Exploring the meaning of Spring Football attendance numbers

Now that all the major schools have finished spring practice schedules and held some version of a spring game (each school does things slightly differently), let’s take a quick look at how fan bases across the state and country represented for their favorite squad.

The Sporting News does a good job compiling attendance numbers every year for BCS schools. Here’s the 2010 list.

Spring football attendance numbers

Alabama once again led all BCS conference schools with 91,312 fans at its annual spring game, up from 84,050 last year.

Florida State saw a record crowd for the first spring game of the post-Bobby Bowden era, with 51,000 in attendance. Other schools drawing record crowds for their respective spring games this year include Mississippi State, West Virginia, Rutgers, South Florida and Indiana.

How Alabama gets 90,000+ to show up for what is essentially a long practice is beyond me. Aside from the obvious “there is nothing better to do in Alabama” line, it’s tough not to see that as impressive.

Florida State (51,000) carried the torch for the ACC while Virginia Tech (41,000), UNC (29,000), Clemson (27,000) and NC State (25,372) also ranked in the top 20 nationally. The SEC blew all other conferences away as a group, putting nearly 400,000 fans in the stands for its game and having four of the top 10 numbers on the list.

Another interesting thing about the Sporting News’ list is to look at how the numbers have changed over the last three years. It’s interesting to see how programs have changed for the better, or in some cases, worse. Exhibit A on this year’s list might be Louisville. The Cardinals were only able to get 5,600 people to show up in 2010 while more than 15,000 came in 2008 and 2009. On the other end of the spectrum is Carolina. The Heels did not have a spring game in 2008, drew 3,000 fans to its 2009 skills day but somehow managed to draw 29,000 this year. Hmmm? Something seems not quite right.

On that note, let’s talk methods.

While spring game attendance numbers are always intriguing, what they usually do for me is call into question who does the calculating and how they do it. Who is at the gates of these games counting heads? What genius is sitting up in the press box making an educated guess? Does Alabama just count folks without sleeves? Does Penn State only tally those wearing white?

While it doesn’t make a ton of difference, it’s a serious question I would ask the Media Relations offices for some of these schools. Where do you get your numbers? And, at the end of the day, why do they matter? I understand that in some ways these numbers judge the relative “health” of a program, but does that make a difference come September?

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11 Responses to Exploring the meaning of Spring Football attendance numbers

  1. wolfonthehill 05/10/2010 at 8:36 AM #

    More intriguing to me than the method of counting (let’s face it – they’re not going to make a call of 30k when it’s only 6k) is the phenomenon of putting these gimmicks on ESPN. I don’t think anyone out there thinks unc-ch draws anywhere near 10k this year if they weren’t inexplicably put in the national spotlight, creating a downright embarrassment if the stands were empty.

  2. coach13 05/10/2010 at 9:01 AM #

    I am guessing we have the best avg attendance in NC, and probably would have again this year had it not been for media, in this case ESPN, actively participating in trying to bolster the UNC program. From the pundants trying to hype UNC into an ACC pre-season championship to ESPN giving the air time to UNC’s preseason folly, it’s embarassing how so many media sources blatently are trying to assist the popularity of UNC football.

    In theory, if ESPN being in town ramps up attendance by 20,000 +, we’d have a top 5 spring game attendance if they’d drop by Carter Finley. That said, all the hype will not give UNC a competent QB, and I hope LSU and eventually the Wolfpack take a major crap on their season and wipe their asses with those sissy blue and white uniforms.

  3. packalum44 05/10/2010 at 9:18 AM #

    Schools have incentive to significantly overestimate attendance for these games. Why not? It looks better to recruits and the media when you see 25K instead of 20K.

    I arrived to the Spring Game just before halftime and definitely was not “counted” by anyone. Unless alot of folks left, from my estimates, I didn’t see any more than were there two years ago when we had 20K attend. Plus we only raised 21K dollars with a 1 dollar minimum donation. Come on, I gave 5 or 10 bucks and know most people would donate more than the 1 dollar minimum. I’d put our attendance at 20K.

