College football studies MLS to solve attendance problem

Submitted by massblue on July 17th, 2014 at 1:24 PM

There is an interesting article on WSJ about how college football powers are studying MLS to learn how to combat declining ticket sales and poor attendance by students:

 

In May, a group from Florida's athletic department became one of hundreds of sports teams to visit Sporting Kansas City, the reigning MLS champion, and Sporting Innovations, the team's spinoff consulting firm focused on fan engagement and technology.

The trip wasn't as unorthodox as it sounds. As colleges seek out ways to enhance their stadiums and entice a generation of absentee fans, they are looking at MLS teams as models, even though the average MLS crowd is about a quarter of the 75,674 that the SEC averaged last season, the top figure in college football.

It seems that SEC has the problem that we are having.  The solution?

Sporting KC is trending in the opposite direction. The team formerly known as the Wizards averaged 10,287 fans a game in 2010. Then it rebranded, moved from a minor-league baseball stadium to soccer-specific Sporting Park and saw attendance climb to 17,810 a game. That number has increased this year to a franchise-record 19,709 per MLS game.

So more rebranding is comming to the Big House. 

 

$Link

 

Comments

Gob1ue22

July 17th, 2014 at 1:29 PM ^

The invention of the affordable big screen TV makes it an easy decision these days to stay at home and have a very enjoyable expereience (personally I like going to games, but I feel I actaully get to see more of the game on TV with replays and all these crazy camea angles that literally put you on the field). Also, same thing applies to bars, with most sports bars now having a huge selection of big screen TV's so patrons can watch multiple games on huge TV's AND GET HAMMERED. 

cutter

July 17th, 2014 at 2:13 PM ^

Darren Rovell had an interesting article back in February that deal with the student attendance issue--see http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/10458047/next-generation…

When you read this article and the quotes from the students, you find that there are all sorts of reasons why they aren't buying ticket, attending games or even staying for the entire contest.  But let's face it--watching the game in real time in high definition from a frat house or dormitory within close proximity to food, drink and a bathroom is a very real alternative.

Schools might not like doing this, but allowing alcohol sales at the stadiums might help.  I'm not advocating selling to minors (this is where dropping the legal age might help), but it's a step in the right direction.  Having student discounts for concessions might help on that front as well.

Cheaper tickets and winning football may or may not help.  Alabama students pay $10 for a seasons ticket, but even they aren't showing up as they did in the past (per the article listed above).  Of course, when your non-conference schedule this year is Florida Atlantic, Southern Mississippi and Western Carolina, no wonder the Tide students aren't bothering.

The only thing I can think of is upgrading the non-conference schedules, i.e., the "no tomato can" rule.  At least Brandon is going away from scheduling MAC teams and is replacing them from the American Athletic and Mountain West in future schedules.  Who knows?  If the Power 5 secede from the NCAA and only play other teams within those conferences, then the non-conference part of the season can become really, really good.

 

 

Everyone Murders

July 17th, 2014 at 1:32 PM ^

They could hire the guy from the Portland Timbers to give us a slice each time we score a touchdown.  And no eye protection or ear protection either - keep it old school.  It would help attendance and help us clear those trees out the Arb.

Maize and Luke

July 17th, 2014 at 2:28 PM ^

the WOW experience is necessarily what fans are looking for.  I tend to agree that more wins will help toward solving the problem.  I think if UM was consistently winning 10 or 11 games a year and beating rivals that selling tickets would be such an issue.  Do you want to pay arm and leg to see an 11 win team or a 7 win team that seemingly loses to OSU and MSU 3 of every 4 meetings?  There are obvously more factors at hand but as the saying goes "winning solves everything", it would definitely help.

bluebyyou

July 17th, 2014 at 3:02 PM ^

While winning and wow and a bit less insanity from DB might help, I'm not so sure that a permanent reshuffling of how people chose to be entertained isn't taking place.  

Over the last few decades, since the growth of reasonably fast internet speeds, a host of varied\entertainment options have developed.  A tablet simply and cheaply opens a world of choices to its user that were never easily available before.  Ditto for the large screen HD TV, speaking of which, they are only going to get bigger and better as time goes on. In many markets, in the fall, there are profesional teams playing football, basketball, hockey and baseball.  There are only so many entertainment dollars to go around.

