College football ADs face a challenge: attendance is on the decline and TV might be keeping fans away
CLEMSON — College football has a menacing half-friend, half-foe and it lives in the office of new Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich.
When meeting with a reporter recently to discuss challenges facing today’s athletic directors, Radakovich pointed toward the flat-screen HD television mounted on his office wall.
In 2012, college football regular season attendance declined 3 percent from its peak in 2008, and reached its lowest average (45,274) since 2003, according to an analysis of NCAA attendance figures by The Birmingham (Ala.) News. The declining attendance has also been a trend in the postseason.
Clemson has sold only 9,000 tickets from its 18,000-ticket allotment for the Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A Bowl, according to a university spokesperson. Programs are required to purchase unsold bowl tickets.
Though Clemson made its first Orange Bowl trip in 30 years last season, the Tigers sold just 8,500 tickets from their 17,500-ticket allotment.
Television is an important partner with college sports. But the quality of TV technology is connected to the decline in attendance.
Never has been the in-home viewing experience been better, which threatens gate receipts, and presents a paramount challenge for today’s athletic directors.
“What value-adds are you going to give ticket holders that makes them feel it is still a good allocation of their entertainment dollar to come to a game?,” Radakovich said. “Yes, television is here and they are a great partner with collegiate sports. They give a large check each and every year and I don’t know if we could exist without (television). We need to coexist. …The NFL, in mine and your lifetime, has been the most successful (sports league) and it has recognized the fact that there are things that have to be done to keep their stadiums full.”
Radakovich said college and NFL teams have begun trying to enhance the stadium experience.
Clemson has made improvements at Memorial Stadium starting with three HD video boards. Cell phone reception has been improved at the stadium to allow fans to more effectively use their mobile devices.
Auburn has begun allowing fans to bring tablets and lap tops into games, according to the Birmingham News.
“You want to be able to control as much of the experience as possible,” Radakovich said, “the scoreboards, the replays, the sound and the band.”
Still, ACC attendance produced its lowest attendance average (49,544) this fall since 2003. Only three ACC schools had an increase in football attendance this season: Clemson (2 percent), Miami (2 percent) and Boston College (4 percent). Five current or future ACC schools had declines of nine percent or more this season: Maryland (15), Wake Forest (10), North Carolina (10), Pittsburgh (10) and Georgia Tech (nine).
The SEC continues to lead the nation in attendance with 75,444 fans per game, but that figure is the lowest level since 2007.South Carolina’s attendance increased 1 percent this fall.
Clemson CFO Katie Hill said non-conference games against non-BCS schools are particularly vulnerable to attendance declines when such games are televised.
In addition to television, the other contributing factor is the price of tickets continues to increase. Clemson’s season ticket prices increased 3.4 percent this season to an average of $45 per game. South Carolina season tickets went for $60 per game. The cheapest ticket to the Chick-fil-A Bowl through Clemson is $80. Cheaper tickets can be found in the secondary market.
Radakovich said the human element remains a powerful game-day attraction but even that is threatened by a younger generations that is using mobile devices to consume media. Alabama is ranked No. 1 in the country this season, but student attendance has declined at the school.
“Hopefully you are going to be meeting people and seeing folks that you only see seven times a year that you only see at your tailgate event,” Radakovich said. “You hope that the (human) element and all the ancillary things around the game-day experience continue to keep people around and involved. We have to engage our students and young alumni and make sure that next generation of people continues to want to be as much a part of college sports as their grandfathers and fathers have been.”