Attendance is shorthand for fan support. So let's listen to what this year's attendance told us.
In General, the NCAA is not very timely about putting their annual attendance numbers with previous years. Luckily I was able to find a more reliable source ---- "TexasJeremy" from the scout forums for this data (Yeah NCAA, That was a dig!)
Let's start with the conferences sorted by attendance.
(Power 5 conferences)
1. SEC - 78,284
2. Big Ten - 65,998
3. Big 12 - 57,405
4. Pac 12 - 51,333
5. ACC - 48,329
(Group of 5 conferences)
6. AAC - 31,870
7. MWC - 23,744
8. CUSA - 19,825
9. Sun Belt - 17,424
10. MAC - 15,357
I have bolded the "attendance powers" ---schools that draw upwards of 70,000 a game and greyed schools in that very solid 60,000 -70,000 range.
Now a lot of this data is somewhat misleading, but that becomes clear when you start to crunch it a bit.
What isn't misleading is that the SEC destroys all other conferences when you look at attendance. This is why despite owning a series of incredibly poor states, they can leverage those populations so well with their network. (well... having Texas and Florida helps too, :p)
The only school not in those two tiers is Vanderbilt, the conferences's token private school, whose presence allows the SEC to hide their books.
SEC3. Texas A&M (7) - 103,622
4. Alabama (7) - 101,112
5. Tennessee (7) - 100,584
7. LSU (7) - 93,441
8. Georgia (7) - 92,746
9. Florida (7) - 90,065
12. Auburn (7) - 87,451
16. South Carolina (6) - 78,822
21. Arkansas (7) - 67,326
23. Missouri (6) - 65,120
26. Mississippi State (7) - 61,784
27. Kentucky (8) - 61,295
29. Mississippi (7) - 60,479
66. Vanderbilt (6) - 32,134
The Big 10 has 6 attendance powers (including #1 and #2..) driving their network, plus wealthier states. While the bottom half of their conference is nothing to write home about in attendance terms, the academic associations work for the conference.
Just a very solid conference by today's standards.
1. Michigan (7) - 110,168
2. Ohio State (7) - 107,244
6. Penn State (7) - 99,799
11. Nebraska (7) - 89,998
17. Wisconsin (7) - 78,014
19. Michigan State (7) - 74,661
24. Iowa (7) - 63,142
39. Minnesota (7) - 52,355
47. Rutgers (7) - 47,723
52. Maryland (7) - 44,341
53. Indiana (7) - 44,314
58. Illinois (7) - 41,342
60. Purdue (7) - 37,508
65. Northwestern (7) - 33,366
And now things start to fall apart. If you notice, the Big 12 has two attendance powers, the PAC-12 has one and two 60K schools (with Oregon just short of that each year), and the ACC has two with a 60K school. It becomes pretty clear why each of the three conferences would like to steal the other's attendance power schools. Add UT and OU to either the ACC or the PAC and the cavernous difference between them and the Big Ten diminishes overnight.
But let's take a look at the conferences individually.
Let's be clear, the Big 12 is both a better attendance conference than it showed last year and by the same token it isn't.
On the one hand Kansas was historically bad after a series of coaching changes robbed the roster of all talent. When they are good, they draw 50,000. When they are mediocre (I mean when they are normal Kansas) they draw in the 40's. Last year was an aberration. They have a quality coach now and the talent should be better this year. If they compete a little better they should hit attendance in the 30's this season.
Likewise UT is finally climbing out of the talent hole Mack Brown left them. UT's fans are generally spoiled. They certainly had soft attendance to watch an overmatched team. The worm will turn for them as well this year. While they drew in the mid 90's for Tech and mid-80's for most of the out of state Big 12 conference, this year they should see 5000-8000 more fans just due to a much improved offensive scheme and more talent. I would not be surprised to see UT pulling 100K for good games and 95K for bad.
So just off that The Big 12 is probably going to be averaging 58-59K this season. But that is the good news. The bad is that the rest of the conference cannot bring it.
