College Football Encounters Its Biggest Rival: The Couch

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The new reality is that some of the biggest, most popular college football programs in the country can’t jack up ticket prices annually, put a decent team on the field, and expect fans to happily pack the stadium week in, week out.

Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab, a University of Florida grad, recently published excerpts of a message sent by the university’s athletic director to former Gator season ticketholders. The note pointed out there are “more affordable tickets” lately, and pleaded with them to come out for at least a home game or two—ideally for matchups against lesser opponents like Toledo and Georgia Southern, which have been selling particularly poorly.

But Florida is not the only popular college football program facing the previously unheard-of problem of having to woo fans into the stadium. The Chattanooga Times Free Press earlier reported that 9 of the 14 teams in the Southeastern Conference—the richest and most successful conference in college football in recent years—saw home attendance decline last year. The University of Florida’s streak of 137 home game sellouts ended in 2011, and its even more successful sister in the SEC, the University of Alabama, winner of two recent national championships, didn’t sell out all of its home games last season.

(MORE: How the SEC Became the Richest Conference in College Sports)

Season ticket sales are also on the decline at institutions such as the West Virginia University and Virginia Tech, which has seen sales among upper classmen fall by 20% compared to last year.

During the mid-00s, when college football stadium expansions, multi-million-dollar contracts for coaches, and soaring demand for tickets all became routine, it became commonplace for universities to demand “donations” from fans who wanted the right to purchase season tickets. A 2006 ESPN article noted that a fan purchasing season tickets for the 50-yard line at the University of Tennessee had to pay $5,000 per seat above the face value. Late last year, after experiencing its third consecutive losing season, Tennessee announced it would start selling certain season tickets without the usual required donation.

Penn State, which was subject to a four-year-postseason ban related to the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal, has also eased up on its required-donation rules, recently offering season ticketholders the opportunity to buy more season tickets (for friends and family) “without any further donation.” (At the same time, Penn State has annoyed fans by requiring them to buy pairs of tickets that include one less-exciting opponent—Michigan and Eastern Michigan, Nebraska and Kent State—rather than allowing purchases of seats to a single game.) Corn Nation, a blog that covers University of Nebraska sports, estimated that the required donation levels for 2013 season tickets to Cornhuskers games has dropped 25% to 80% compared to last year.

Rising prices and the ease of purchasing tickets at the last minute on the secondary market—many times for below face value—are often named as explanations for declining interest in season tickets. But probably what hurts ticket sales the most is how the in-stadium experience compares to in-living-room viewing. “It’s easy to sit on that couch and watch a 70-inch or 80-inch, high-def television; that feels pretty good,” Ross Bjork, athletic direct at Ole’ Miss, admitted to the Orlando Sentinel earlier this summer. “You have your refrigerator right there, you have your couch, you have your high def, you’re in the huddle with these camera angles.”

(MORE: The Major League Baseball Team That’s Made Fans — and an Entire City — Feel Like Suckers)

“The economy factors into this as well, but the technology of television has made that an appealing option,” SEC executive associate commissioner Mark Womack said to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “We have to try to make the in-game experience in the stadium as good as it can be.”

One improvement has been allowing stadiums to show multiple replays of controversial or impressive plays on the jumbotron. “Before you weren’t permitted to do that,” said University of Florida associate athletics director of external affairs Mike Hill, according to the Gainesvill Sun. “The idea is that the in-stadium experience is something that is competing now with the living room experience, and you get a million replays at home. So we need to do a better job at the stadium with that.”

For many fans, however, that’s just not enough to draw them out to the stadium, where they’ll cough up big bucks for parking, food, and refreshments on top ticket (and donation) prices, while also putting up with traffic and crowds. “There’s a point where it just doesn’t make sense to sit in the sweltering sun and watch your team demolish a cupcake because you paid for the tickets and don’t want them to go to waste,” the Sentinel’s Kassab wrote. “And a lot of fans have reached that point. The hassle simply isn’t worth the price of admission.”

