Year after year, fewer people are heading to Joe Aillet Stadium to watch Tech football.
But that shouldn’t be news to you. It definitely feels like the gameday crowds are getting thinner, even across college football as a whole. Last year, Tech averaged the lowest attendance in a decade:
The team coming off of four straight bowl victories (and en route to a fifth) could only sell 61% of the tickets available. And that’s the “announced attendance”; only about 37% of the seats at The Joe had butts in them on a given gameday.
But why? Why are the crowds disappearing?
First, let’s take a step back. If you could create the ultimate home schedule for Tech, who would you pick?
Most people would choose a mix of SEC and Louisiana schools. After all, those are the teams that Tech fans know the best. For example, it’s fun to play (and subsequently beat) ULL because you get to talk smack to your friends and co-workers that made the wrong college choice.
And it just so happens those SEC/Louisiana games are some of the largest crowds in the last decade:
#1 is the only SEC school Tech has hosted in the last ten years. And #2, #3, #4, and #8 are all Louisiana schools¹.
But getting SEC teams to travel to Ruston regularly is nearly impossible, and while Louisiana has way too many universities, its still a finite number. Tech has been great at filling the annual FCS slot with a local school (especially with teams that have traveling fans like Grambling or Southern), but playing ULL, ULM, or Tulane at home every year isn’t feasible.
So I want to take a closer look at #7 Houston on the above list, a Top 25 team when Tech faced them in 2011. Is it possible that if Tech hosted better teams, regardless of geography, we’d have an easier time filling the stadium?
I removed the Louisiana and SEC teams from our data-set because we’ve already established that those those schools drive ticket sales.
The chart shows that on average, more fans attend a game if Tech is playing a stronger opponent. But with only 3,000 more fans showing up to see a Top 25 opponent than an FCS school, the difference is not as great as expected.
Regardless, if Tech played better teams at home, they should expect to see an uptick in crowd size.
But there is only so much control Tech has over the schedule. Typically, the Bulldogs will kick off the home slate with two out-of-conference games followed by four C-USA contests. Tech has no say over those conference matchups, and if those opponents aren’t very good
*cough cough UTEP*, there isn’t much Tech can do about it.
But scheduling can’t be the only contributor to falling attendance numbers, because crowd sizes are down all across the college football landscape:
Because this is a national issue, a lot of people have a lot of different opinions, and only a handful blame millennials. The most prominent theory is the prevalence of TV.
Because why go to a game when you can watch it on television? You don’t need to worry about traffic, paying for tickets and parking, and handing over $4 for a soda (even if they’re already out of ice).
As televisions and production quality get better, it’s easier to just stay home.
Or at least, that’s the theory:
Since 2009, Tech has only played four home games that didn’t have some sort of televised broadcast². And while that’s not enough of a sample size to make concrete claims, we see that a game’s TV status doesn’t seem to have any effect on the number of people who turn out to watch the Bulldogs.
And isolating streaming services doesn’t help us find a trend either:
Television might still be impacting college football attendance outside of Ruston, but the 92-year-old invention doesn’t seem to be the cause of Tech’s inability to get people in the door.
But again, what does seem to have an effect is who Tech plays. Fans want to see local matchups, big name schools, and fewer cupcakes on the schedule.
What seems to be hurting Tech the most, however, is simply the length of the season:
As we go through the year, the home attendance drops off after almost every game.
Parts of this should be expected. Games #1 and #2 are often OOC games sometimes featuring Louisiana schools. And Game #5, #6, or #7 can be during Thanksgiving break, so we’d expect to see drop offs at the beginning and at the end.
But throughout the entire season, attendance decreases over time. Fan interest wanes even when Tech is winning.
And beyond avoiding seven home game seasons, I’m not sure what Tech could do to fight that fatigue.
¹: The rest of this list makes a lot of sense. 2012 Utah State had possible Orange Bowl implications. 2010 Southern Miss was a renewal of a rivalry game that had been on hold since the late 1990s.
²: They are: Nicholls State 2009, New Mexico State 2009, San Jose State 2011, and Lamar 2013