When you look at how Iowa State (of all places) has ramped up their game, one wonders why schools like West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech cannot evolve into 60,000+ draws, but it just seems unlikely. WVU is isolated so the schedule won't help unless they can aggressively schedule big 10 powers in non-conference. Oklahoma State probably just needs to focus on pulling a few more of their fans in. Certainly playing schools like Arkansas, Louisiana Tech, and Missouri would help. Texas Tech is really hurt by playing schools out of division. They would be smart to be whispering in UT's ear to just tolerate 12 and cut in conference play to 7 games.
The rest of the conference is fairly mediocre from an attendance perspective. And they are also a mixed bag in terms of esteem, with four of the lowest ranked academic schools in the P5 ranks in Texas Tech, West Virginia, Kanas State, and OSU.
This is the elephant in the room for UT and OU. This is why while both acknowledge it is their best regional home, neither is ready to commit to it beyond 2025. This is why they both look at BYU as a good expansion candidate. This is why one can totally imagine UT and OU walking out one day soon.
10. Texas (6) - 90,035
13. Oklahoma (6) - 85,357
31. Oklahoma State (7) - 57,668
34. Iowa State (6) - 56,519
35. Texas Tech (6) - 56,340
36. West Virginia (7) - 54,826
37. Kansas State (7) - 53,100
49. TCU (6) - 46,767
51. Baylor (6) - 46,160
77. Kansas (7) - 27,282
The PAC is a victim of existing in the nice part of the US.
Why watch football when you can go climbing or skiing or surfing? Call them the anti-SEC.
USC and UCLA's attendance moves like the waves from year to year. Last year was really kind of an off year for both, but when UCLA is on they are both attendance powers.
If the PAC ever did what they really need to and cut their deadweight, they would be a much stronger position. If they just trimmed Washington State and Oregon State, their attendance would have been a much healthier 55K last year.
Washington has been mediocre since the Don James era, but if two PAC recruiting competitors vanished from their backyard, the winning that fueled their attendance would return. Likewise Oregon would see a bump. Overnight, both could climb into the mid to high 60's annually.
Noobs Utah and Colorado are underperforming for no reason.
50,000 was a normal number for Colorado a few years ago. The Buffaloes need to get better on the field, but maybe more than that, they need to take advantage of nearby opponents. filling the schedule with games against CSU, BYU, Air Force, UNM, and old Big 12 rivals KSU, OU, and Nebraska would help fan interest.
40-45k is the norm for Utah, but really that is stadium capped. They need to be expanding Rice-Eccles Stadium in two steps to about 65k. Salt Lake City is an awesome sized city for a collegiate program and they are the only game in town. I think they can fill 55K easily and with work could move into that 60K range. I think if they drag their feet too much on this, they could get into some conference realignment trouble.
18. Southern Cal (7) - 75,358
22. UCLA (6) - 66,858
25. Washington (7) - 61,919
32. Oregon (7) - 57,631
38. Arizona State (7) - 52,712
40. Arizona (6) - 51,393
42. Stanford (7) - 49,917
45. California (6) - 48,800
50. Utah (7) - 46,533
59. Colorado (6) - 39,389
62. Oregon State (6) - 36,079
72. Washington State (6) - 29,407
The ACC has much better bones than the numbers suggest.
FSU and Va Tech underperformed a little. Louisville could easily expand their stadium and be pulling 55K. As I covered in the last article on the conference specifically, if Miami built a 65,000 seat stadium within 7 miles of campus, they would likely mostly fill it. They are a slumbering giant.
Really the ACC looks like a poor conference because of the influence of ESPN over the years. If you eliminate the schools ESPN encouraged (or at least rubber stamped) the ACC adding for a future ACC network, the picture is quite a bit different.
I recently advocated converting Duke and Wake Forest to Olympic-only members, dropping Boston College, Syracuse, and Louisville along with adding Temple to create an easier product to create a network around. That would have the ACC at just under 56K per school --- and that is without fixing Miami's stadium issues.
