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2021 Purdue Football Attendance: A Pandemic Rebound

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We put some butts in seats this year.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Just five years ago the subject of attendance at Purdue football games was labeled as “a $5 million opportunity”. It was the final year of Darrell Hazell’s ill-conceived experiment, and attendance was dismal. Purdue averaged less than 35,000 fans per game in a 57,000+ seat stadium, and that was just paid attendance. There were a lot of games in 2016 that there were definitely fewer than 30,000 people actually there. The program was dead, and if you factor in an average ticket price of $50 per seat per game, the $5 million estimate was incredibly shortsighted,. Getting 20,000 more per game for six games would net $7 million alone before any other game day revenue over a seven game home slate.

Well, I was right. $5 million was, indeed, extremely shortsighted.

Thanks to a pair of sellouts against Wisconsin and Indiana, plus a “capacity” crowd against Michigan State, Purdue averaged 56,332 fans per game in Ross-Ade Stadium this year, its best average since 2008 when capacity was significantly larger. You also have to factor in additional parking and concessions revenue, and alcohol sales introduced in 2017 throughout the stadium also generated more income.

Since this involves numbers and such our resident scientist Juan Crespo provided a great chart that puts everything in perspective:

(Juan’s photo is missing the IU game data)

Purdue Football Attendance

2016 Attendance 2017 Attendance 2018 Attendance 2019 Attendance
2016 Attendance 2017 Attendance 2018 Attendance 2019 Attendance
Eastern Kentucky 32,074 Ohio 45,633 Northwestern 47,410 Vanderbilt 50,506
Cincinnati 33,068 Michigan 60,042 E. Michigan 47,661 TCU 60,037
Nevada 41,607 Minnesota 42,085 Missouri 48,103 Minnesota 50,629
Iowa 40,239 Nebraska 41,411 Boston College 47,119 Maryland 52,296
Penn State 33,157 Illinois 46,027 Ohio State 60,716 Illinois 58,735
Northwestern 30,548 Indiana 52,105 Iowa 60,716 Nebraska 50,606
Wisconsin 30,465 Wisconsin 46,114 Indiana 55,338
TOTAL 241,158 TOTAL 287,303 TOTAL 357839 TOTAL 378147
AVERAGE 34451.14286 AVERAGE 47883.83333 AVERAGE 51119.85714 AVERAGE 54021
2021 Attendance
Oregon State 53,656
Illinois 52,840
Minnesota 51,111
Wisconsin 61,320
Michigan State 57,748
Indiana 61,320
TOTAL 337,995
AVERAGE 56332.5

This merely adds to what Jeff Brohm has been able to do in West Lafayette. Yes, he is still underwater for his overall record, but the program turnaround is still significant and a few more 8-4 (or better) seasons won’t keep him underwater for long. We have seen an increase in attendance each year he has been at the helm (2020, of course, aside), and this year it was even more important. Purdue was coming off of two straight disappointing seasons and had zero fans due to the pandemic in 2020. It needed a boost, and the opening night win over Oregon State unquestionably provided said boost. That was likely a situation where people just wanted to come to football again, but the win showed there was going to be a product worth watching.

The two lowest attended games were understandable. Illinois is not often a big draw and Minnesota was played in a steady downpour, driving fans away, but the last three games were huge. Wisconsin and Indiana were officially labeled as sellouts. Michigan State was “above capacity”, as the official capacity is 57,236, but not quite a sellout.

Under Brohm there have now been six sellouts (attendance above 60,000), when the eight years of Hope and Hazell had only two such games. Both of those were large draw night games involving Notre Dame, which is almost always a guaranteed sellout. Better yet, there have now been 13 straight games over 50,000, a significant improvement after 23 straight games under Hazell that were below 42,000 fans per game.

If there is one downside it is the move to the 9-game Big Ten schedule. It has eliminated a 7-game home schedule for the some years because we have upped our non-conference schedule strength. We’re often on a “two home/one away” non-conference schedule each year. Purdue had a 7-game home schedule every years from 2006-19, save for 2017. That year we still played a neutral site game against Louisville in Indianapolis that at least had split revenue (think of it as a 6.5 home game schedule). This was the first time Purdue has had a six-game home schedule since the schedule expanded from 11 to 12 games (it was originally going to have one in 2020), and it will have one again in 2022. The 2023 schedule will have seven home games again, but 2024 will be six and 2025 will be seven. Basically, in years we get five Big Ten home opponents we are getting seven game home schedules, with this year being an exception since we went to UConn and Notre Dame. The 2026 is set to be a three-game home slate in the non-conference with Wake Forest, Notre Dame, and Indiana State, but it will likely be a four home/five away Big Ten schedule. The current Big Ten schedules are set through 2025.

Having that seventh game is big for revenue but it turns out that when you invest in football and win games, more people how up. An incredible economic concept, to be sure.

I have already renewed my three tickets for 2022. Why haven’t you? Let’s get the average attendance over that 57,236 mark, as we’re less than 1,000 away. It could be tricky though. We have our first FCS game in six years with Indiana State coming to town (expect the return of BAND DAY), and the other non-conference home game is against Florida Atlantic with a small, distant fanbase. Penn State, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Northwestern are a mixed bag of opponents, with Northwestern coming off a bad year where they couldn’t even sell out their Wrigley home game.