Don’t feel bad for Florida, or the SEC, or college football in general for that matter. The popularity of watching the games on TV has led to phenomenally lucrative TV rights deals, which trickle down to the programs putting teams on the field. Average attendance at SEC games stood at 75,444 last year, which is down—but not that far down—from the all-time high of 2008, 76,844. And teams on the upswing don’t seem to be having any trouble selling tickets; Stanford, for instance, sold out its season tickets for the first time in history this year, after a season when it won the Pac-12 and the Rose Bowl.

(MORE: The A-Rod Effect: Ticket Prices, TV Ratings Rise with Return of Baseball’s Most Hated Player)

But increasingly, all signs indicate that more sports fans will be torn between the in-stadium experience—which is thrilling, but also expensive and laden with headaches—and the ease and comfort of watching from the couch, where there’s chips and dip on the coffee table, reliable Wi-Fi, and a bathroom with no lines down the hall.

The TV factor is arguably even more of an issue for sports with longer seasons like basketball and baseball because the individual season game seems to matter less, so there’s less urgency to see the game in person. NBA teams sometimes even struggle to sell tickets when the “cheap” seats are $1 (or free). Lee Igel, a professor of sports management at NYU, told CNBC that the drop-off in attendance of baseball, basketball, and football games is “getting worse,” and that while the economy and ticket pricing play a role, “even more important is the experience of watching games in the comfort of your home on a big screen without the hassle at a stadium,” he said. “That keeps a lot of people away.”

33 comments
karryokie
karryokie

There are fewer white males with the wherewithal to afford ticket prices at these levels.This condition of the transfer of wealth from white males to non ticket buyers will continue until sports as we know them cease to exist.

MarkSweetipo
MarkSweetipo

Oh great more NFL blackouts to come then.  Hopefully not in my area.

jefnvk
jefnvk

I'm a Michigander who lived in Iowa a few years back.  Michigan State, came to town, and I though I'd go see a game.  That is, until I realized there wasn't a seat to be had for under $200.  $200, for a regular season college football game.  For reference, that cost more than the Game 7 of the 2006 World Series finals that I had (and sadly, that the Tigers got nowhere near).

Yes, it is fun to go to live games.  Most people, though, have a very hard time coughing up a few hundred bucks per person to go have three and a half hours of entertainment, especially if you expect said person to do that every other week for 12 weeks.

Anecdatum
Anecdatum like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I tend to agree that the hassle of the game has come to outweigh the joy and benefit in many cases. As people have said, the ticket may be the cheapest part of the experience, at least for the powderpuff games. You still wind up paying $30 for parking if the team taking the field is East Carolina or Florida. Concession prices are up. Many stadiums don't have beer. And if the weather is off, it isn't worth sitting there in the rain, snow, or heat for 4-5 hours. Plus half the people in the stadium are drunk college kids--which was a blast when you were also a drunk college kid, but not as much fun when you are 32 with your 7-year old who just got doused by an illicit rum and coke spilled by the drunk frat boy two rows back when he jumped up to cheer. 

And I'm in Austin now and it's worse than just putting people in the seats of the stadiums. I can't tell you how often someone says "Hey, wanna go grab dinner at that sushi place you love" and someone else says "it's a game day," which is code for "don't go ANYWHERE within three miles of campus." The whole thing is such a logistical mess for most of the day (no parking, drunk fans wandering the streets, etc) that we actively avoid local businesses and festivals and other events if they are too near campus on game weekends.


Home is nice. It's comfortable, climate controlled, has any food or drink I want, I can invite people over (last game party I went to was 18 people--you'd never find 18 seats together at the stadium), the parking is more plentiful, the drive home shorter, the whole thing cheaper...maybe I'm just older, but the whole hassle of attendance, if it isn't really easy, means I avoid a lot of sporting events, not just college ones.

jemmett
jemmett

to correct, UMass actually had higher attendance than what I stated.  I believe closer to 10k on average.  Still, they're building a 17,000 seat stadium in a corn field.  To paraphrase..."You CAN build it, but they may not come."