Being from out of town, it is not an inexpensive proposition for me to take a family to Ann Arbor for a game.  Add up the costs of planes, hotels that gouge you for the special event weekend, auto rental, food and tickets, and it's an expensive weekend.  On top of that, the quality of opponent is often between bad and mediocre making the trek hard to justify, evne harder when you barely beat Akron..  

Once your viewing habits change, or are modified to a cheap, easy alternative, it's easy to say the heck with it and watch from or sit around and fiddle with your iPad.

funkywolve

July 17th, 2014 at 2:10 PM ^

if they are looking into what the costs associated with an MLS game are.  My daughter plays soccer so we usually hit one or two of the local MLS games a year.  One thing I like is the MLS games are easily one of the more affordable sporting events that my family and I attend.

Brian

July 17th, 2014 at 1:49 PM ^

The most interesting thing MLS teams do is have organized supporter's groups. Seattle, for instance, has three or four--one official that actually votes on retaining the GM!--that are given specific sections of the stadium and have their own goals.

When these things actually come off they provide something of a student section dynamic to a pro sport. It is definitely something I would look into if I was an athletic director. A large part of the appeal of sports is the feeling that something is IMPORTANT, which is why I ended up watching SEA/POR at a sold out Seahawks Stadium but cannot get through an MLS game in Columbus without falling asleep. 

maize-blue

July 17th, 2014 at 1:50 PM ^

As mentioned in an above comment MLS games are relatively more affordable vs. other sports. I wonder if college football really needed a study to tell them that more modest live game prices could help increase attendance?

alum96

July 17th, 2014 at 2:04 PM ^

Agreed.  A good proportion of fan bases in just about every sport are just shut out unless someone gives them tickets.  If you buy any food, pay for parking, pay for 4 tickets - its more than a car payment for many people and there are huge portions of the population that just can't pay for that anymore. 

Not going to get all income inequality on this subject but we live in an increasingly stratified society where more are either upper middle income or higher ....or low income... lots of the middle is getting cut away decade by decade. 

And for college football the PSL really limits who can go see a game if they don't buy it on the secondary market.

Tuebor

July 17th, 2014 at 2:23 PM ^

It's high school economics. When supply is fixed demand drives price changes.  MLS is more affordable than other major sporting events because their demand is so much lower.  Until the demand for Michigan football tickets drops off the Athletic Department will continue to raise ticket prices, PSL included. 

Tuebor

July 17th, 2014 at 4:38 PM ^

Nothing is going to happen unless average attendance drops below capacity for the season. 

 

The demand that has been falling was excess demand and the AD has been raising prices to reach equillibrium which is a rational thing to do. 

 

 

alum96

July 17th, 2014 at 5:43 PM ^

This is a fair point.  And why economics is a dismal science :)

Brandon has pushed things into equilibrium. Of course it is a dangerous dance to push price to the point where demand and supply exactly meet because that can change by the day/month/year. And playing that game requires a drop in price IF demand falls.  Which I don't remember any major BCS type college program doing.  So if you want to push price to the limit you should be willing to drop prices if demand flags.  That's just not generally how it works however, it's only a 1 way street (flat or up) in sports tickets.

Also economics doesn't measure things like goodwill very well.

Most/all programs don't push the price up to a point that the market can bear because it completely prices out large portions of your fan base.  This would not apply to say polo but for mainstream sports it would be argued pushing your price to maximum levels to account for demand is not a great business tactic for a host of reasons.

wahooverine

July 17th, 2014 at 2:17 PM ^

^this

Most college football programs, especially SEC teams, are in small and medium sized college towns and not major metro areas whose economies can support pro sports.  Yet they charge pro sports prices for tickets and concessions. 

Declining attendance can't be surprising. As already mentioned, innovation in TV and broadcasting has severally eroded the live game value propasition.  No amount of marketing mojo will overcome that competive threat.  Dropping prices or becoming the most exciting and winning team in the country are basically the only options to increase ticket demand.

In Michigan's case the tradition and sense of community (and success on the field) should should insulate our attentdence numbers somewhat from this threat, but Brandon has chosen another course.

