How Schools Can Address Declining Student Attendance at Athletic Events

Justin Suter by on Aug 08, 2017

Since 2009, colleges and universities have observed a disturbing decline in average student attendance at football games, with a 7.1% average decrease across the board. This alarming trend is highlighted in a Bloomberg Businessweek article that cites recent statistics revealing average student attendance at Football Bowl Series, the top-tier of NCAA football, dropped for the seventh straight season. Declining student attendance is particularly concerning for schools because individuals who do not engage with their school’s athletic program as students are not likely to become supportive alumni who donate. Clearly, colleges can no longer sit back and expect the traditional allure of collegiate athletics to fill their stadiums; rather they need to experiment actively in making their athletic events more appealing to students.

So far, three schools beginning to think outside the box include:

  • Florida Atlantic University – Elicited student feedback through surveys. Students are now allowed to use their meal plans to purchase refreshments at sporting events.
  • New Mexico State University – Adopted a “minor-league baseball approach,” featuring family-friendly entertainment.
  • University of Akron – Sponsored a free musical festival before the football team’s first 2016 home game in tandem with a local radio station.

The student section at a University of Michigan home game is sparsely filled.

Michigan averaged the highest attendance among FBS schools in 2016.

Another potential solution to the attendance problem is SuperFanU, an online platform used by schools such as Michigan, Florida and the University of South Carolina. The program provides a framework for school administrators to add events to a calendar and to assign differing levels of points for each event. Students download the app with the calendar of events and check in to those events for points; the idea is to accumulate the highest number of points to qualify for prizes. The app uses geofencing to set the check-in area, and once students cross this virtual threshold they can log in to earn the designated points. The app lists everyone who has checked in, allowing officials to select individuals from the list randomly to award a prize. A message feature also lets administrators contact fans directly. Schools can give away prizes at events’ halftimes or intermissions but can also choose to create a year-long competition to see who can become the ultimate fan. Anyone who downloads the app can see the leaderboard, which updates following each event. Administrators can set higher point thresholds for big rivalry games and announce in-game giveaways to create a buzz. In addition to athletic events, the app can also help increase participation in plays, concerts, fundraisers and more. Further, students can purchase tickets and merchandise directly from the app, upping the convenience factor.

SuperFanU How It Works Page (Truncated)

Tickets sales and donations are two hugely important aspects of collegiate athletics programs’ bottom lines. The universities that are thinking outside the box when it comes to revenue generation, and those adopting programs like SuperFanU, stand the best chances in terms of reversing the stadium-draining trends.

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About The Author

Justin Suter

Justin is an Analyst for Property & Casualty Insurance Monitor at Corporate Insight. Read more