RaHa
RaHa

Boo hoo.  College football allows EIGHTY-FIVE scholarships for their team.  Most HS varsity teams only have 50 players, but college needs 35 more, and all of them on full scholarships?  College soccer allows NINE scholarships for men, and there has to be at least 11 players on the field at any one time.  A freshman who was recruited and expected to play a lot in college  is lucky to score a half of a scholarship.  A backup fourth string kicker who may not play at all in four years rates a full scholarship.


Do the numbers, and see why they need fans in the stadium.  College football is unsustainable for all but a few programs

jemmett
jemmett

Mr Tuttle, did you make this info available to your employer, UMass, before they voted to build a new multi million dollar stadium against many of the public's and students' wishes about 100 miles from Boston when they could only get maybe 5000 people at their games held at Gillette stadium about 1/2 hour south of Boston?

Another Massachusetts and UMass boondoggle.

sammy99999
sammy99999 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Good. Hopefully we've finally reached the tipping point on stadium excess. I was wondering when people would get sick of sky high ticket prices, hard tiny stadium seats, $10 beers, $30 parking, overcrowded disgusting bathrooms, fans so obnoxious you can't bring your kids anymore, poor traffic management outside of the stadium, etc.  It's a miserable experience going to just about any live college or pro sporting event anymore.

ATLWmn
ATLWmn

@sammy99999   And you can't even buy beer at college games!  Sometimes it's better to watch on the couch with a 6-pack.  :-)

Coolcat123
Coolcat123 like.author.displayName 1 Like

I have no idea why someone would want to miss out on the excitement of attending a game versus watching it at home with a HD surround sound 60" television.  There is nothing more exciting then to feel the need to relieve yourself and standing in line an extra 5 minutes to get to a urinal, and then stopping to get a hot dog, and waiting another 5 minutes to get it, then walk back to your seat to find it is half time, and you sit in your seat, happy that you beat the crowd, but totally unaware of what happened the entire 2nd quarter.   Naw, that staying at home and rewinding the parts you missed and having the old lady bring you a beer is way over rated.

jason.brabander
jason.brabander like.author.displayName 1 Like

Ticket prices keep me away.  Along with concession prices, hassles with parking, etc.  But mostly the ticket prices.  Even the "cheap seats" are getting too pricey.  And why would I pay that kind of money to sit in the nosebleed seats?

__RotoMan__
__RotoMan__ like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

The NCAA got greedy. Now attending a college football game is just as expensive as going to a professional football game and sometimes it's more expensive.

And to top it off most college stadiums don't even serve beer.

RCarter
RCarter

@__RotoMan__  I agree 100%.  My Football tickets are attached to a "donation fee".  The fee is now more than the tickets.  My family had 8 tickets, and are now down to 2 tickets.  People quit going to stadiums because of the prices.  UK is not a football school, but every Saturday, the stadium packed people in to the games even when we had crappy records.  I now know alot of people who gave up their tickets because of the price.

loot87
loot87

I guess they need to negotiate a better TV deal....

humtake
humtake

I went to my first college game last year...Florida v. LSU.  The game was fun to watch, for sure.  But sorry, no alcohol selling is ridiculous and then there was the 1 hour and 15 minute wait to get OUT of the campus and surrounding area.  Both of those things made me realize I don't care to go to another game.  I get all the alcohol I want at my house or a friend's house and when I'm done I get in my car and go.  Here's the word of the day if you want to attract people to anything...CONVENIENCE.  If you haven't noticed since the technology age started, that's all people really want.

elcapitan009
elcapitan009 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@humtake hahaha, can someone get this fkn idiot out of here? "I get all the alcohol I want... I'm done I get in my car and go."

