Time Out with Mark Russell

In the past five years, there has been a major decline in college football attendance. It has become very worrisome to athletic officials who are now wondering if the next generation of college football fans will even show up to games.

We’ve seen it firsthand at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Tech struggles to sell out games unless Tech is playing UGA or Clemson. Some of the decline in attendance at Tech may have to do with the slump of the Tech football program as they continue to struggle against Division I competition. Big time football programs like Alabama, Georgia, Florida and even Florida State have problems filling up their crowds, especially their student sections.

Tech expanded Bobby Dodd Stadium by 11,281 seats following the 2002 football season. For the 2003 football season, Tech sold out two games that year and had an average attendance of 52,862, and every game at home had a crowd over 50,000.

Tech has come nowhere close to those attendance numbers the past decade. Tech is selling more tickets than they did when the capacity was 43,719, but there are many more empty seats in Bobby Dodd Stadium. The fan base does seem to be larger as attendance at an ACC game has never been as low as the abysmal 35,724 fans who showed up to watch the Duke game back in 1998, which was a season where Tech finished ranked No. 9 in the country.

One reason for the decline may be that mobile technology has really exploded the last few years. In the past, it was only college students and business people with a smartphone. Now almost every parent, student and working class adult has a smartphone.

The outbreak of smartphones has caused a ton of mobile social media applications to be created. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have been extremely popular for adults and especially college students. An obsessive addiction has been caused by these apps and people often find themselves meaninglessly surfing the web and not able to be disconnected from the world longer than one hour.

At football games and especially at Bobby Dodd Stadium, you will be very hard pressed to find a quality phone signal for either Verizon or AT&T. Using popular social media apps and score checking apps becomes very hard to use. Students and season ticket holders cannot access Wi-Fi at the game. For some people, this inconvenience is enough to keep them from coming to the game.

Another reason for the decline are television contracts. Conference expansion seems to be wrapped up and the ACC is now home to 15 teams. Expansion was pushed by the television companies and conference officials trying to seek as much money as possible for new television contracts. Athletic departments are getting more money than ever before because of contracts with companies such as CBS, ESPN, NBC and Fox Sports.

Due to the outrageous price for some college football tickets, some fans are choosing to stay home and watch it on their couch in front of their HDTV’s where they are already paying a monthly fee for cable. At home, you have the power to watch multiple games, allowing viewers to easily keep track of the scores of other games.

Personally, I love to attend college football games. It’s my favorite sport, and the passion that the coaches and players have are second to no professional sports team. But there are some students who have become reluctant to attend games and choose to stay back at their rooms or houses where they can watch multiple games at once, eat and drink much more easily and not have to worry about being uninformed on other college football games.

The excitement surrounding college football student sections no longer seem to be the same either. Students have become more into tailgating and easily become disinterested with a game. Even the University of Alabama has had problems with students failing to show up to games and leaving at halftime. Their three national championships in the last five years do not seem to be enough to keep the energy high around their student fan base.

A solution to the attendance problem is to improve the overall fan experience at the games. The NFL has started to do this and it is succeeding as attendance problems for NFL games are very rare. But the NFL has more money and billionaire owners, so it’s easier for them to make improvements on their stadiums and game atmosphere. Adding free Wi-Fi for fans to use would definitely be a start and a big improvement that students would love here at Tech. Winning isn’t always a solution for fixing attendance as some of the best programs in the country cannot fill up their stadium, but winning more games against rivals would sure help attendance at Tech.

To try to fix their fan experience, the University of Texas has announced they will be selling beer at all sporting events. Football and drinking seems to go hand in hand and it will be interesting to monitor how much money they make and how quickly other schools follow their lead.

Athletic departments need to act fast to fix this problem because it seems that attendees of college football games are becoming a dying breed.