I’ve been thinking about a CBS Sports report out Monday saying how college football attendance is down overall to its lowest level in 22 years. In the story, Dennis Dodd talks to a 34-year-old Virginia Tech sports marketing administrator who believes turning college football games into KISS concerts is the answer to getting people off the couch and to the stadium. I get what the sports marketing guy is saying, but I’m not so sure it’s that simple these days with college football and going to a game in person vs. staying home and watching it on your 70-inch basement bar TV.
Sports marketing guy is saying that fans are drawn to feeling like they’re at a rock concert and they can’t get that feeling through their televisions and that’s an answer to attendance that’s down to its lowest level in 22 years. It’s so bad that the Pac-12 is down to its lowest attendance level since 1982, which is baffling when you think about where things were at in 1982 for college football with stadiums.
Without having the evidence in front of me, it comes down to that television — Amazon has a Sony 85-inch under $3,000 — , the investments you’ve made around the television in the form of furniture, your wifi, the tablets, the beer taps, the video games during halftime. Then you don’t have to hear it from your girlfriend/wife about getting home late. Don’t have to spend the money on that extra night at a hotel since the game didn’t end until midnight and you had a two-hour drive.
Then I start thinking about why I’ve made a trip to a top-tier college game for 9 out of the last 11 years – one year we went to Dallas to see Bengals-Cowboys but went to the Tennessee-A&M GameDay on Saturday and the other year we went to Bears-Packers on a Thursday night in Green Bay. We could’ve watched every single one of those games at home and saved thousands of dollars, but that wouldn’t have been smart while running BC. I like to be able to talk about these college football stadiums and the experiences surrounding the stadiums. I also like meeting the people from these places and hear about the traditions that have developed. It’s more about the experience than the games even though some of the games — McCarron leads Bama from behind on LSU with like 1:00 to go in the 4th — have been great.
I think what has happened is two-fold. Technology has us not feeling left out. We jump on Twitter…we’re talking to other sports fans within seconds — don’t need to go to sports bars. We turn on the TV and have a beautiful screen providing us the best visuals possible from a game where if you went the seat could be four decks from the field and you can’t see a thing — don’t need to go to the game. Then you might jump on Instagram to see pics of the atmosphere, but it doesn’t feel nearly as special as it did before someone texted you a photo or sent video from out front of the Coliseum.
Technology has made it easier for fans to be loners and be disconnected from human interaction. Think about a Saturday by yourself watching college football in 2018. Your phone is going off with texts. You keep swiping on Twitter to get updates. You have your gambling app fired up. Someone tags you on an Instagram video, you start chatting over there.
Now go back 22 or so years to 1996 and think about Saturdays. You had to catch games at a sports bar. I remember Damons was a huge sports bar in Ohio for games. They had 40 TVs or so. They had the four massive screens for the big games. Or you hit up a BW3 or maybe a Hooters. You actually sat at bars and talked to the guy next to you about football games. Weird times.
So where does this leave modern college football? Are pyrotechnics and cheap beer prices really going to stop attendance decline vs. technology? I just don’t see it. I get that it’s a battle to make that person feel like he needs to be on that campus, but the phone and TV keep getting better at a faster pace than the in-game experience where games are taking upwards of 3 and 1/2 hours to play.
Suggestions for attendance that don’t involve game time because we all know ESPN is going to dictate that:
• Party pavilions — take a look at how many people love to stand at sporting events; it’s a giant meat market, embrace it. Rip out seats, put up some bar tops, wheel in beer carts, get a beer brand to sponsor it, let the party happen. Smaller schools should already be making this happen. I was at the national championship game in January and people were sitting around on couches looking out at the mountain ranges and listening/watching TVs around the concourse.
• Wifi…wifi…wifi…I don’t care how you do it, make it work and make it work great. You shouldn’t have one student say they can’t connect to Snap or IG. If you do, you have a problem. Fix it. How behind are schools on this subject? Ohio Stadium introduced wifi in 2018!
• Beer — I want selection. I want beer snobs to feel like they’re getting something special. Capitalize on the beer snobery of 2019.
• Concerts — I want EDM shows after games. Figure out a spot to make that happen after the games. Diplo in a tailgating lot after the Vols get crushed again by Bama? The students will forget all about that blowout.
Here’s what BC followers think is going on & why they’re not going to games…biggest theme – television: