Lost in shuffle of seven consecutive BCS titles, dominating recruiting, dominating the NFL draft, and anticipated television networks a funny thing happened. Attendance at SEC football games dropped. The SEC continued to lead the nation at 75,444 fans per game, but that was its lowest average since 2007. SEC crowds are down 2 percent since peaking in 2008 at 76,844.
It is hard to believe, but the SEC’s championship streak is older than the iPhone. The first iPhone was released in the summer of 2007. The first tweet was sent in July of 2006 about the time Urban Meyer was attending his second SEC media days and was trying to ward off a quarterback controversy between senior incumbent Chris Leak and true freshman phenom Tim Tebow. Technology (particularly the affordability of large HD TVs) and how we absorb information, especially sports information has changed drastically in the last half dozen years. This is partly responsible for a drop in attendance.
Remember what you would during a TV timeout five or six years ago? Maybe try and get a text out to grab a score from a buddy at home. Chat with the fans around you or jaw with an opposing fan a couple seats down. Now, everyone sits down, pulls out their phones, gripes about poor connections and tries to check twitter to see what is going on in the other games of note. If you are under 40 and something else happens in your section, let me know.
As fans are increasingly connected to instant information, schools and conferences are struggling to keep up with demand. I’m sure my experience going to games as a kid was similar to yours. If you went to a college game, it was an all-day affair. We would load up the family vehicle and head to Gainesville at 8AM for a 3:30 kick. Get to our tailgate spot, tailgate for hours, go to the game, come back and listen to the postgame show on the radio waiting on traffic to die down. We would arrive home late, try and catch the few highlights on local news or SportsCenter (looooong before college game day final was around) and crash out. Any upsets would be read about in the Sunday paper.
Technology and the sheer number of games on TV has changed that. It seems that no matter what you are doing, you are scared you will miss something going on somewhere else. This, along with increased ticket prices, higher gas prices, and a sluggish economy have more people setting up 2 HD TVs in the den and watching college football for 12 hours on Saturday as opposed to actually going to games (guilty as charged).
The advent of the coming SEC network is an opportunity for the SEC to help out it’s member institutions. Instead of during TV timeouts getting a commercial from the Florida Dairy Farmers Association or a Rush’s commercial reminding you that if a Gamecock rushes for over 100 yards, you can redeem your ticket for a free chili cheeseburger, there can be live cut ins from the SEC network updating you on games around the league and other national games of interest. During each TV time out, the big screens show a 90 second score update with a couple high lights from around the conference. Maybe even have a couple of featured tweets. (What? You still don’t have twitter? You’re doing it wrong).
During Carolina’s thrashing of Georgia this past October, I’m sure the crowd would have been interested to see what national CFB types were saying about the game. Is a professional player or school alum impressed with the play of a certain player? Scroll it on the big screen. At the end of the day, after the fight songs, after 2001 is played, and the rah rah stuff, schools are selling entertainment. At $70/ ticket. As technology changes, schools need to be willing to adapt to. The game day plan that worked in 1994 will not be as effective in 2014.
Change the student ticket policy.
South Carolina was not the only school dealing with less than awesome student attendance. Florida, Auburn, Tennessee also struggled with students showing up late and leaving early. Even the power house Alabama did not sell out all of their student tickets this year (according to Clay Travis). Often tickets are awarded via lottery. At Georgia tickets are through your student ID to prevent scalping. Many schools are now using various lottery style systems or points systems based on credits and support of other athletic programs. Florida went to a lottery system and it has had a negative effect. Prior to that, a student (and student family members) had to call the ticket office when they went on sale to get student season tickets. When my brother was a freshman in 2002 it took my brother, my father and I all repeatedly calling until we got through to get on the list. Schools should return to a first come/first served basis. Do it like registration or go through a 3rd party like ticket master. The tickets need to be made available to those that want them the most.
There are a handful of schools that already do this, notably West Virginia. A Freakonomics article suggests that the perceived problems will not be as big as people perceive them to be. Beer is sold at Bowl Games and no one has gotten upset about that. It brings in additional revenue.
This is pretty self-explanatory.
As the market places changes and fans are presented with ever more (and cheaper) entertainment options, schools will have to find a way to keep up.