 

 

superstringer

July 17th, 2014 at 1:58 PM ^

SKC has done very well on the pitch the last few years, and attendance might reflect that.

But even teams that have dropped on the field -- DC United is my team -- still do pretty good in the stands, and DCU doesn't even have a soccer-specific stadium.  The experience is just very, very family-friendly -- cheaper tickets, no a-holes screaming obscenities (think: NFL), nonstop game (no commercials!), and a set 2-hour time limit you can depend on (MLB not).

There is also the atmosphere, I'd imagine Houston and LA and Chicago are like DC -- tons of Latin fans.  They are different from the normal football or baseball crowds b/c there is CONSTANT noise and motion.  People bring drums, they coordinate, they chant, they bounce up and down, for 45 minutes nonstop each half.  The stadium has a constant vibe, not the buzzzzing noises of fans talking then raising their voices time to time. 

And we haven't even mentioned Seattle or Portland -- they literally have European-type crowds.  People from the BPL have said, MLS games at Seattle are like Chelsea or MC games, except there are way more people at C'link Field.

93Grad

July 17th, 2014 at 2:00 PM ^

rather than the things that really matter like pricing and the product itself.  MLS numbers likely have gone up because their games are cheap, more kids play it than football these days, and they were starting from really low attendance numbers. 

Not much mystery there and other than pricing I don't see how college football can learn anything truly helpful from the MLS.

4godkingandwol…

July 17th, 2014 at 2:43 PM ^

... they can learn about creating a great atmosphere that engenders loyalty regardless of the quality of the output on the field.  like Brian said above, these teams go out of there way to create loyal fan groups that bring an element to the experience that is organic, dynamic, and unique.  Have you been to a high level football game in Europe?  It's just different, even for mid-tier teams.  

Needs

July 17th, 2014 at 3:57 PM ^

"teams go out of there way to create loyal fan groups that bring an element to the experience that is organic, dynamic, and unique"

I might tweak that just a bit to say they empower loyal fan groups and get out of their way, allowing them to bring those elements. Because what happens within supporters groups is not created from above, or at least by team management (most supporters groups do have some sort of rough hierarchical structure). Instead, most MLS teams have figured out that they can have relationships with supporters groups that allow those groups to have more autonomy with what they do in other American sports. I'm sure the TIFO that gets put on in KC, Seattle, Portland, etc, is run by team executives, but it's not their creation.

Instead, like you say, it's the organic creation of the supporters groups, but allowing that to happen means that teams do things like largely allow supporters groups to figure out seating arrangements within their sections themselves (in contrast, say, to last year's GA policy). 

MI Expat NY

July 17th, 2014 at 2:01 PM ^

It seems to me, from reading the article, that it's more about using the data collection methods and analysis from the off-shoot consulting company than actually looking to any gameday experiences to import into college football from MLS.  

But really, I don't know why even that is necessary.  Problems with putting fans in the seat come down to the following: poor w-l records, awful opponents, TV timeouts, and high costs.  Big games sell out and students show up.  Games vs. FBS opponents are poorly attended.  It's not rocket science.  

Tuebor

July 17th, 2014 at 2:09 PM ^

I'm not that impressed with the attendance numbers for Sporting KC.  They were filling their minor league baseball stadium to 99% capacity and then built a larger soccer specific stadium and filled it to 99% capacity.  Then during the year they won the MLS it was over capacity.  I mean everyone loves a winner.

 

Unfortunately the econmies of scale are so vastly different between MLS and BCS level college football that I don't think anything is relatable.  A 500 person supporters group can make an impact when there are only 15k - 20k peple at an event.  500 people in a crowd of 110K is a rounding error.

 

Michigan doesn't have an attendance issue.  An enthusiastic and organized crowd is a different story.

LSAClassOf2000

July 17th, 2014 at 2:23 PM ^

It seems to me the basic move that football teams are making here (the Pac-12 is studying the MLS as well) is probably one of the wiser moves that it has made as whole in the last several years. They probably could and hopefully will learn much from sporting executives who have never really had the luxury of just assuming (rightly, for the most part) that people will show up regardless. I believe that, on a cultural level, college football - at least major conferences within it - are reaching that stage where they are simply there, so finding ways to reinvigorate fanbases can only help. 

