SBD/May 29, 2013/Colleges

SEC Addressing Potential Football Attendance Concerns During Spring Meetings

Smaller student crowds are contributing to the SEC's attendance drop
One of the "greatest concerns" among SEC coaches and administrators at the conference's spring meetings this week is the "future of college football attendance," according to Tony Barnhart of CBSSPORTS.com. While the SEC led all conferences in average attendance last season, "that figure has actually gone down for four consecutive seasons." The SEC has created the Working Group on Fan Experience and "charged it with coming up with recommendations to deal with a new reality in college football: Because of technology, the in-stadium experience is lagging behind what fans can get at home." SEC consultant and former Mississippi State AD Larry Templeton said, "At Mississippi State we determined that 60 percent of our fans drive 90 miles or further to attend our games. ... But we can't just assume that they will always make that commitment." The working group has "already identified" a number of issues, including stadium WiFi. Cell phone service and WiFi are "spotty at best in most large stadiums," and fixing it "is going to cost a lot of money" -- about $2M per stadium. Student attendance also has "dropped or, if the students do come, they show up late and leave early." Georgia has "cut back its student allotment for tickets from 18,000 to 16,000 per game." Fans also said that they are "growing tired of paying premium ticket prices for cupcake opponents." Some fans will "put those tickets on the secondary ticket market or just stay at home for what they know will be a blowout." The SEC is going to "invest some real money into high-level market research to discover what fundamental changes have to occur that will allow the conference to at least hold on to the attendance it currently enjoys" (CBSSPORTS.com, 5/27). YAHOO SPORTS' Frank Schwab wrote college football has an "advantage in the attendance battle." There is "more to a college football game experience than, say, the relatively sterile experience of being at a NFL game." The "traditions, the bands and cheerleaders, the unique venues and the college towns will always make going to a game in person different than staying at home" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/28).

SLIVE'S TAKE: SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said of potential attendance problems, "The time to deal with an issue is when you don't have it and try to think ahead. ... We took a baby step last year when we started showing the same replays inside our stadiums that fans were seeing at home. Right now, our stadiums are filled to 96, 97 or 98 [percent] capacity. This is the time to stay ahead of the curve." Meanwhile, Slive said of initial reaction to the SEC Network, "Very positive. Wherever I go, people come up to me and talk about the network. How can they access the network? What's going to be on the network? The other question is what is the content going to be? Over the next 15 months, we will develop the content." Slive also said of hiring radio host Paul Finebaum for the net, "Some people like Paul and some people don't. But everybody will tell you that he is interesting, regardless of the angle or the point of view you come from." He added of the new College Football Playoff, "I am very happy with it. The new (six-bowl) structure gives more than just two opportunities for our teams. ... Everybody's agreed we want the four best teams (in the playoffs). The academic schedule has not been disturbed. The fans wanted a playoff and we found the right model" (CBSSPORTS.com, 5/27).

FINDING A HOME: Slive yesterday said that SEC ADs voted "unanimously to explore a primary site for the men’s basketball tournament" rather than rotating the tournament on a yearly basis. Slive said that the league’s "success in making Atlanta the host of the football title game and Hoover, Ala., the host of the baseball tournament has spurred interest in anchoring the basketball tourney." YAHOO SPORTS' Pat Forde reported the "presumptive leader to become the SEC’s primary site is Nashville," which hosted this year’s tournament and is scheduled to host in '15, ’16 and ’19. Since '00, the tourney has been in "Atlanta seven times, Nashville four times, New Orleans twice and Tampa once." But as crowds have "dipped to sizes too small to require use of the Georgia Dome, Atlanta has not been in the rotation as often recently." It may "never be what Madison Square Garden was to the Big East, but Bridgestone Arena has been a popular venue" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/28).

PLAYING 9-BALL: In Florida, David Jones writes the SEC is "bouncing around the needs to produce good TV with the needs to protect conference strengths and protect big nonconference rival games." The SEC Network makes its "debut in 2014, which means even more thirst for events to draw audiences." But the conference is "debating adding a ninth league game to the schedule, which turns arguably the toughest conference in the nation into a potential nightmare for its own members." But it is "great for the potential in advertising dollars and viewer numbers." Slive "doesn’t expect any decision this week" (FLORIDA TODAY, 5/29).
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