    I’m sure all the other schools do the same. The more people you have, the more you can fudge the numbers. Say you have 75K, well why not say 92K I mean why the hell not who can really tell between 75K and 90K anyway…

  4. WolfBrew 05/10/2010 at 10:18 AM #

    I’ve lived in AL for 16 years – 5 of those in Tuscaloosa (TTown). Football is religion in this state. The Spring game was broadcast on the radio network so that those that couldn’t make it, could listen. That is a no BS number of fannies in the seat.

  5. NCSU84 05/10/2010 at 10:20 AM #

    Why are we having this discussion? Does anyone really care what the attendance numbers are at a Spring practice game? Move on to the next topic please.

    I frequently delete crap like this. “We” are having a discussion because we want to. If you have something intelligent to add, great. If not, then you are the one that needs to move on and leave this entry to those that are interested.

  6. choppack1 05/10/2010 at 10:32 AM #

    Yea – I have to agree w/ Coach 13 here. UNC’s attendance was a direct result of some pretty extensive marketing strategy AND a rare horrible basketball season.

    Also, give their Athletic Department credit – they’d rather overestimate than underestimate. I have no idea why we try to “thread the needle” so much on attendance.

    That said, if we’re ever really good for a sustained period of time – I’d expect our spring game turnout to be over 35K.

  7. Texpack 05/10/2010 at 10:41 AM #

    I can tell you that Ohio State was trying to top the ‘Bama total this year to remain in first place. They were selling tickets for $5 for the Spring Game. They push the spring game as an alternative for people who can’t afford the $80 face value cost of a ticket for a regular game.

  8. choppack1 05/10/2010 at 11:03 AM #

    Here’s a list off the top of my head as to why you’d go to a spring game:

    1. Gets you a “fix” for your college football “jones”.
    2. it’s cheap entertainment.
    3. If you’ve got young kids – they can run around the stadium and even get on the field.
    4. Gives you an excuse to tailgate, hang out w/ friends.
    5. You can watch new pla

    If you aren’t a “football school” – you probably typically have under 10K fans for this. If you are – you’ll have over 10k.

    The attendance the last few years of this game makes me think that we’ve transitioned to a football school. Granted, we have a much better basketball tradition – but clearly, the football experience has “touched” enough fans of the wolfpack to result in attendance #s that are consistently better than the rest of the schools in North Carolina.

    and it’s important for the university to understand what that experience is – and how to cultivate and grow it.

  9. brooklynwolf 05/10/2010 at 1:21 PM #

    While I was in graduate school at ECU, I had several classmates and professors involved with the sports marketing departments. I was told that when game day attendance #s were taken, someone just simply looked in the stands from the boxes and estimated the overall attendance by how full the stadium appeared to be (which seems possible for an estimation considering you now what the max stadium capacity is). I was very surprised when I first heard this technique, but then it seemed logical b/c I have never seen anyone at the gates with a clicker, the tickets are not scanned electronically at the gates, and it would take too much time and man power to count the stubs.

    Again this is one sample and also word of mouth. However, I would be willing to bet that I was told the truth about how ECU counts attendance and would also be willing to bet that may schools use the same technique.

  10. GoldenChain 05/10/2010 at 2:34 PM #

    I don’t think the attendence #s mean much as far as statistics (as brooklyn points out).
    There is also this thing about each school doinga different format and that can even change from year to year.
    Great PR thing for the schools and no surprise, I’ve never met an SEC fan that would pass up a reason to drink with like minded folks!

  11. john of sparta 05/11/2010 at 7:00 PM #

    only the Phillies have true numbers since they ‘sell out’.
    as the Braves commentators say: “it helps to have a winner”.

    regarding college football spring games:
    1. it’s Revenue, people. MONEY. spring football ticket
    sales will fully fund the swimming team and more.
    2. as NCAA basketball devolves into NCAA baseball
    (everyone who’s any good at all goes pro before 20)
    only football gives colleges the development chance.
    gotta have two or three years of PEDs for pro qualification.
    3. finally, there is no “minor league” for the NFL.
    personally, my opinion is, that says it all.
    spring games amount to an entire Single A season.

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