Dennis Dodd: In era of technological, financial change, has college football peaked?

Submitted by Mr. Yost on January 22nd, 2013 at 11:05 AM

Interesting article and topic. Also, it begins with Mark Hollis (MSU AD) talking about the MSU v. Iowa game that was empthy last year. We tend to poke fun at that game - so I found his take noteworthy.

Goes into average attendance in CFB and whether it's becoming more like the NFL (in that fans would rather watch on TV).


OPINION: My take - no, the recent decline is more about competitive advantage/disadvantage and scheduling than it is anything else.

I've worked in college athletics for 8 years now...I certainly don't see a decline in interest. You're always going to have new students who want their 4 years to tailgate, have fun, go to games. You're always going to have new season-ticket holders that have been waiting forever to finally get their seats.

The problem is the current state of CFB. The scheduling is bad and the BCS/realignment situation is killing tradtion and competitive balance. If you're in the Big 5 conferences, you don't have to schedule ANYONE non-conference. Win the SEC, B1G, ACC, Pac-12 or Big XII and you've got a good shot to be in the National Championship game.

Games have also become more predictable, less upsets due to this poor balance.

Toss in the access and TV experience and its no wonder why people stay home. HDTV and 50" LEDs have a huge affect on whether someone goes to the game or not.

Also, don't discount the recession...people just don't have as much disposable income anymore. Ticket prices aren't going down with the economy, they're going up to pay for new stadiums with new seating, press boxes, aminities. Some people just can't afford to go to a game like they used to.

Last thought: I bet if you did an MGoPoll on if you'd rather go to Michigan vs. Minnesota/Indiana/etc. in the cold (20-40 degrees) or sit at home and watch the game on ESPN, on a 50" LED'd get WAY more people that took the TV now than 10 years ago when the TV option was a standard def 32" tube TV.

With that said, I think after the CFB landscpe settles...attendance will go back up. Maybe that'll be a new 80 team league with 8 divisions and a playoff. I don't know. But once they finally figure it out, I think CFB will be fine.




January 22nd, 2013 at 11:17 AM ^

Reallignment is destroying tradition, the NCAA somehow seems to be an even more laughable regulator than before, and the sport's journalism is dominated by a near monoply (ESPN) that both covers the sport and sells some of its major entities/figures while it sells itself.  What could go wrong?

Another thought:  Why does college football need to keep getting bigger?


January 22nd, 2013 at 11:46 AM ^

MSU is also evolving into a basketball-first school.  It's not to the extent of Indiana or Illinois, but interest in football there has been fading over the past decade.  The good 2010 and 2011 seasons temporarily boosted interest in football (though even then they did not always sell out) but their fan support in 2012 was similar to pre-2010 levels.

Zone Left

January 22nd, 2013 at 11:15 AM ^

I'd argue it's peaked, but for a different reason. Bundled TV is going to die in the next decade or so, and that will kill the big money the Big 10, SEC, and others are bringing in. I hope Michigan pays off that crew facility...

Mr Miggle

January 22nd, 2013 at 2:12 PM ^

Are you saying that bundled TV is going to die, therefore cable networks will make less money, therefore they will pay less for some of their most popular shows? While not agreeing with your first premise, I would think an al a carte system would put a premium on networks keeping their most popular programming.


January 22nd, 2013 at 11:15 AM ^

This could be true, and the trend might continue. However, I think we won't see this in AA anytime soon. Every game, you talk to so many people making their first trip. Some are coming from chicago, Missouri, even Kansas city. You also talk to people who never miss a game. With all the things we can put in a man cave to make watching sports more fun, it doesn't replace game day at the big house


January 22nd, 2013 at 11:17 AM ^

The Big House sells out every game, regardless of who they play. It's not a problem with tradition or technology, it's about how strong of a fan base you have. UMich has it, MSU does not.


January 22nd, 2013 at 11:20 AM ^

And the "experience" is getting pretty crappy at lots of televised sporting events.  Once TV reveue starts to exceed ticket sales, what's the incentive to make it "fun" to go to a game.  As you can probably guess from my avatar, I've gotten into MLS since I left AA.  The level of play isn't what you see on TV in Europe, obviously, but I have a goddamn blast.  A big part of the reason is that your average MLS team still makes most of it's money at the gate, so they still give a crap about the fans that show up.  