SEC! SEC! stay classy

dawgs4ever
dawgs4ever

I don't go to the games to watch replays on the big screen or to get "razzle dazzled" with all sorts of other lame entertainment.  I'm there to tailgate before the game, hang with friends, and then go in and watch good college football.  Quit scheduling crap opponents and you'll get better attendance.  I know why they do it, but you can't complain when you don't sell tickets to watch Middle Tennessee State.  


Oh, and offering beer/booze inside the stadiums will get people to go to the game.  There's a reason the NFL is still packing most of its stadiums.  Most colleges don't let you buy beer in the stadium.  Lame!

pcseller001
pcseller001

If they want to sell tickets they need to set one price for all tickets, buyers must pay BEFORE seating assignments are made, then they have the same people that monitor the state lottery monitor the random drawing for seating assignments.


IMO alot more tickets will sell if people have a chance at better seats.

the_texasbob
the_texasbob

There is no experience comparied to a home football game, liek Texas A&M but the ticket prices are going up and when the $400 million expansion is done the ticket price will soar into the stratosphere, along with the donation and "other" fee tacked onto the ticket price.  Season tickets are getting out of reach, the enclosed suites start at a cool million a year and will go up to 20 million a season PLUS the cost of all the tickets the suit holds.  but parking pass is thrown in. LOL

SteveGiles
SteveGiles like.author.displayName 1 Like

Going to games.

CONS

 Over priced tickets, long bathroom lines, over priced concessions, shrinking seat sizes + expanding waistlines, traffic and sometimes being with folks you'd rather not be around.

PROS

Game day experience 

Watching on TV

CONS

No game day experience

 PROS

 No bathroom lines, great seats, re-plays, fridge close by, surrounded by family and friends or alone and no traffic.  If one has a DVR then the ability to pause or rewind.

Shojon
Shojon

Nebraska added 3000 seats in a stadium addition this off-season and had over 4000 requests for those seats. The Husker sellout streak is at 325 (or close) and will continue to be added to this season (and for the foreseeable future). Red Clad Loons? Yep, and proud of it. Memorial Stadium on a crisp fall day is just a wonderful place to be. The fan experience is alive and well in Lincoln, Nebraska.

CFB has problems and issues and will change even more over the next several years. But there are a lot of schools that still do things right and still embrace the student athlete model. Embracing those changes and making things work for all those players who won't go on to the NFL is the only way College Football can continue. It won't be easy but it can be worked out. 

GregPalmer
GregPalmer

@Shojon  Doesn't hurt that more than half of your games are pay per view.   And there is NUH-thing else to do in Nebraska on a fall Saturday.  I'm just teasing you though.  I like Nebraska and Lincoln.  UNL is a good school.  A place to be envied for sure.  

captain_nemo
captain_nemo

College football is the last example of plantation slavery in the US. Everybody gets paid EXCEPT the athletes.

WednesdayPunk
WednesdayPunk

@captain_nemo I guess the 4-5 years paid tuition, free room and board, and all of the other perks they receive do not count as "payment"? If most of these college athletes had to pay their own way, they simply wouldn't be in college, and if most of those same college athletes had to carry a passing grade (without someone doing their work), NONE of them would be playing the game...College is a choice, no one has ever been kidnapped in High School, and been forced to go to a college field and play the game against their will, that i am aware of? Maybe the definition of "slavery" has a new meaning?

dawgs4ever
dawgs4ever like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@captain_nemo You have gotta be joking.  The athletes get "paid" a ton.  And please don't compare voluntarily playing a sport in college, with all the perks that go with it, to being a plantation slave.  You're just sounding like an ignorant slave when you do.

rick.eckle
rick.eckle like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@dawgs4ever @captain_nemo Well said.  $100k+ worth of school, plus free food, free tutors, free lodging, a monthly stipend, tons of free swag (t-shirts, shorts, sweats, jackets, shoes, etc.), and tons of open doors in the job market once you finish your degree simply because you played for "x" school.  As a former college athlete, I was more than willing to trade some of my free time to compete in a sport I loved for the many perks that came with that commitment.  I was a wrestler who didn't get half of the stuff the football and basketball players get, but I still got more than the average student.  Graduating with minimal debt put me way ahead of my fellow classmates when it came to buying a house and achieving financial security in life.

