NCAA Attendance Figures: A Closer Examination

Posted by rtmsf on April 27th, 2011

It’s always interesting to see the numbers when the NCAA releases its annual attendance figures for the prior season.  After all, ticket sales are still what drives the operating budget of most of these schools, and if a coach can’t consistently put fannies in the seats, he’s unlikely to have a job for very long.  The NCAA’s figures, though, mostly deal in the aggregate: A total of 27.6 million fans attending Division I men’s basketball games;  the usual suspects, Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina and Louisville, leading the way; the Big East cracking the three million mark with its sixteen-team lineup.  While it’s interesting to know that those schools and leagues are getting massive numbers of people through the turnstiles, it doesn’t really tell us the whole story without the subcontext of arena size.  Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium is the classic example — Duke ranks #48 in total home attendance (158,338 fans), but that figure represents 17 home dates at 100% capacity (9,314 fans each game) — so the truth here is that demand for seats within CIS far equals (or more likely, outstrips) availability.  Let’s take a look at some of the schools in the NCAA’s top 100 from the perspective of that alternate reality.

Changes things a little, right?  Twenty-one of the top 100 schools in average attendance were at 90% or higher in capacity last season.  And although some of the bigger arenas such as those at Kentucky (#3), Louisville (#8) and Memphis (#19) are still represented, this metric gives some love to the smaller-capacity schools like K-State (#1), Gonzaga (#5), Wichita State (#7) and others who consistently sold out (or nearly did so) every night the home team took the floor.  Some extra props need to go to the high-mids who support their teams through thick and thin, as seven of the top 21 on this list came from non-BCS conferences.

We thought it would also be interesting to take a look at the schools that get good crowds on average (10,000+ fans) but still fall far short of filling their buildings.  There are any number of reasons for this sort of thing, but first, here’s the list.

First of all, we should probably eliminate Syracuse because they’re the only Division I school to play in a dome and their capacity isn’t an apples/apples comparison.  Georgetown is obviously hampered by using an NBA arena away from campus as its “home” site, but the others really don’t have much of an excuse.  Oklahoma State, Alabama, NC State, Virginia, Arkansas and South Carolina are all southern schools that have gone through coaching changes in the last few years — is this an issue of fans not caring about basketball or making a statement by staying away; or both?  Among that group, Alabama is the most curious because the Tide had a good season as Anthony Grant rebuilds that program.  We find Missouri and UNLV to also be odd, as both were NCAA-quality teams last year with traditionally strong home crowd support — is this a prophetic clue as to why both Mike Anderson and Lon Kruger sought refuge elsewhere?

Moving on to some other thoughts, who are the schools that generally surprised us with a lack of support (or expected support)?  Removing any of the above from our list, here’s our top eight.

We hate to bust on Pitt at 86.7%, but come on Panther fans… you’re the only hoops game in town and your arena isn’t all that big at 12,508.  Considering your team ended up as a #1 seed last season, how do you not fill that place?  BYU — you had the most must-see player in the country on your team and a rabid fan base — no excuse to not be above 90% last season.  Ohio State… sigh.  Football school, we get it.  But you were #1 most of the season — nothing more needs to be said.  Look at some of the others…  Butler is completely shocking to us, coming off a national runner-up season; George Mason’s weak crowd support may have had a little something to do with Jim Larranaga’s departure; and UCLA, Temple and Cincinnati fans should be ashamed of themselves.  Especially that school in Westwood, you know the one with eleven national titles — what does it take to get those fans there in droves?  Kobe Bryant?

One final note.  Six BCS schools finished outside the top 100 in total average fans last season.  Those schools were, from best to worst: Boston College, Oregon State, Northwestern, Miami (FL), USC and South Florida.  Some of the names ahead of these six were Marshall, Hawaii, Charlotte and Bradley — not exactly mid-major powerhouses.  We could continue to find nuggets within this data but that’s all for now.  If you have any interest in playing with the numbers yourself, feel free to do so at the Google Doc we’ve saved with the top 100 here.

rtmsf (3954 Posts)

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9 responses to “NCAA Attendance Figures: A Closer Examination”

  1. Luke says:

    I live in Durham and went to two Duke games this year (Colgate and Carolina). Let me just say, there were TONS of empty seats against Colgate, and a few against Carolina (specifically, six in my row of eight seats). Duke had to have lied about those numbers…there is no chance they are accurate.

  2. rtmsf says:

    Luke – I’m pretty sure that most schools calculate paid attendance rather than actual attendance, and from a bottom-line perspective, that’s reasonable b/c the same amt of $$ flow to the athletic dept’s coffers. Understand the point, though.

  3. inDglass says:

    I’d like to see a comparison between arena size and enrollment. Butler’s arena holds more than twice the university’s enrollment. That’s part of why it was only filled 71.8% coming off a national finalist season.

  4. rtmsf says:

    Would be interesting as well, although I give Butler less of a pass b/c their arena is on-campus and built for basketball (in other words, not a municipal multi-use auditorium, necessarily).

  5. KSU says:

    It’s nice to see the entire state of Kansas repped pretty well.

  6. Matt B. says:

    I think Villanova needs to be edited. Their capacity is stated as if they played 17 games at the 20,000 seat Wells Fargo Center, but they actually only played 7 games there. The other 10 games were played at The Pavillion, which only holds 6,500. Accounting for that, the “true capacity” for Villanova home games was 207,296 between all 17 games at both venues. With actual attendance at 178,692, their true percentage was 86.2%, not 51.7%.

  7. rtmsf says:

    Good point on Villanova. I edited their numbers to reflect the split-home situation.

  8. EMAW says:

    KU @ K-State sandstorm sudent section

  9. TheDistrict says:

    “I’d like to see a comparison between arena size and enrollment. Butler’s arena holds more than twice the university’s enrollment. That’s part of why it was only filled 71.8% coming off a national finalist season.”

    @inDglass – Right, but what about Xavier? They have an enrollment of 4,368 whereas Butler has an enrollment of 3,861. Their arenas are relatively the same size (the Cintas Center holds an extra 250 over Hinkle) and both schools are in similarly sized cities. That being said, Xavier is at 98.5% of capacity while Butler is at 71.8%. Meanwhile, Butler has certainly had the better program as of late.

    I just don’t buy enrollment as an explanation for low attendance given the numbers being generated by a similarly sized school two hours southeast of them.

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