SEC Concerned about Declining Student Attendance

I originally saw this tweeted by Stewart Mandel (@slmandel). To the chagrin of local radio personalities, State — vs. Louisiana Tech on Labor Day Saturday, at noon, with a heat index in mid-90s — isn’t the only program with attendance concerns.

Interesting read about the SEC’s concern in the recent trend showing declining student attendance at football games. The concern, naturally, is that today’s students are future season ticket buyers.

The Wall Street Journal:

Declining student attendance is an illness that has been spreading for years nationwide. But now it has hit the Southeastern Conference, home to college football’s best teams and supposedly its most fervent fans, giving athletics officials reason to fret about future ticket sales and fundraising.

As it turns out, Georgia students left empty 39% of their designated sections of Sanford Stadium over the last four seasons, according to school records of student-ticket scans. Despite their allocation of about 18,000 seats, the number of students at games between 2009 and 2012 never exceeded 15,000.

Winning isn’t even necessarily a solution. The average student crowd to see last year’s Georgia team—which finished the season ranked No. 5—was almost 6,000 short of maximum capacity. Even at Alabama, 32% of student seats went unused by students between 2009 and 2012, when the Crimson Tide won three national championships. Alabama coach Nick Saban wrote a flattering letter last week in the student paper to recruit students back.

Georgia officials have been so concerned by student attendance that they reassigned 2,000 seats previously reserved for students to young alumni before this season. “It was a significant hole, and it was very noticeable,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. “It was way too obvious.”

To study this shift in behavior, the SEC recently hired Now What, a New York market-research firm that will spend this season traveling to SEC stadiums, visiting fans watching at home to gather their opinions before presenting its findings after the regular season.

“We can’t afford to lose a generation,” said Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin, a member of the SEC’s committee on the game-day experience.

Those students were far enough from the stadium to use their smartphones—which, they gripe, is virtually impossible inside. As the service is right now, many stadiums are such dead zones that “you can’t text, Instagram or tweet,” said Georgia senior Kim Baltenberger.

Most schools are considering new stadium Wi-Fi networks that would cost anywhere between $2 million and $10 million, industry experts say. The need for this technology is greater in college than in the NFL, said Enterasys Networks chief executive Chris Crowell, whose company outfitted the New England Patriots’ and Philadelphia Eagles’ stadiums. The upload traffic at crowded events doubles that of downloads, he said, and the activity ratio is further skewed by younger crowds: Gillette Stadium’s Wi-Fi network, installed in 2012, whizzed with its most upload data during a Taylor Swift concert this summer.

Non-conference scheduling is terrible; there is so little incentive for top tier teams to play mid-tier teams on the road, so it’s trending even worse. And it’s nice to be home on some Saturdays and flip, quite literally, between a half-dozen games at any given time. In fact, an argument can be made that college football is far better off with smaller stadiums (few fans at home probably mean better TV ratings, which is where all of the revenue is generated).

And yes, my iPhone 5 turns into nothing more than a heavy pocket watch/camera combo in the Trinity Lot about three hours before game time — no texts in or out, no Twitter, no Yahoo! Sports app — so, sure, I wouldn’t mind wi-fi access at Carter-Finley. But, as a soon-to-be-mid-30s-something who’d never been online before my freshman year and bought my first cellphone as a graduation present to myself, and most shockingly, still doesn’t have the Facebook, I admittedly don’t understand today’s high-maintenance college kids who are so incessantly reliant on social media that they won’t go to a football game because they can’t tweet Instagrams.

We didn’t have cellphones in college and we still (somehow) found our friends and still (somehow) had fun at games. Am I right Cow Dog?

About LRM

Charter member of the Lunatic Fringe and a fan, loyal to a fault.

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24 Responses to SEC Concerned about Declining Student Attendance

  1. Flannel Avenger 09/26/2013 at 6:57 PM #

    There’s gonna be a lot of sad people if the sun ever throws out a flare big enough to make an EMP…

  2. whitefang 09/26/2013 at 7:01 PM #

    There are so many entertainment options to compete with today. Not just for students either. That’s why I think it is so important to foster the “cocktail party” tailgate atmosphere.
    I remember in the late 70’s as a student going to a State-Wake game in C-F (or was it still just “C” in those days) in the pouring rain AND the game was on TV. I was sans girlfriend of course – she was having none of it (but with spirits) soaked and having a ball. Couldn’t imagine doing that now with 4 games on TV.

  3. TheCOWDOG 09/26/2013 at 7:08 PM #

    ^
    Post of the day. Frankly..I can’t blame ‘em for some Godforsaken reason that would obliterate the bandwidth provided to me by both our services.

    More short skirts in cowboy boots.

  4. BJD95 09/26/2013 at 7:35 PM #

    I have three teenage daughters (well, 12-15 – so functionally teenagers). Literally, the ONLY threat I can make that has ANY traction is taking their phones away. Not for a week – an hour or two is sufficient to calm the impending storm.

