November 5, 2018

Declining football attendance matches national trend

By Matt Bradshaw —

There’s not many college sports towns that rival Louisville in terms of talent, revenue and intensity. Fans regularly show out and support U of L athletics with emotion matched by few across the nation.

Having such extreme enthusiasm for the school, Cardinal fans are not afraid to voice their opinions and assert an influence when it counts.

Take the current football program. Young and old alike remain unhappy with the current 2-7 record and demonstrate their gloom via absence from home games at Cardinal Stadium.

The highest number of fans in attendance for a matchup this season came on Sept. 15 against Western Kentucky (42,976 tickets scanned). With the capacity of Cardinal Stadium sitting at 60,800, there were over 17,000 unused tickets for the newly renovated venue that night.

U of L edged WKU, but followed the victory with a 24-point loss at Virginia.

Attendance took a dive for the next two home games versus Florida State and Georgia Tech. Around 4,000 fewer tickets were scanned for the FSU game (38,496) compared to the highest attendance, and 7,000 fewer tickets were scanned for the Ga. Tech game (35,785).

Louisville lost to Florida State, Georgia Tech and Boston College on the road before returning home again to face Wake Forest last week.

With a noon kickoff and cloudy weather, the contest with the Demon Deacons saw the sharpest drop in attendance all season. There were 25,140 tickets scanned for the game, less than half the capacity of Cardinal Stadium, and a majority of fans departed while the Cards were being thoroughly beaten.

Most recently, Clemson demolished U of L 77-16 in an away game at Death Valley. Head coach Bobby Petrino’s squad returns to campus Nov. 17 for their next home game against NC State.

It’s easy to see the decline in attendance as pent-up frustration over the performance of Louisville football. Whether refusing to watch a losing team or crying for the sack of Petrino, fans are peeved  by  one of the worst seasons in ten years.

Looking closer at the situation, it’s apparent that the lack of supporters at home games is not confined to Louisville. Schools across the country are currently experiencing a decline in attendance for their football programs.

According to the NCAA, per-game attendance dropped by an average of 1,409 fans nationwide in 2017 (three percent decline). That marked the largest drop since 1983, when average attendance fell  1,527 fans per game from the previous year.

Watching games at home via television or streaming has become increasingly enticing for fans. The same goes for Louisville supporters with the ACC Network that features most Cardinal games.

Even top-tier programs have problems with attendance. First-ranked Alabama beats their opponents so badly that some fans do not even bother coming to watch.

When the Crimson Tide defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 56-14 earlier this season, Alabama students were noticeably missing and presented a gaping hole in the student section with their absence.

Head coach Nick Saban reacted strongly to the lack of students at the stadium.

“I can honestly say I was a little disappointed there weren’t more students,” Saban said. “I don’t think they’re entitled to anything. When I first came here, you used to play that tradition thing up there and everybody was cheering and excited and happy and there was great spirit. Now they don’t even cheer.”

U of L athletic director Vince Tyra echoed similar sentiments when faced with the growing problem of seat vacancies.

“Fans want to send a message to the program that, ‘We don’t like where we are.’ And it’s not going to improve if you’re going to help us run off recruits,” Tyra said. “We need fans there to show their loyalty, show their support and help us get these top recruits and be there.”

Tyra later stepped back from his criticism of the fans and pointed to their loyalty and importance, saying “we all play a role in it…if I said it wrong it’s on me.”

Whatever the case, the decrease in fan attendance hurts both the football team and the University’s wallet. If ticket sales continue to decline and follow national trends, then the $63 million renovation of Cardinal Stadium may have been completed for nothing.

You can follow the Louisville Cardinal on Twitter @thecardsports.

File Photo / The Louisville Cardinal

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