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By BobLee BobLee has “jousted with the windmills” of human foolishness for over fifteen years in over 1,600 incredibly insightful commentaries. Follow him at BobLeeSays.com.

Your Suggestions For Filling Seats?

By BobLee Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:19 am

157560066Whether or not you agree or are even aware, College Football (and to some degree College Basketball) is in the 2nd-3rd year of an on-site attendance decline. Decidedly fewer fans are actually attending games even at traditionally Top Ten schools.

Athletic administrators across the country are quandarified as to how to abate this phenomenon. Is it abatable or reversible? On their behalf I am asking YOU for your suggestions.

NOTE: This is NOT a fan INTEREST decline. Fan INTEREST has never been more fervent. It is a stadium attendance decline. Interest vs Attendance is the quandary.

Usually in a “state your opinion” format there are “no wrong answers.” In this case there ARE “wrong answers.” If you assume (and many fans do) that your personal POV is (1) the dominant one and (2) the only common sense one, then you are likely wrong.

In a recent conversation with “a prominent national figure in intercollegiate athletics,” I asked him:

When you (1) make a public statement on a topical issue or (2) when your staff discusses marketing your programs… who is “the stereotypical fan” you have in mind as you design marketing strategies?

“You know, I’ve never thought about that, but we should,” was his reply.

Are the goggle-eyed, spittle-spewing, rival-hating rabid lunatics on “fan boards” the mainstream audience that big time college administrators should be targeting? If not, then who? …The long-toothed, deep-pocketed, harrumphing “fat cats” in the comfy aviaries of the VIP zones? … The Average Joes and Janes who can be enthusiastic fans on Saturdays and have “real lives” the other six days? … The students??

If you are desperately trying to sell the last 10-20,000 seats in your stadium each Saturday, you don’t care which demographic buys them, just so someone does. Deep discounting for charities, youth, military, etc. is now common but was unthinkable just a few years ago. “Mini-packages” abound.

Stadium attendance IS DOWN across the board… at Alabama… at Michigan… at Your School. We’re not talking about half-empty stadiums with upper levels cordoned off YET. We’re talking 10-20% less butts in the seats. That 10-20% loss of ticket revenue is critical to most programs that operate on a very thin profit margin BEFORE we start calculating “cost of attendance” pay-outs to student-athletes. An unsold seat is revenue lost forever.

Every discussion of this issue quickly gets to TV. It’s 2014 and TV revenue is the straw that stirs the economic drink for college sports. For Power 5 schools, pretty much every game is available somehow from the comfort of your “home theater” or at least “on-line.” TV determines game scheduling and less successful programs draw the short straws on kick-off times.

Maybe TV revenue will get so Ginormous that on-site seat sales won’t matter all that much. Play the game on a giant sound stage.

Attractive scheduling plays a role. Conference expansion is affecting natural rivalries… UNC vs Wake Forest and NC State vs Duke are local examples. Would playing Wake Forest as a non-conference game outdraw San Diego State? Would Duke draw a bigger crowd at The Carter than Presbyterian? Those rivalries CAN be scheduled as non-conference.

When Jerry Jones built Jerry’s World in Arlington (aka “North Texas”), he said “I have to make coming to this stadium preferable to staying home and watching the game.” That’s darn tough to do. Most of the fancy doo-dads Jerry offers cost $$$$.

One NFL team is considering “rent your own cheerleader,” in which one of their scantily-clad sideline candies will come to your seat. The logistics of this are yet to be determined.

Baseball executives are worried that their games are “too long.” Football has extended the length of its games with endless replay challenges.

Once fans realize very few games are sold-out, they delay deciding to go based on game-day weather or other factors. Advance ticket purchases are unnecessary. Season tickets are less necessary, other than for preferred seating options.

Oddly… VIP areas, with all their comfort amenities, are still quite popular. YES, the much maligned Blue Zone IS sold-out. The “seats” themselves may be empty, but the ticket-holders are on-site “behind the glass.”

It comes down to cost and convenience. College game tickets (general seating) are now north of $50 per for a 20” section of a bleacher board.  NOTE: When Michigan (and Notre Dame) expanded their seating in recent years, they “did expansion by paint brush.” They simply reduced seat width by 4-5”, cramming more sellable segments on each row. Ouch!

$50+ just to get in the gate… PLUS transportation from wherever you’re coming from, plus parking, plus exorbitant concession prices… PLUS the “joy” of beaucoups of TV time-outs while you swelter in a noonday sun or a drizzling rain or November cold… all to view a game you could be seeing from the ultimate comfort of your living room essentially “for free”… assuming you have basic cable and a nice flat screen.

I noted 4-5 years ago that when HDTV sets dropped below $1,000, fans would start choosing the “watch at home” option. They have. Not only is HDTV technology so grand, but the on-screen graphics and TV production elements keep spoiling us more and more. Jumbotrons can’t compete.

YOU might still be addicted to the old tailgating fellowship experience et al on the hallowed grounds of Whatsamater U, but not as many of your fellow fans are.

At LSU a few years ago I witnessed dozens of RVs parked next to the stadium, with fans choosing to watch the game being played a few hundred yards away from the creature comforts of the RVs with large TV screens mounted on the sides… and sumptuous buffets laid out.

Again… Fan interest is at a record high… but fan attendance is trending down. How come???? Two contributing factors often noted are:

* Poor WiFi access in most stadiums
* Cost of concessions and/or no alcohol sales at most college sites

WiFi is especially important to college students. Cost to upgrade WiFi service is apparently more expensive than you might imagine.

Would reducing concession prices ever be able to match what you can stock your refrigerator with? Compare a $6-8 cup of watered-down beer with a six-pack in your fridge… not to mention the “joy” of tolerating drunk jackasses in the vicinity of your $50 section of bleacher.

College sports admins see this as an escalating trend across the college FB landscape… unless you have some bright ideas to reverse it.

♦ ♦ ♦

BobLee has over 1600 incredibly insightful opinions on his website – www.bobleesays.com .

He also appears with Art Chansky on WCHL’s “Good Sports” two hours before each Tar Heel Football game.

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