    Doesn’t surprise me at all that this would be a legit issue for today’s students. When you’re used to something like being wired 24/7 – you feel kind of naked without it.

    When I was a season ticket holder, the lack of WiFi (I was high up, so I did get a tad bit of intermittent coverage) annoyed me as well, since I like tracking SFN comments and I really, really wanted to be able to track other game scores.

    Another aspect is security – I remember being forced to squeeze into just one or two “student” gates, and it would take forever to get through. If I wasn’t crazy about football…I would have just stayed in the parking lot drinking and listening to the radio broadcast.

    That awful pimple-faced student’s pregame speech has motivated me…to pull for the Castrated Turkeys.

  5. TheCOWDOG 09/26/2013 at 8:05 PM #

    Let me tell ya something.

    The Syracuse game coming up is one of those honor the past games. I’ll be down on the field at half only because my family wants me to.

    And…and…I’m a Wolf.

  6. wilmwolf80 09/26/2013 at 8:13 PM #

    I could care less about my social media experience in the stadium. It would be nice to be able to, I dunno, use my phone for its intended purpose for that five hour block on game day.

  7. BJD95 09/26/2013 at 8:26 PM #

    “Breaking Vlad” LMAO.

    I am indeed still Team Walt. One of my favourite all-time tv characters.

  8. Texpack 09/26/2013 at 8:53 PM #

    I was at that rainy WFU game in 1979. My ticket was free. My son paid $330 for seven games at tOSU this season. That’s not chump change for a college kid.

  9. BJD95 09/26/2013 at 9:02 PM #

    Wow, that’s criminal for student tix not to be free. I am very traditionalist on that front.

  10. wolfpackdawg 09/26/2013 at 9:07 PM #

    Smartphones rule kids lives these days and it’s sad.

  11. BJD95 09/26/2013 at 9:08 PM #

    Will you wear some SFN gear to midfield on Cowdog appreciation day in the A/C-less Carrier Dome??

  12. choppack1 09/26/2013 at 10:00 PM #

    Not sure what is Driving this. I still like going to games, but definitely the social aspect is a critical part of it.

    Smart phone and other college games are secondary. The other half of season is when I catch up.

    Someone made a good point on scheduling. Look at our non conference games. These opponents don’t exactly inspire one to get there early and stay late.

    The research I would do is find out what these students are doing during the game that they weren’t doing a few years ago.

  13. BJD95 09/26/2013 at 10:44 PM #

    This week is like a hybrid of what I and chop have said. Central Michigan at home. Big whoop. The weather will be fantastic, but if I stay home…I can also watch LSU at Georgia.

    As a student, though, I still would have attended because of the beer and football tossing social aspect.

  14. redcanine 09/26/2013 at 11:08 PM #

    The girls from Georgia need to coordinate their menstruation a little better. Guys are going to chase the cat. Why must it be like that? Nuthin but the Dawgs in em.

  15. Gene 09/27/2013 at 9:36 AM #

    “Smartphones rule kids lives these days and it’s sad.”

    Hey, at least they don’t waste all their time parked in front of the T.V. like their parents and grandparents did, when they were kids ;-)

  16. ryebread 09/27/2013 at 10:01 AM #

    This isn’t just college football though. It’s in every pro sport once a widespread TV deal hits the respective team’s local market. Watch most American professional regular season games and unless it is a marquee match up or a really good time slot, it will have a lot of empty seats. I think the impact on the college game has to do with a combination of poor scheduling, more ways to get the games, over exposure of the product in general, the price of the experience and the rise of fantasy football.

    Why would I actually go to the trouble of fighting the traffic, lines, etc. to watch us play a weak team whom I have no interest in? Even if I like to tailgate, I could sit in the parking lot and watch a game on TV. I could also sit at home, party and do the same and avoid the traffic, etc.. I could also go to a party and use the money towards food and beverage.

    Why would I spend money on tickets (and a lot of these schools are probably charging their students), when I could spend it on a satellite and see virtually every game?

    The stadium doesn’t have the strangle hold that it used to. When I was in college (and this was the late 1990s), the vast majority of our games weren’t on TV. There were 2 ACC games on Saturday on TV and often the Thursday night game had an ACC team. If you weren’t in one of those 3 games, then the only way to get the game was by going. That’s incentive to show up if you care, particularly during the non-conference slate (when only 2 out of 9 of us were getting televised on Saturday). Now I can see every NC State game from the comfort of my own home. I don’t have to get a ticket and be there in person.

    I’d argue that the overall product is over saturated. I can see college games Thursday nights, Friday nights, all day Saturday and occasionally on random other days like Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays. Then we’ve got the talking heads, the replays, the streaming and that’s not even mentioning the pro game. There are a lot of ways to get one’s football fix without actually going. Saturday isn’t college football day the way it once was.