Short version: being in a stadium during a "TV timeout" really, really sucks.

State Street

January 22nd, 2013 at 11:42 AM ^

MLS in most cases does not make most of their money at the gate.  Take for example RBNY - they have some of the worst attendance/fan support in the league but still have the highest payroll.  Sponsorships, kit deals, TV, etc. are all fixtures of team related income.

PS what team is that in your avatar?  Union?  Quakes?

PB-J Time

January 22nd, 2013 at 3:11 PM ^

C'mon the U! That is the avatar of the Sons of Ben-the main supporters group of the Philadelphia Union. Going to these games is more fun than going to the Eagles games. I still love being in Michigan Stadium, but a lot of that is due to it being sentamental. I agree that going to Philly Union >> TV whereas going to Big House >or= to TV (UTL notwithstanding) and finally Eagles/NFL<<<TV.

My concern is as TV timeouts get longer and longer for CFB that going to the games will feel more like the NFL. This means more incentive to stay home, actually drink a beer while watching the game, cheaper better food, etc. I think that we are going to see attendance continue to go down in CFB. What we may see is Michigan and other powerhouse programs continue with huge attendance but the MSU, Illinois, Cal, Cinncy type schools will see a dip...if not plumet of attendance

Hank Hill

January 22nd, 2013 at 11:29 AM ^

I know that people are attached to their mobile devices and sometimes I want to go all Herm about it. I do think that with students in particular, not being able to have a phone for three plus hours is like a death sentence. However, the college football experience has changed for students. It is about the party. The sex, the booze, the drugs (I enjoy all three). If your team is not playing for a national or conference championship, students, in general, care much less about going to games than they do watching it somewhere they can drink. How many times have there been complaints about Michigan students on these very boards and diaries and front pages?


January 22nd, 2013 at 11:35 AM ^

I would much rather go to a Michigan vs Minnesota/Indiana game than watch Michigan vs MACrifice on TV.


The solution is and always will be MOAR B1G games.  Why can't we have 10 conference games.  ND doesn't want us and we will always have good non-conference games in the playoffs or in bowl games.  As much as DB loves 8 home games I think 10 conference games is better than 9.


January 22nd, 2013 at 11:40 AM ^

College football is in danger of going NASCAR where it gets too far away from its roots.  Things look good for a while as new money and visability rolls in, but when the novelty wears off, you've alienated your core base of sustainable support.

West Virginia vs. Pitt is perpetually sustainable, no matter what.  West Virginia vs. Texas Tech is totally dependent on both teams being ranked.




January 22nd, 2013 at 11:42 AM ^

It's peaked for me personally, I don't know about as a whole. I find myself following other sports more than I do college fball, which used to be #1. I've become very disillusioned w/ the sport b/c of expansion, the mockery that is the governing body and half-assed media coverage.


January 22nd, 2013 at 11:56 AM ^

I think it has peaked as well. I think the novelty of the BCS has kind of worn off and although the playoff will breath new life into the sport, I think it'll be short-lived. I think a lot of the interest has also aligned with the increased interest in all levels of football, recruiting, and gambling. It seems like we may have peaked in a number of these areas, and if it hasn't peaked, than perhaps the rate of growth of interest has peaked and we may be plateauing soon. 

I think a new technological/media product will have to emerge if things are to continue on the path we've seen in the past decade and a half or so. 


January 22nd, 2013 at 12:02 PM ^

that the other sports aren't? Is it mostly a college football problem, or a sports problem? (Or maybe an entertainment problem, because I think movies are facing a lot of the same issues)


January 22nd, 2013 at 12:14 PM ^

I don't know.  People have been predicting the demise of stadium attendance since the advent of television, yet attendance figures for most sports have increased over the past few decades.  I believe college football attendance is at or near record levels overall. 

lexus larry

January 22nd, 2013 at 1:56 PM ^

they're using Michigan Athletic Department sold versus actual attendees.  Corporate ticket grabs may mean more money, but ultimately fewer seats filled.  Using your example, look in the background of ANY baseball game, up to and including the wildcard playoff games, and you'll see row upon row of empty seats.  As many have mentioned, it's kind of a hassle to do all the ancillary things to get there, unless you're committed to the whole dealio.  And this goes for MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA and CFB.  Parking costs money.  Dining out prior (or tailgating) costs money.  Even drive time has its costs...especially upon departure postgame.  These aren't 2-3 hour slices of time, unless TV/DVR is there for's 5-6 hours, all the way up to 10 hours (for the hardcore tailgater).  (Forget if you're the host of your tailgate...packing starts the night before or in the wee hours at o'dark thirty.)


