Today we’ll take a look at attendance figures. The NCAA makes this relatively easy by publishing a comprehensive list of attendance figures each year; the numbers for 1998 through 2009 are available here.
A few quick thoughts on this:
– In 2009, EMU had by far the lowest attendance of any FBS team, averaging 5,016 fans at 5 games, for a total of 25,080. The next-lowest attendance was FIU, averaging just over twice as many attendees as EMU. In addition to a whole bunch of FCS schools, this was lower than 25 Division II schools and one Division III school (St. John’s, in Minnesota).
– In 2008, EMU’s attendance ranked 101 out of 119 FBS schools (third highest in the MAC, behind only Central Michigan and Ball State), averaging 18,951 per game, behind 4 FCS schools. Kent State was lowest in FBS, followed by FIU.
– In 2007, EMU also had the lowest FBS attendance, with 7,448 per game, barely lagging behind FIU. This put them behind 50 FCS schools, 12 Division II schools, and one Division III school (St. John’s, in Minnesota).
– Teams obviously game these figures. EMU has admitted to doing this in the past, and has stated that they will do so this year if needed. The most striking example of this in 2009 was that Louisiana Tech had exactly 100,000 attendees for the season. I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to state confidently that the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs did not, in fact, have exactly 100,000 attendees in 2009. (Although the attendance numbers reported by ESPN do match that, so maybe it’s just a freak of chance.) The key is that the school can report either actual attendance or tickets sold. So if the school can persuade fans to buy, say, 10 tickets at a time, those all count, even if they don’t get used.
– MAC teams averaged 15,317 attendees/tickets per home game, the lowest of 11 FBS conferences. MAC teams were the lowest in 2008 also, just behind the Sun Belt both years. The gap narrowed somewhat from 2008 to 2009 because, although attendance declined for teams in both conferences, Sun Belt attendance was down more.
– In 2009, five MAC teams (Bowling Green, Miami, Northern Illinois, Ball State, EMU) were below the 15,000 attendee/ticket average required to maintain FBS affiliation. In 2008, two MAC teams (Akron, Kent State) were below that number. In 2007, four MAC teams (Kent State, Buffalo, Ball State, Eastern Michigan) were below that number. Over the last three seasons, Kent State, Miami, Ball State, and Eastern Michigan have averaged fewer than 15,000 fans/tickets per game.