BOZICH | Tale of the football turnstiles at U of L, UK, IU, WKU
With the 2015 college football season in the books, how did the attendance shake out for Louisville, Kentucky, Indiana and Western Kentucky. The final numbers are surprising.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – What was the value of having Florida State and Kentucky on the home portion of the Louisville football schedule?
After two seasons in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the answer appears to be nearly 4,000 fans per game.
Did the buzz created by the renovation of Commonwealth Stadium help Kentucky overcome the sting of another losing season?
The answer at the turnstiles was, “Yes.”
Crunching one final set of numbers on the 2015 college football season from a local perspective:
*Although Louisville started its home schedule with Houston and Clemson, a pair of terrific opponents, interest in the Cards slipped this season, primarily because of empty seats at the Boston College (weather) and (starless) Syracuse games.
A year after setting a school record by averaging 52,972 fans per game, Louisville’s average home attendance this season slipped to 49,069, a decline of 7.4 percent.
My explanation: No Florida State or Kentucky on the home schedule. Yes, Houston (12-1) delivered a great season, but unbeaten Clemson was the only visitor with any sizzle. Florida State came to town in 2014 as the defending national champions with Jameis Winston at quarterback. The Seminoles’ pre-game frolic at Waterfront Park was an added bonus.
This was Year Two of Louisville’s move to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium crackled with energy for Louisville’s first ACC game against Miami last season. It’s not easy sustaining adrenaline at that force.
The Cards started slow, losing their first three. Mostly blah games against Samford, Boston College and Syracuse drew what you would expect: Average crowds of 45,922.
Louisville’s average home attendance ranked 44th nationally and seventh in the ACC.
I expect crowds to grow next season. The last time Louisville football attendance declined was 2011. That was followed by three consecutive seasons of increases. There is evidence the bounce back has already started. Louisville sold its initial allotment of 8,000 seats for the Music City bowl in less than 24 hours. The Cards then sold a second allotment and moved to a third, for the game that will be played against Texas A&M in Nashville on Dec. 30.
*Despite the grumbling surrounding the finish of Kentucky’s 5-7 season (and the empty end zone seats at the Louisville game), the Wildcats’ attendance increased by 6.5 percent to 61,295 per game.
That ranked 27th in the nation, but only 12th in the Southeastern Conference (ahead of Ole Miss and Vanderbilt). Consider that part of the joy and the pain of life in the S-E-C, S-E-C.
The Wildcats benefited from home games with Florida, Missouri, Auburn, Tennessee and Louisville.
The challenge for UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart and coach Mark Stoops will be sustaining interest next season without having a bowl appearance, stadium renovation or proven star player to market.
*Playing Michigan and Ohio State in Memorial Stadium was not good for Indiana’s won-loss record, but it was excellent for the bottom line.
The Buckeyes (52,929) and Wolverines (49,557) brought the season’s two largest crowds to Bloomington, helping the Hoosiers finish with an average attendance of 44,314, a gain of 6.4 percent from 2014.
IU’s home attendance ranked 53rd nationally and 11th in the Big Ten. (IU led Illinois, Purdue and Northwestern.)
For the Hoosiers, the challenge is simple: Win the Pinstripe Bowl against Duke, scramble to sell more tickets for 2016, especially with a home schedule that will feature a chance for IU to win a fourth straight Old Oaken Bucket game against Purdue.
*Building a solid FBS football program requires time. Building sustainable interest in that program requires more time.
That’s what should be considered when looking at Western Kentucky’s attendance for this season. The Hilltoppers’ season average of 17,960 ranked 110th among 128 FBS schools, but the total was a 10.1 percent increase from 2014. There’s work to do in Conference USA. The Hilltoppers ranked eighth in the league they won.
It’s easier finding a record-setting quarterback than filling every seat. Remember that.
According to numbers in the Louisville football media guide, U of L’s average home attendance did not climb over 16,000 and stay there until the 1978 season. In 1977 Louisville’s per game home average was 15,791.
Western is trending in the right direction.
Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.