14. Clemson (7) - 81,751
20. Florida State (7) - 73,219
28. Virginia Tech (6) - 60,824
33. NC State (6) - 56,988
41. Georgia Tech (7) - 50,707
43. North Carolina (7) - 49,643
44. Louisville (6) - 49,069
46. Pittsburgh (6) - 48,150
48. Miami (6) - 47,561
56. Virginia (7) - 43,285
67. Syracuse (7) - 32,102
70. Boston College (7) - 30,205
78. Wake Forest (6) - 26,674
80. Duke (6) - 26,427
When you look at the AAC totals, it is pretty clear the AAC needs to shit or get off the pot.
What I mean by this is that right now the AAC is oatmeal. It isn't bad, but it's pretty forgettable.
They either need to leverage their recent football and basketball success and expand, or the eastern schools need to seriously consider breaking away.
The whole idea of this wide of a geographical footprint was to capture multiple time zones and leverage that into a nice media payday. Boise State fucked up the first attempt and the AAC schools stopped grinding and accepted a crappy payout.
There are two ways you can fix that. You can either make another expansion attempt to leverage in more markets and more good draw schools, or you can regionalize and quickly transform your conference into a better Mountain West-level conference but one with good lucrative markets to leverage against.
To me the fulcrum is Texas. Either you do Texas right and maybe even grab schools like UNM, Air Force, and CSU, or you cut your ties with south central and become a Memphis -eastward new Big East-type conference.
The trouble with a sprawl is that you don't get travelling fans and you lose the chance for program building rivalries.
So which will it be? A mega-sprawl conference like the old Conference USA? Or a more regional thing? This in-between business isn't cutting it.
UConn, USF, and UCF were off last year. While geography is hurting them, there is no question they will be better in future years. I could see all three of them in the high 30's again soon.
The south central schools outside of Memphis...I don't know how much you can say that.
If Houston, SMU, Tulane, and Tulsa were not in the conference, the conference would have averaged just under 37K...and that isn't calculating for the off years of UConn, USF, and UCF or the detrimental affect of out of division play on attendance on a conference of this size.
That is certainly something to think about.
Right now the attendance gap between the AAC schools and the MWC schools is about 8K. That's a pretty big gap. But shed those schools and that gap is immediately almost twice that!!!
Should the conference want to then consider re-expansion to 12 for divisional play with eastern additions (JMU, Ohio, Buffalo, Old Dominion, UMass, etc.), they certainly could and would still be in a better position than today in media terms.
If you want to differentiate, that is one way to do it.
On the flip side, there is straight expansion. If the conference went all in on Texas and the Southwest, it would be a game changer.
Right now part of the reason the AAC struggles is that they have a token presence in Texas. They are former CUSA v.2 schools and have built a conference that emulates that fairly forgettable conference. They are going with the same "just enough" thinking.
Thinking bigger would pay off. Rather than have a token presence in Texas, dominate the region at the G5 level. Grab all the public regional giants in Texas. Maybe SMU will block UNT, but adding UTSA, Texas State, and UTEP, would give you access to almost all major markets in Texas and bring in schools that can draw at home and away in state.
That is state-wide media influence.
With those schools in, the AAC would have a lot of appeal to the MWC's eastern schools. I could totally see UNM, CSU, and Air Force jumping ship for better TV money and Texas recruiting, giving the conference the two military academies they really need to drive TV revenue to high levels in a "national" conference.
Two nine team divisions. One focused on Texas.
That also would differentiate the AAC from the rest of the G5 by taking Texas recruiting and TV off the table for other conferences.
But like they say in the song "closing time", "You...can't...stay...here."
54. Temple (6) - 44,159
55. Memphis (6) - 43,802
57. East Carolina (6) - 43,274
61. Cincinnati (6) - 37,096
63. Houston (8) - 33,980
68. Navy (6) - 31,669
71. Central Florida (6) - 30,065
76. Connecticut (6) - 28,224
79. South Florida (6) - 26,578
88. Tulane (6) - 22,930
95. SMU (7) - 21,043
100. Tulsa (6) - 19,622
The MWC is a dinosaur. It's an old school regional conference with limited TV appeal. While I like some of the schools, I don't think much of their commissioner or their conference.