ThomasTho
ThomasTho

I've watched ticket prices at my alma mater go from something like $15 or $20 per game to around $100 in just a decade or two, and that's for the less popular games.  For the more popular ones the only way to get in is to buy a $500 season ticket.  

Consequently I haven't been to a game in years, and would have no sympathy for them if they were unable to fill the stadium at that kind of price gouge.  Cry me a river.

WednesdayPunk
WednesdayPunk

College football is being ruined with the new "super conferences", and the playoff system. If you look back 30 years, when CFB was still fun, you had all of the different bowl games scattered across the Country, and football fans took their families to these destinations for a week of vacation, relaxation, and a football game with their favorite teams. This brought money, and fun to all of these regions, and was still a great family event. Your team did not have to be #1 in the nation to enjoy this, it was a part of everyone's lives, and greatly enjoyed the game as it was meant to be. They have also managed to wipe out all (or most) of the classic match up games that everyone eagerly awaited every year (NU/OU come to mind, but there are many more). College football has been turned into a money making machine, and all of the great traditions are going, or gone at this time. I don't watch pro sports, because they are all based on huge salaries, whining, complaining prima donna's carrying guns, doing drugs, beating their spouses, and yes, even murderers are playing pro sports. Not too mention now players are refusing to play where they are drafted (Eli), and players are negotiating where they play, and who they play with (Miami Heat) - all pro sports have become THUG central, and they are of no interest to me! Sadly, this is what CFB is heading towards, and if it continues, the "tradition" and "passion" for the game will decline. College sports are just that, so to school for an education, and if you are lucky enough to play on a team, that's great...This concept is so warped now, its not even close to what is is supposed to be..Not too mention, the huge push to PAY college players to play the game..do you not remember why you are going to school in the first place, and most of you are on a free ride anyway, stop being so selfish!

humtake
humtake

@WednesdayPunk Check the attendance records for all Div I colleges from that time.  You will see that this fantasy land of perfect college football never existed.  Unless you are saying they should have kept it the same to cater to people like you who take a trip to see one game.  Sorry, but that's not reality.

WednesdayPunk
WednesdayPunk

@humtake @WednesdayPunk Oh, and quite honestly my comments have nothing to do with ME going to games...I haven't been to a game in many years, based on all of the high costs and hassles to get there, park, walk, stand in line, etc....Watching at home is so much better than any of that! I'm just sad they are trying to turn CFB into the NFL more than anything....If you enjoy going to the games, im very happy for you, but if you think ticket prices, parking, and concessions are inflated now, just wait a few more years.....

WednesdayPunk
WednesdayPunk

@humtake @WednesdayPunk The only thing i did not comment on was the attendance....the tradition, and passion will be gone, and the numbers will drop dramatically over the next 10 years. Unless you are 1 of the few power house schools (paying players, hiring the best coaches in the nation), you will be steamrolled, and since there are 130 +/- teams, those same 4 powerhouse teams cannot drive CFB by themselves. Those 4 schools may sell out, and prosper, but, the other 124 schools fans will just dry up and go way. I think you totally missed my point. Not to mention with the new playoff idea, there are 4 locations to play all of these games, so the rest of the Country is just left out...Pretty soon 90% of all college fans will just give up on this, and start doing something else on Saturdays.

dawgs4ever
dawgs4ever

@WednesdayPunk I agree.  I miss the pageantry of CFG.  It's become all about the $$ instead of about the schools, rivalries and the game.