    Fantasy football plays a part. The wired generation just watches football differently and for different reasons (if they watch at all). This is especially true in the pros. You’ll see the 40+ crowd cheering for a team and the younger crowd more worried about what the players on their fantasy team did. While fantasy isn’t nearly as prevalent for college, I’d argue that the younger generation is probably more interested in their pro football fantasy team than their alma mater’s college squad.

    Then there’s the price. Even if student tickets are free, there can be parking, ridiculously priced concessions, etc.. Most students are dirt poor (which falls into my rant about paying players, but that’s another topic). Stay at home and watch for free (sunk cost) or go and drop $20 once inside? I’ll spend that $20 on beer.

    Now, there is one thing that is concerning about the trend and that’s that apathetic students today don’t turn into givers tomorrow. That’s a lack of vision that I’ve ranted that NC State has been plagued with for the past ~ 20 years. I’m not saying full stadiums ensure large endowments (they clearly don’t, particularly if one compares SEC endowments with Ivy League ones), but I would argue that students who feel connected to the school beyond just the classes are more apt to give more later. Sports are a way of doing that.

    I do find this a little ironic though. The TV money pours in, but the college somehow expect that it isn’t going to hurt revenue at the gate. It’s like they want it from both sides, but don’t quite recognize that there’s just so much that can ultimately go in.

  17. Tyler_Durden 09/27/2013 at 11:07 AM #

    There’s gonna be a lot of sad people if the sun ever throws out a flare big enough to make an EMP
    ************************

    No, there’s going to be a lot of dead people if our nation suffers an EMP or attack on SCADA software. Our pampered and soft citizens are so reliant on the power grid it’s unreal.

    And it’s not just the failure of systems (waste, sewage, heat), it’s the failure of EBT cards to work, welfare checks to clear, obamaphones to receive a signal.

    The average American has seven days worth of food in their house per person in the house.

    So given an extended grid-down situation – what do you think happens on day eight?

  18. PackFamily 09/27/2013 at 11:17 AM #

    ^ Someone’s been watching Doomsday Hoarders….

    (in Moe’s Syzlak’s voice) but seriously, we’d be in big trouble there

  19. YogiNC 09/27/2013 at 11:40 AM #

    rye makes some very good points. This year I looked at the schedule and because of some health reasons (which impacted available funds and impacted my ability to climb a LOT of stairs) I decided to forego season tickets. Do I miss the fun in the parking lot? Yep. Do I miss being IN the stadium? Yep. Do I miss the traffic … high cost of stuff once inside … and the ever increasing cost of tickets … NO! The sad thing is without having to pay for tickets I see lots of people also thinking “why should I pay the high price of being in the wolfpack club”. Truth be known that’s the reason a good portion of people pay those dues only because of the requirement to get tickets. I’d love to know just how much giving to the wolfpack club has been impacted by the last 5 years in this economy AND the bigger question in my mind is how many have given up on those LTR seats. Granted, it’s not as much “Fun” watching on a big screen in my living room, or the kitchen, or out on the patio, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper and it doesn’t knock a 10 hour hole in my Saturday (travel, traffic, tailgating, game, traffic, travel).

    My bet is in 10 years if they want to fill that stadium tickets will be much cheaper OR the place will be almost empty. I see it on Football Friday on WRAL. High schools have almost empty stadiums. 15 years ago those things were packed on a Friday night. When I was in high school those things were SRO. If the kids don’t want to see their high school play they sure as heck aren’t going to attend college games, and as the generations that embraced “going TO the game” get older (like me) and have reasons not to go to the games (like me) then that upper end with the disposable income who can afford tickets will go poof and empty stadiums will be the result. The sad thing is I bet I see it happen in my lifetime.

  20. packalum44 09/27/2013 at 11:42 AM #

    Jesus.

    UGA only has 34,000 students, 26,000 of which are undergraduate. Very similar to our size.

    Sounds unrealistic to expect 18,000, or 69% of your undergraduate population to be in their seat for every home game.

    Selling the extra seats to young alumni is the smart route.

  21. tjfoose1 09/27/2013 at 11:54 AM #

    LRM,

    “Cow Dog”?

    Has there been a demotion I’m not privy too? I thought it was “TheCOWDOG”, that’s “The…” “COWDOG”.

    Edited:

    Kinda like that buckeye school, but not obnoxious.

  22. TheCOWDOG 09/27/2013 at 12:57 PM #

    Beats ” Dickhead ” , ‘foose.

  23. tjfoose1 09/27/2013 at 12:58 PM #

    Hahaha. That got a literal LOL there.

    I did intend to include a :) in my comment, and not include the “as”. I pulled an all-nighter, so I muffed it. It was meant with light hearted reverence, but didn’t come off that way.

    Edit applied.

  24. BJD95 09/27/2013 at 1:43 PM #

    Oh, the schools know it’s a tradeoff. But when tv revenue is up like 300%, it’s really not a big deal if gate revenue drops 10-20%.

    And in reality…it doesn’t. Increased competition for 50-yard line seats and luxury boxes make up for the empty nosebleeds.

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