SBD/July 31, 2013/Colleges

SEC Not Immune To Football Attendance Issues, Looks To Increase Fan Engagement

The SEC's streak of seven straight national championships has "coincided with sagging attendance," and the conference has responded by forming an "eight-person working group on fan experience to conduct market research on campuses this fall," according to Edgar Thompson of the ORLANDO SENTINEL. The conference needs to "find ways to fill some of the game's largest, most-celebrated stadiums." But college football "remains king in the SEC," which has "weathered the dropoff better than others." The conference last year "led the nation in attendance for the 15th straight year" with an average of 75,538, but that was down from the '08 peak of 76,844. Nine of 14 SEC schools last year "drew fewer fans" than in '11. Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork said, "It's easy to sit on that couch and watch a 70-inch or 80-inch, high-def television. ... TV is important, that obviously pays a lot of our bills, but we have to make sure we have the best atmospheres on campus because that is our livelihoods in many ways." Florida Exec Associate AD/External Affairs Mike Hill said that a focus group at the school revealed the "spotty Internet connectivity" as the top reason students leave games. He added that some schools throughout the nation "have installed WiFi or DAS (distributing antenna signal) with mixed results." But Thompson wrote a "modernized gameday experience still might not stem dwindling ticket sales." Mississippi State AD Scott Stricklin said, "The tailgating, the energy in a stadium ... you can't recreate that at home on your couch. Our TV partners do a great job of showing it, but it's not the same as being there" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 7/30). SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Michael Smith recently examined the SEC's efforts to improve fan experience at its football stadiums.
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