Mr. Yost

July 17th, 2014 at 2:47 PM ^

This issue is simple and studying the MLS isn't going to do anything.

Plan and simple, the stadiums are too big in college football.

In the 80s and 90s college football thought enhancing the experience was "GET MOAR SEATS!" when in fact it was "MAKE THIS PLACE AS NICE AS POSSIBLE!"

However, by that time, many schools already had stadiums too big anyway.

Think about it...why are college stadiums bigger than NFL stadiums? It's the exact same sport and the NFL reaches far more people than college football. It's the most popular sports league in America.

There really isn't a good reason other than "well, because they had the demand."

Anyway, back to the MLS.

The MLS is a new league and for all intents and purposes...a new sport in America. It's popularity is growing by the day and the league is growing by the day. The MLS is building smaller stadiums, filling them, creating demand and planning small growth from there.

The NCAA can't use that model, they already have stadiums that are 100,000+....the MLS isn't even CLOSE to that.

So what happened? Ticket prices went up, the product remained the same...TV prices went down, HD came out.

Many people forget what it was like watching TV in the 80s and 90s...it SUCKED compared to now. Of course you'd want to go to a game...ANY game. Miami (OH)? EMU? App St.? Sign me up. Anything is better than this shitty broadcast on this 20" TV.

Now? Now I've got a 70" LED on my wall and I paid nothing for it compared for season tickets.

Oh, before I could only get 2 games a weekend? Now? Now I get EVERY game that weekend.

So why should I go to the game? Screw your fan experience. I don't care if it's Beyonce and fireworks or if you've got the coolest gimmick in the world. Unless it's a recliner, a case of cold beer for $15, good food, no parking, no annoyances, etc. - it's not going to compare to what I can do myself.

The only thing Michigan (or anyone else) can really sell, is history and the fact that it's a live sporting event. The can sell "THIS IS MICHIGAN" and everything that comes with it. However, for many people, that's just not enough anymore. Especially if you've done it before. So sure, I'll go to the big games, but I no longer give a shit about Miami (OH), EMU and App St. - your "MICHIGAN" experience doesn't outweigh my at home experiences...20 years ago it ALWAYS did.

Following the MLS does nothing for you unless you're someone like Charlotte or ODU and you just started football and you're looking to grow and pace yourself appropriately. For those schools, the MLS is PERFECT. For Florida, Texas, Michigan, etc. --- you're pretty much fucked. Especially with ticket prices where they are.

 

mjv

July 17th, 2014 at 3:45 PM ^

Are you secretly Dave Brandon?  Your entire premise is flawed like that of a typical marketing lacky.  

The parallel isn't deciding to watch the game on your TV or go to the game.  The parallel is going to church versus not going to church.  

Each game wasn't striving to achieve the greatest WOW factor since the prior game.  It was one of 6-7 opportunities to pay tribute to your team.  The prices weren't so high as to make it an economic decision.  it was a devotion decision.  And games in Standard Definition were always better than watching in person because you had replays and a restroom that didn't have a line and cold beer/soda in the fridge.

the issues are that athletic programs have decided to maximize profits.  in the early 1990s, we had schedules that were fantastic.  Even our tomato cans were real conference teams (other than one directional Michigan / MAC team).  The AD wasn't affraid of paying a little to get a real team to show up.

People aren't so naive to think that a flyover makes a game against a sacrificial lamb from the MAC worth $85 plus the PSL.  Pouring A1 Steak Sauce on a crappy McDonald's doesn't make it a steak.  That's what athletic departments are trying to do now.  And they are getting exactly what they should expect.

 

 

Jon06

July 17th, 2014 at 4:27 PM ^

I had the same reaction. I'll just add one comment. The stadiums are not too big. The administration in Schembechler Hall is completely inept and the administration in NCAA Headquarters is completely corrupt. The suits are the problem.

Mr. Yost

July 17th, 2014 at 5:16 PM ^

This isn't about Michigan...it's about attendance nation wide at the big schools. Only you can turn it into a Dave Brandon pissing match.

And what did the suits actually do to make the game experience that much worse than 1985 or 1995? Build two towers, a huge scoreboard, play loud music and add some patches? THOSE are REAAAAALLLY the reason you don't want to go to games anymore?

