This morning the attendance figures across college football were released and the news is not good if you’re a Purdue fan. We knew that, however:
Big Ten: In the first year with nine Big Ten games, the league averaged 66,162 fans (up less than 1 percent from 2015). The return to prominence of Michigan and Penn State Nittany Lions helped offset smaller crowds at Maryland and Rutgers Scarlet Knights since they joined the league in 2014. Penn State was drawing roughly 4,000 fewer fans per game a couple years ago.
That’s great for the league, but for Purdue...
Purdue 34,451 -8% 60%
That’s the paid attendance, the percentage drop from 2015, and the capacity of the stadium that was filled. Here are your attendance numbers from each game:
Eastern Kentucky: 32,074
Nevada: 41,607 (Band Day)
Iowa: 40,239 (Homecoming)
Penn State: 33,157
Ross-Ade Stadium’s official capacity with the South End zone bleachers gone is 57,236. That means Purdue had at least 16,000 empty seats per game, and our highest attended game is when we had several thousand high school students in various bands there. For five of seven games we had over 24,000 empty seats.
And, this was just paid attendance. As in tickets actually purchased. I was at all 7 games and there is no way there were over 30,000 people physically in the stands for the last two games. I’d be surprised if there were more than 20,000 against Wisconsin because of the weather.
This is not just lost ticket revenue, either. It is lost revenue from parking. It is lost revenue from concessions. It is lost revenue from merchandise sales. Hell it is lost revenue from fans that go to a football game, then hang around to watch a volleyball match or something.
Purdue did not host an Ohio State or a Michigan this year, but it did host both Big Ten title game participants. At one time in the very recent past we had a capacity of 62,500, meaning for the final two games the stadium was less than half the old capacity. If the improvements to Ross-Ade are ever done we will likely see seating in the range of 65,000 again anyway, so we have a long, long road ahead.
For fun, let’s say we get the stadium to 65,000 seats again. That mean to sell out every game we would need 31,000 additional seats. Sell each seat at $25 per game (a conservative estimate, as most games are $35-45) and that comes out to $5.425 million in ticket revenue alone (not concessions, parking, merchandise sales, etc).
But remember, football is only a $5 million opportunity.
Here is the average attendance for the past three years before this one:
From 1977-1988, Purdue had an attendance average of at least 60,000 every season, the highest average being in 1981 with 69,892. The last season Purdue averaged an attendance of at least 60,000 was 2005. Also worth noting is the fact that from 2013 to 2014, there was a decrease of 13,684 in average attendance, the second largest single-season drop in Purdue history.
In 11 years Purdue football attendance has dropped by 26,000 fans per game.
Mike Bobinski and Jeff Brohm have a difficult task ahead of them, but so far both have at least taken steps in the right direction as opposed to making excuses like their respective predecessors. I am relieved to see that both are thinking big and of the future. Bobinski has clearly convinced Mitch Daniels and the Board of Trustees that dramatic investment is needed because the status quo has gotten us to where we are now.
UPDATE: We went ahead and made some cheap Excel graphs to show how attendance has been decreasing consistently since 2007. In the 2nd graph, we’ve removed the bump in 2013 (which saw a rise in sales from a popular home schedule and some of the initial hype that came with Hazell’s hiring).