? Where are the seats? How much do they cost? If there are no seats or only bad seats, or the price is too rich for me, I’ll likely have to pass on going to the game.
Another consideration is the expense of travel. What’s the cost of driving or flying to the game? What’s the price of gas? What’s the hotel room going to run me? How expensive is the rental car? Fans take all of those things into consideration.
Venue is the second consideration. Fans think about parking, concessions and restrooms — all of which impact the experience. Do I have to park two miles away in a muddy field, then trek to the stadium with my three kids? And will that parking space cost me $40? Will I stand in line for 20 minutes waiting for a hot dog and soda? Is the line to the restroom wrapped around the concourse? If so, it’s better to just stay home and watch the game on TV.
New stadiums tend to attract fans. Yes, the old stadiums have the element of nostalgia, but fans enjoy sitting in clean, wide seats versus cold benches. They like roomy, well-lit concourses and congregation areas. Better sight lines, better sound systems, better cup holders, well-ventilated bathrooms — fans notice these things.
In terms of technology, fans demand strong WiFi and wireless reception. Their social interests have changed while at live events. They want to check scores of other games, talk and text friends who aren’t at the game, post messages and pictures to their social channels, etc.
Clean, well-marked, well-lit, secure parking lots that are easily accessible are important to fans and impact their experience as well. In many cases, the first impression a fan has of the venue is the parking lot (and parking attendants).
There are other factors, of course, but you get the idea. Universities need to consider all of these elements when trying to improve the overall live experience at the school. Being able to address all or most of these changing consumer expectations will ensure that fans decide to attend a game in person or stay home and watch from the couch.