January 22nd, 2013 at 2:46 PM ^

Using your example, look in the background of ANY baseball game, up to and including the wildcard playoff games, and you'll see row upon row of empty seats.

This has always been true. In the "Golden Age of Baseball," no one went to the games. Teams routinely played before crowds of 10,000 or less.  Attendance started to pick up when they went to night games, but remained lousy by today's standards for decades.  Again, it was not that long ago (the 1980s) that an attendance total of 2 million was considered excellent. The Tigers never drew 3 million fans in all their years at Tiger Stadium. They've reached that milestone about five or six times at Comerica. League-wide, average attendance is higher now than it ever has been.

lexus larry

January 22nd, 2013 at 2:56 PM ^

Lies, damn lies and statistics.  (Not you, JMB...leagues and sponsors, etc.)

Comerica Park has a capacity of 41,782.  Multiply by 81 home games, you get 3,384,342.  I don't think that the Coma had over 89% seats filled, on average, for every home game.  They do well, no question, but watching all sports, there are TONS of empty seats.  If someone were to ask me, I'd say that the attendance is now "counted differently" than back in the days of yore, as you point out.  Truly, it was only 1-2 decades ago that 2M in attendance was the gold standard for MLB teams.

*He may have said it, or repeated it, or been the first to have written it down.

French West Indian

January 22nd, 2013 at 5:04 PM ^

Baseball & perhaps especially Comerica Park (with it's merry-go-round, ferris wheel, etc) will often draw people in casually to be "at" the game without really sitting crammed in a seat watching the game.

On a nice summer evening in the city, it's not a bad idea to head out to the ballgame on a spur of the moment and linger on the concourse drinking beers with friends even if you don't really watch the game.  Football, admittedly is diferent. 


January 23rd, 2013 at 8:02 AM ^

I know it's the "paid attendance"  and not the in-game turnstile count - but that's been true for years.  The fact of the matter is that baseball historically has been played before scanty crowds (you can look this up) and now those crowds are closer to being full than ever before.  You cannot find any data, anywhere, suggesting that stadium attendance is worse now. 

It bears repeating: the Tigers never drew 3 million fans at Tiger Stadium, despite the fact that it held over 50,000 seats.  Their record for that stadium was 2.7 million in 1984.  They've already surpassed this several times at Comerica, despite the fact that it holds only 41,000 seats. 



January 22nd, 2013 at 4:32 PM ^

Unless you live close to the stadium (true for me for Michigan football...not true for me for any of the professional sports) you're probably paying for a good portion of a tank of gas to make it to and from the game. Nowadays that can cost more than a Michigan ticket used to cost.

Then you have to put up with people.  It's like the movie experience (and they're finding any way with 3-d and HFR to try and get people away from their big tvs).  Sure, being around people makes it a fun communal experience, but odds are you'll have the kid texting in the theater, or the drunken guy screaming a college kid, or the horror that going to an NFL game can be. 

It goes in steps. Sports aren't to the point theaters are, but they could get there. I used to go to a lot of road games, but it finally came to the point of "is it worth it to drive that far, take up the whole day, just to be around a bunch of assholes to try and support the team?"  I don't get ushered in and out with cops a a bus, I have to put up with them. If that's my step, who says "I'm too old for this shit going out and getting cold." Does it turn into the play/musical theater, where people still attend, but ticket prices are outrageously high to compensate for the smaller audience? I don't know.


January 22nd, 2013 at 2:46 PM ^

is what percentage of the population is going to games?  30 years ago the population of the US was a lot smaller than what it is today.  Is a greater percentage of the population going to games today? Or is it a smaller percentage of the fans going to games that is masked by the fact that the overall population is much greater. 



January 22nd, 2013 at 12:12 PM ^

mumbo-jumbo is killing some of the purity and endearing nature of college football. It doesn't feel as much about great traditions and traditional rivals as much as it does corporate marketing, TV deals, and nonsensical realignments.