Again, I call bullshit.

Certainly those things piss SOME people off, but not enough to make tens of thousands of people not show up anymore. 

You and a few others are taking your own personal minor gripes and trying to act like there is some Remove The Patch coalition and it's grown so big that all of these people are so upset they're no longer going to games...because "THE MAN" made it this way.

No. That is not why.

It's because our team isn't that good.

It's because our schedule isn't that good...mind you though, if the team was great, the schedule wouldn't matter AS MUCH (it still would matter).

And then it's the reason that I keep mentioning. Ticket prices up, economy down. Technology is cheap and readily available.

20 years ago I got 2 games a weekend, the TV sucked, and the game experience was SO MUCH better than the alternative. Even if they played Beyonce and had fireworks 20 years ago it STILL would've been better than the alternative (watching on TV). That is not the case now.

Now I can save my $200-$300, and have an incredible experience at home. For some, an even BETTER experience at home.

So it's not about all these little things you and other whine about and blame Brandon about. They're stupid, but they're small. Following the MLS isn't going to change that.

Not for Michigan, not for Florida, not for Texas, not for anyone.

Fact is...I don't care what, you, I, or Dave Brandon does...if Michigan doesn't win, they're never going to consistently fill that stadium again. That wasn't the case when we were kids. We could play the Detroit YMCA and get 100,000. Now? No. 

So stop blaming Beyonce. She dances nice and has fun hair.

Jon06

July 19th, 2014 at 10:35 PM ^

(i) The speakers are so loud my wife won't let me take my kid to games without ear-canal-covering earplugs and ear-covering headphones, which is a pain in the ass.

(ii) The TV timeouts make the game so long my wife doesn't want to go to games herself, which is a pain in the ass.

(iii) Thanks to a stupid AD decision, I can't buy a spousal ticket in the student section anyway, no matter how much I'm willing to pay. I stopped buying football season tickets because of this multiple seasons ago, even before my wife had decided she no longer wanted to go. I don't buy hockey season tickets because of it, even though she really wants to go to that. (Thanks to my wife, my household income had, at one point, sextupled since I started buying student tickets, so money is not the issue.)

(iv) Thanks to the NCAA's money-grubbing and our AD's money-grubbing, my own desire to go is impeded by a countervailing desire to vote against the status quo with my wallet and my feet. In fact, I've turned down free tickets on the 40 yard line to multiple games this year because I don't want to make what will be a 2.5 hour trip to cheer for an event put on by the current athletic department unless I think it'll be a great game. Prior to the Dave Brandon era, I'd planned to attend virtually every game in perpetuity.

(v) Re: TV: if Dave Brandon knew what he was doing and actually wanted to make the experience better than sitting at home, he'd lower concession prices, militate for shortened and reduced TV timeouts, and ensure that those massive scoreboards show as many replays as possible. It's not rocket science. The suits still can't figure it out.

So build another strawman and slurp Brandon all you want. He's fucking up. The people who have basketball tickets next to our seats, who have had tickets for decades, feel like this AD doesn't give a shit about them because they don't have a lot of money. The same goes for the current students. And they're right. And it's short-term thinking from a bunch of MBAs who can't understand anything they can't see in the next month's spreadsheet.

Mr. Yost

July 17th, 2014 at 5:16 PM ^

This isn't about Michigan...it's about attendance nation wide at the big schools. Only you can turn it into a Dave Brandon pissing match.

And what did the suits actually do to make the game experience that much worse than 1985 or 1995? Build two towers, a huge scoreboard, play loud music and add some patches? THOSE are REAAAAALLLY the reason you don't want to go to games anymore?

Again, I call bullshit.

Certainly those things piss SOME people off, but not enough to make tens of thousands of people not show up anymore. 

You and a few others are taking your own personal minor gripes and trying to act like there is some Remove The Patch coalition and it's grown so big that all of these people are so upset they're no longer going to games...because "THE MAN" made it this way.

No. That is not why.

It's because our team isn't that good.

It's because our schedule isn't that good...mind you though, if the team was great, the schedule wouldn't matter AS MUCH (it still would matter).

And then it's the reason that I keep mentioning. Ticket prices up, economy down. Technology is cheap and readily available.