They are too oddly comfortable. If they ever get raided, it will probably help them to evolve into a better conference.
They member schools have added and then abandoned Texas schools in several conferences so they've kind of fucked themselves in terms of adding rich Texas TV markets.
I don't understand why the conference isn't offering New Mexico State or Wichita State an Olympic-only membership. That hits me as dumb given Hawaii is a football-only member. Adding another tourney level program to the conference will probably increase the conference's at-large bids by one. But like I said, it isn't a conference whose decisions I respect much.
64. Boise State (6) - 33,612
73. San Diego State (7) - 29,066
74. Fresno State (6) - 29,036
82. Air Force (6) - 26,026
83. Colorado State (6) - 24,917
84. Hawaii (7) - 23,433
89. New Mexico (7) - 22,562
90. Nevada (6) - 22,170
93. Utah State (6) - 21,362
104. UNLV (6) - 19,371
109. Wyoming (6) - 18,060
118. San Jose State (6) - 15,312
CUSA has a fair bit of internal pressures.
They have too big of a footprint to have as many out of Division games (ie. bad draws) as they have. I think that is a conference that is screaming for expansion to fix that problem.
Adding say one of the Georgia Sunbelt schools and Texas State would make a world of sense in almost every way.
75. Southern Miss (6) - 28,335
81. Marshall (6) - 26,322
85. UTEP (5) - 23,212
86. UTSA (6) - 23,008
96. Louisiana Tech (6) - 20,977
99. Old Dominion (7) - 20,118
105. Rice (6) - 19,339
110. Western Kentucky (6) - 17,960
111. Florida Atlantic (6) - 17,617
113. Middle Tennessee (6) - 17,210
117. Florida International (5) - 15,381
119. Charlotte (6) - 14,618
121. North Texas (5) - 13,631
The Sunbelt is a better conference under Karl Benson. They just suck at basketball.
I think they made a great decision to cut ties with Idaho, but as I have written previously would be very smart to reconsider New Mexico State for a basketball bump.
They are leaving money (potentially a lot of it in the current market) on the table and stunting the conference's development by being short-sighted.
87. Arkansas State (6) - 23,007
91. Louisiana-Lafayette (6) - 21,596
92. Appalachian State (6) - 21,459
98. Georgia Southern (6) - 20,780
103. Troy (5) - 19,399
107. Texas State (6) - 18,166
112. New Mexico State (5) - 17,486
114. South Alabama (6) - 16,039
123. Louisiana-Monroe (5) - 11,732
124. Idaho (6) - 11,653
126. Georgia State (6) - 10,347
I've written about this at length before. The MAC is killing the perception of that conference by allowing EMU to remain.
Any analysis of honestly reported attendance over the last 30 years would show that. They need to man up and kick them out. Maybe then they can make another overture to UMass as an all-sports member. Tough living as an indy these days....
94. Ohio (6) - 21,323
97. Toledo (6) - 20,842
101. Bowling Green (5) - 19,608
102. Western Michigan (6) - 19,441
106. Buffalo (6) - 18,457
108. Akron (6) - 18,098
115. Miami (OH) (6) - 15,707
116. Central Michigan (6) - 15,672
120. Northern Illinois (6) - 13,942
122. Kent State (6) - 12,561
125. Massachusetts (6) - 11,124
127. Ball State (6) - 7,974
128. Eastern Michigan (6) - 4,897
ND and Army are fine.
BYU had built up to 3 years of attendance at 64,000 from 2007-2009. Independence is bleeding them out.
Recruiting has fallen off.
Their coach left as the situation is untenable.
Their attendance has been down about 7000 the last 3 years and I suspect the number this year is going to be 53,000.
If Utah gets their stadium expanded anytime soon, BYU may find themselves #2 in the state in attendance.
BYU needs to actively curry any offer they can to get their football program into the Big 12, before the Cougars do lasting damage to their program.
15. Notre Dame (6) - 80,795
30. BYU (6) - 58,532
69. Army (6) - 30,991