I think cfb and especially conference bigwhigs are taking a big crap on fans and are seriously exploiting their fandom. I mean, Rutgers was only added because the B1G is going to try to force NJ to put the BTN on their basic cable. That's kind of the last 5 years of CFB in a nutshell there and I can't blame people for just saying 'f*ck this'


January 22nd, 2013 at 12:16 PM ^

When Dodd was quoting Hollis about monetizing the game to a point where attendance is becoming secondary, I realized that I had ticket revenue data and the estimated payouts from the conference for television per team. It comes out to the following.

(NOTE: Nebraska does not get the full amount as yet, and Northwestern does not report revenue data, so they aren't in the table)

NEBRASKA $31,716,096 $14,000,000
PENN STATE $35,634,458 $24,600,000
PURDUE $15,875,167 $24,600,000
OHIO STATE $50,009,395 $24,600,000
WISCONSIN $27,333,229 $24,600,000
IOWA $23,180,905 $24,600,000
MICHIGAN ST. $22,737,191 $24,600,000
MINNESOTA $21,404,771 $24,600,000
ILLINOIS $16,533,261 $24,600,000
MICHIGAN $41,668,589 $24,600,000
INDIANA $12,233,244 $24,600,000

Granted, this is a snapshot, but it might be part of a larger trend - even in a rather monetarily gifted Big Ten, six of these eleven listed teams (and I bet Northwestern would be in the same boat, so say 7 of 12) are at a point now were the payouts from TV outpace their ticket revenue. I would have to believe you would get similar results in other major conferences too.


January 22nd, 2013 at 1:16 PM ^

when exceeded, will result in steadily declining ticket sales to average fans who actually give a damn about the team. Whether we're there yet I can't say, but even if I were on the waiting list I'd have to swallow hard before I would spend the thousands of dollars for season tickets that Michigan now charges.


January 22nd, 2013 at 1:23 PM ^

But yes, it peaked several years ago.

  1. Conference realignment: College sports are about proximity and tradition. At the end of the day, college sports are selling an inferior product. They make up for it with proximity and tradition. Conference realignment obviously gets rid of that. It doesn't just affect the conference I care about. It eliminates my interest in a national slate of games.
  2. Money: I have less of it...they seem to have much more. I am one of the lucky ones. I kept my job during the recession. I have a college degree and a professional job that offers great benefits and a solid salary. And yet, when I get home from work tonight, I'll feed the two dogs, run them outside to pee, change clothes and go to my SECOND job that I had to take to pay the bills. Meanwhile, college coaches and their staffs are making millions for a game that seems worse
  3. Corruption: The hypocrisy of "amateur sports" is already pretty bad. But when you couple it with all of the scandals and the NCAAs complete INaction, it's tough to swallow. Look at Penn State and UNC. Those were supposed to be the GOOD guys. If the good guys are doing that, what the hell are the bad guys doing?
  4. The live experience is pretty awful. I grew up tailgating and going to college football games on Saturdays. These days, I'd rather watch a single game and just sorta casually keep up with the rest of the schedule on my phone. Going to a game is a hassle. It's ridiculously expensive and when you get to most stadiums, you're bombarded with non-stop advertisements blaring at you. Might as well watch the game at home where I control the "mute" button.

Again...I can't speak for anyone but myself. But 10 years ago, I was the biggest college football fan in the world. Come August, you could find me watching tapes of old games and just JONESING for the season to start. These days? Meh....


January 22nd, 2013 at 4:30 PM ^

1. If college football realignment gets rid of proximity and tradition, then it would seem to follow that the additions of Penn State and Nebraska to the Big Ten were detrimental to the conference.

Of course, we know that's not true, so your blanket statement also isn't true as well.  Michigan-Penn State wasn't a traditional matchup when it was first played in conference back in 1993, but it was a highly anticipated game that's become part of the B1G's emerging tradition.  Michigan-Nebraska has been played two years and both teams are in the same division--is anyone here thinking getting UN-L into the conference was a mistake because the Cornhuskers weren't a traditional rival and because Lincoln, NE is so far from Ann Arbor?

Texas A&M joined the SEC and became an instant hit by beating Alabama and having its QB win the Heisman Trophy.  Do you think there are any Aggie fans right now who don't think joining the SEC was a bad choice?  If there are some, you can probably count their numbers using one hand.

