I know I’ll get some heat for this, but for the first time in 42 years I do not have season tickets for RU football. Being in North Carolina, it just isn’t practical for me to have them. Last year I still was in possession, but sold all of them. It just doesn’t work for me. And, yes, I’m sure there are others who live a distance away who do go to games. As the saying goes (sorta), that’s them and this is me. And, for the record, it doesn’t mean I won’t go to games; it just won’t be through a season ticket package.
That being said, my TV provider – soon to change to YouTube TV – must have the Big Ten Network. And FS1 and CBS Sports Network and…..well, you get the idea.
So, without me there, let’s talk about attendance at Rutgers. Who will be there on Saturday versus Wagner? I’m looking at all you fans who don’t live in North Carolina. You – in Bergen County. How about you in Cape May? Or you, the one scratching your nose sitting at home in Easton, PA? You live close – will you be there? Or will playing Wagner bore you?
How boring was Iowa’s home opener against FCS South Dakota State? Or the nail-biter in Lincoln against – again – FCS North Dakota? Nebraska has had 383 consecutive sellouts at Memorial Stadium. If you figure seven home games per season, that’s a string of about 54 years! Didn’t matter that they were playing an FCS team; the Husker faithful were, well, faithful.
When I wrote for OTB, I got my kicks following up on attendance in the Big Ten. Yeah, it was sort of a goofy personal thing, but Rutgers fans have been criticized (I think somewhat fairly) for not turning out for games; and that doesn’t even get into the late arriving fans, the early departing fans, and the barbs we’ve taken about the size of the stadium compared to the behemoths in the B1G.
As I used to do, I’m charting game attendance for 2022. Now, it seems that different schools report things differently. I used to write that Rutgers might report, say, 37,000 in attendance. And I’d get comments to the extent that "there weren’t more than 20,000. Lots of empty seats in the upper deck!" Rutgers appears to report tickets sold as opposed to fannies in the seats. Which kind of skews the results. Other side of the coin: if you have a 70,000 seat stadium and draw 50,000 (which RU would be very excited about) you only filled your building to 71% of capacity. I always thought that was important, and it’s why I used that stat then and still look at percent of capacity with attendance.
It should be noted that college football has had an attendance problem for years. Despite the fact that the Big Ten as a conference increased its total attendance last year – the only conference to do that – overall the sport is losing folks at the game. I’m sure my not being there is having a huge impact. But the reasons are numerous, including time, cost, and 70-inch TVs in your living room. But the excitement of being at a game is pretty great. If you want it. And maybe that does come down to playing someone other than Wagner.
As a test, let’s say your opponent is Rutgers in your home opener? How did BC do in attendance? The Eagles reported 35,048 in the house; that’s 78.7% of capacity. Which is still better than Maryland’s announced attendance of 30,223 versus Buffalo. Better in absolute numbers and way better in percent of capacity. Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium has a capacity of 51,802, meaning their home opener had just 58.3% capacity, the lowest of any B1G team playing last weekend. The next lowest filled was Indiana, at 84.2% filled in a conference opener against Illinois.
Can Rutgers do better than that? At 52,454, SHI Stadium is the fourth smallest stadium in the B1G. How many will show up on Saturday? The win over BC opens a real path to bowl eligibility. Wagner, then Temple, could mean 3-0 entering the conference home opener against Iowa on September 24, possibly a winnable – at least competitive - game. How does that sound? Would that draw fans into the stadium? And let’s be reminded: Wagner is a 4:00 game. No excuses of it being at noon and too early.
In 2019, the last full attendance year pre-Covid, Rutgers averaged just 30,082 over seven games. Last year, in six home games, RU averaged 44,630. That’s a major leap forward, even if it only indicates tickets sold as opposed to people in the stadium. With a seemingly better team and a path to bowl eligibility, will fans turn out for Wagner? Will they be there for Iowa if the team returns from Temple at 3-0?
In ten home games this past weekend, the Big Ten averaged 69,556 in attendance, an average of 66.2% capacity. And that included over capacity totals at Michigan (101.8%), Nebraska (101.3%), Ohio State (103.7%), and Purdue (100.04%). Iowa reported a full house, too. Only the Terps reported less than 84% in the house. Are we better than Maryland? Can we be?
Oh, yeah. I’m also keeping tabs on the new-kids-soon-to-be-on-the-block. Against Bowling Green, UCLA drew 27,143 fans to the Rose Bowl. 27,143!!! That’s 29.8% of capacity at the Rose Bowl; it was less than one-third full. In fairness, it was an 11:30 kickoff, and you know how RU fans will complain about getting to the stadium for noon. Across town, USC hosted Rice in a 3:00 kickoff; that game drew 60,113 to the Coliseum, just over three-fourths full.
When RU hosts Wagner this Saturday, every B1G team except Maryland will be playing at home. Seven of the 13 games will be against FCS teams. Should be interesting to see which fan base supports its team better.