Having sixty-thousand up at Lavell Edwards Stadium for a BYU football game used to be a given. That is no longer the case. For the third straight year, BYU failed to average 60,000 fans for their home games. According to BYUCougars.com, average fan attendance for 2016 was 58,568.
Here are the attendance numbers from 2016:
Sept. 17 vs. UCLA 62,904
Sept. 30 vs. Toledo 62,230
Oct. 14 vs. Mississippi State 62,184
Nov. 12 vs. SUU 59,302
Nov 19 vs. UMASS 51,190
Nov 26 vs. Utah State 53,603
Average - 58,568
Attendance is trending in the right direction as the average for 2015 was 58,532 and 2014 was 57,141 according to NCAA.org. The disappointing part is that prior to 2014, the last time BYU averaged under sixty-thousand was 2005. Additionally, since 2009, BYU has seen a whopping 9% decrease in its attendance from 64,326 to 58,568. The nationwide average is down only 7% in that span.
Many expected Kalani Sitake and the new coaching staff to account for a large uptick in ticket sales, but 38 fans per game is marginal to say the least. A lot of people can look at this as still a positive considering college football attendance is down nationwide over the years but from 2015-2016 there was only a 1% change.
Michigan and Florida both increased their season average by six thousand when they changed coaches between 2014 and 2015. While the caliber of programs are not the same, the excitement for the new coaching staffs at the three schools are quite similar.
Several have suggested that independence is the reason why attendance has gone down for BYU, as the November home schedule is almost always very weak. However, when you look at the schedules in the years leading up to BYU going independent in 2011, it’s hard to prove that’s case.
Ryan Comer of the Standard Examiner points out that from 2007-2009, BYU averaged over sixty-four thousand fans each year. Not only was that the average, every home game had over that amount throughout those three years. BYU played Eastern Washington, Northern Iowa, Wyoming, New Mexico, UNLV and Colorado State which isn’t exactly murderers row, yet had a sell-out each time.
The state of Utah is also seeing tremendous growth each year which makes this more puzzling. What is likely to blame for the downturn in attendance is the ESPN contract. Games that previously were only available for purchase individually or not at all on TV, are available to any sports fan.
Although the financials are unknown surrounding that deal, Sports Business Daily reported in 2010 that BYU would receive around a million per home game and potentially more. If true, that is likely a net-positive for BYU from a financial standpoint.
The goal now should be to get the best of both worlds, nationwide exposure AND fans in the stadium.