If you focus strictly on Rutgers and Maryland joining the B1G as your sole example, then you're going to be in error.  These things all work out differently based on the teams involved and how quickly they become part of the fabric of the conference.   If Notre Dame or Pittsburgh were to join the Big Ten in some future scenario, would you be harping about tradition and proximity? 

2.  I don't think college football is worse.  I can remember the days of the Big 2, Little 8.  Take a look at those players from 25 to 40 years ago on a youtube video, compare them to the modern game and ask yourself if the game is actually getting worse.

I would also add that the additional money means better facilities, better choices for coaches, etc.  Alll of that helps game quality.

Now are the tickets more expensive?  Absolutely.  There is a great convenience in place to just stay at home, watch the games on television (big screen, HD) and never leave the living room. 

3.  It's hard to disagree with you on that, but it's not a new phenomena.  That part of the equation has always been in the college game.  It's likely more publicized than in the past because it's being caught more.

4.  What has really changed about the live game experience at Michigan Stadium that makes it so awful?  I recall the times when concessions were limited and the lines to the restrooms were fairly long.  The scoreboards are bigger and add video replays--something they didn't have when I was a freshman back in 1978.  The seating is still cramped, so that hasn't changed.  Is it the rawk music that's made it worse because the tailgating seems pretty much the same to me?  I don't recall seeing any advertisements in Michigan Stadium either outside of the Adidas logos.

When I read your comments, it seems to me it's just become too expensive for your tastes.  It's not a "quality question" as it is a "money in the wallet" matter. 

If there is another expansion of Michigan Stadium with more seats being added astride the scoreboard, I hope David Brandon or one of his successors makes them the cheap seats or the family section with markedly lower ticket prices.  You want to bring in families and new fans all the time, so having what's akin to a bleacher section in terms of pricing and location would seem to be a good move because it'd bring in people with pocket book issues that may keep them away from attending a live game.











January 22nd, 2013 at 4:38 PM ^

I think Penn State as in the northern rust belt, and Nebraska on the true plains midwest still fit in the proximity of the Big Ten. As would your examples of ND (duh) and Pitt (moreso than PSU obviously). I think people would still have some of these problems if we added FSU and Texas. And those are good programs. A & M expands their footprint, but I'm not sure it's totally out of place in a conference with Arkansas in it. Or LSU. Arizona might be. 

The bigger question is in what way DO Maryland and Rutgers fit?

Traditions can be created, but it's not like any way we've done it before.


January 22nd, 2013 at 4:40 PM ^

"then it would seem to follow that the additions of Penn State and Nebraska to the Big Ten were detrimental to the conference."

Except that you are choosing one example to combat a larger, national trend. Do you think ACC fans give a damn about Syracuse and Boston College playing Miami in anything? How happy are you that a visit to Wisconsin is now a once-a-decade trip? 

Do you think there are any Aggie fans right now who don't think joining the SEC was a bad choice?

That's one year. And I remember when the SWC collapsed and yes, they were plenty upset.

I don't think college football is worse.

Compared to what? I was comparing it to the NFL. 

What has really changed about the live game experience at Michigan Stadium that makes it so awful? 

Nothing. Who said I was limiting my response to one stadium?

His Dudeness

January 22nd, 2013 at 1:44 PM ^

It has to happen sometime. I think with nicer resolution tv sets and feeds along with rising ticket prices you will definitely see more and more empty stadiums.

What I really wonder about are the bowl games. I can't for the life of me understand why anyone would go to one - unless they were already in the area or planned a family vacation around it. To travel that far and pay that much for a game you can watch at home with nice zoomed replays and cheap beer; why would anyone go?


January 22nd, 2013 at 1:47 PM ^

I think it has peaked also. It's amazing how fast we got to this point too. Now, even if you get to the rose bowl, does it really matter? We used to be satisfied with that, but now it's basically just viewed as a consolation prize if you're not in the national championship hunt.


January 22nd, 2013 at 1:50 PM ^

He either knows he's full of shit or he's an idiot (I'll go with the latter). The kids didn't show because they'd already taken a couple losses and they didn't feel like sitting in the rain.  Their parents had already paid for the tix so there was no pain felt in not going.  Each individual made a decision to go to the the game, recover from his hangover, study, watch on TV, get with his girlfriend, or scope out potential sofas for future sacrifice.   None thought about whether he could send a text from the stadium any more than my dad considered not going to a game in the rain because he was afraid of damaging his 35 mm.