20 years ago I got 2 games a weekend, the TV sucked, and the game experience was SO MUCH better than the alternative. Even if they played Beyonce and had fireworks 20 years ago it STILL would've been better than the alternative (watching on TV). That is not the case now.

Now I can save my $200-$300, and have an incredible experience at home. For some, an even BETTER experience at home.

So it's not about all these little things you and other whine about and blame Brandon about. They're stupid, but they're small. Following the MLS isn't going to change that.

Not for Michigan, not for Florida, not for Texas, not for anyone.

Fact is...I don't care what, you, I, or Dave Brandon does...if Michigan doesn't win, they're never going to consistently fill that stadium again. That wasn't the case when we were kids. We could play the Detroit YMCA and get 100,000. Now? No. 

So stop blaming Beyonce. She dances nice and has fun hair.

Mr. Yost

July 17th, 2014 at 5:06 PM ^

Answer that one simple question. We don't need to have novel back and forths.

Attendance declined at ALL big stadiums literally around the same time. That's not a coincidence. Something had to happen to make this happen. A comet didn't just come and wipe everything out...there has to be a reason or a few major reasons.

1. Ticket prices

2. A Depression

3. Technology

 

All of you guys bitch about fan experience...what was so great about fan experience when Michigan was packing the stadium even for shitty games that we can't get anyone, especially students to attend now?

What was so great about the fan experience then? We had narrow seats, shitty hot chocolate, we pissed in bathubs, and the stadium was never loud because it was so open. But people filled in and fill the joint every Saturday.

It had NOTHING to do with game experience. If it did...why the hell don't we go back to that? You're telling me that if we go back to running games like it's 1985 or 1995 all of a sudden people will show up? I call bullshit.

jmblue

July 17th, 2014 at 4:43 PM ^

Think about it...why are college stadiums bigger than NFL stadiums? It's the exact same sport and the NFL reaches far more people than college football. It's the most popular sports league in America.

It's because college teams have traditionally wanted to give as many fans as possible a chance to go to games, whereas NFL teams want to create artificial scarcity to drive up ticket prices.

The problem with college football is that the combination of skyrocketing tuition, the need to support money-losing sports to satisfy Title IX, as well as the general arms race regarding facilities and coaches, has forced ADs into a business model similar to the NFL. When college teams have to charge NFL prices, demand for their product starts to reach its limit.

Mr. Yost

July 17th, 2014 at 5:27 PM ^

Yes, but...if you had spent that money elsewhere, you'd still fill your stadium.

That's what the MLS does, they can expand a number of their stadiums if they wanted. They don't. The money that they'd spend on expansion goes into other parts of the team. Make something nicer, renovate something, building something, promote something, market something.

They still have money to spend, just like college football for many of the reasons you listed. But CFB chose to go bigger. Instead, they should've chilled and just went nicer. 

But that's hard to do when you know you can go bigger, sell those additional tickets and build more revenue. It's simple math, if I add 20,000 more seats, sell them all for $50 a game, have 7 games a year....I just made myself a cool 7 million dollars.

But what happens when I can't fill those 20,000 seats anymore? Well now I'm shooting fireworks and doing Beyonce videos and all this other crap to try and get people to my game...and I'll settle for people who have never been to my game because I need/want the money.

Michigan will always be fine for the big games...but I know when I was growing up, we'd PACK that stadium on a Saturday to see Michigan play anyone. It was about watching Michigan.

That's no longer going to happen. It's just reality and it's reality for the majoriry of schools across the country because you can't play a rival every single game.

It's only a matter of time before Michigan doesn't get 100,000...hell they probably hit it last year and lied about the number. They're going to have to this year if they want to keep the streak alive.

For too many people, yes, Dave Brandon sucks...but it's not about him or anything other than "why would I pay all that money to go to a game when I can watch it clear as day at home...then watch 6-7 other games too?"

If the answer is "because it's Ohio State" then for many people that's good enough. If the answer is "because it's Miami (OH)" then many people are going to save their money and sit at home and support the maize and blue as hard as they can from their couch.

Funny how attendance is down across the nation, but TV viewing skyrockets...people are still interested, they're just not as interested in actually being there.