College football's big question: Where are the game-day fans?

Sat Sep 6, 2014 11:02am EDT
 
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By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As the 2014 U.S. college football season kicks off, athletic departments face one big worry - that fans of one of the nation's most popular sports are watching it from sofas or bars, rather than filling stadiums.

Even as the value of television contracts and merchandise sales soars for top teams, university administrators sweat the empty seats, given that ticket sales are still the top revenue generator for college sports.

They are turning to cash prizes, better Internet access in stadiums, improved scoreboards and fan focus groups as they fight to cling on to their share of an increasingly saturated U.S. sports market.

"You can't just rely on, 'We are the University of X, Y and Z and our football team is playing today' and fill up" stadiums, said Haynes Hendrickson, president of Turnkey Intelligence, a sports marketing firm in Haddonfield, New Jersey.

Falling attendance among students is a special warning sign for college football since undergraduates who skip games are unlikely to become season-ticket holders after they graduate, experts said.

"You want your students to attend the games, because they become a fan for life," said Bob Vecchione, executive director of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.

ATTENDANCE SLIDES   Continued...

 
Boston College Eagles quarterback Tyler Murphy (2) is tackled by Pittsburgh Panthers defensive back Ray Vinopal (9) during the second half at Alumni Stadium.  Pitt won 30-20 over Boston College. Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports