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Big Ten Bowl Game, Season Attendance: Good Or Bad?

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The Rose Bowl was the only Big Ten-attended bowl venue to achieve 100 percent capacity. Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images.
The Rose Bowl was the only Big Ten-attended bowl venue to achieve 100 percent capacity. Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images.

ESPN’s Brian Bennett posted the Big Ten’s bowl game attendance numbers for 2014 last week, showing yet another down year for bowl ticket sales. But does that necessarily mean attendance is down in the Big Ten

Looking first at the bowl games, of the seven Big Ten teams that played in a bowl this year — Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa Michigan and Minnesota — just three saw total attendance above 90 percent of capacity. The games included the Rose Bowl, which was the only Big Ten bowl game to sell out, the Orange Bowl featuring Ohio State and Clemson, which ran at 95 percent capacity, and the Gator Bowl featuring Nebraska and Georgia, which ran at 90 percent capacity.

The Capital One Bowl, Outback Bowl, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and Texas Bowl averaged out at 69.5 percent capacity. Of those, the Capital One Bowl featuring Wisconsin and South Carolina led the way with 81 percent capacity while the Texas Bowl featuring Minnesota and Syracuse drew just more than 32,000 in attendance at a stadium with a capacity of 71,500.

The most alarming stat relates to the ticket allotment given to each school. The Big Ten averaged just more than 55 percent sold and Michigan State was the only team to sell out. The Spartans sold all of their 24,000 allotted tickets for the Rose Bowl, and subsequently played in the only Big Ten bowl game to sell out completely. Iowa clocked in second, selling 96 percent of their 11,500 tickets for the Outback Bowl. Surprisingly, the worst numbers came from Nebraska as the Cornhuskers sold only 3,000 of their 12,500 allotted tickets to the Gator Bowl.

However, don't let the numbers from the bowl games fool you as the Big Ten reports a record 6,061,514 in total attendance in 2013, defeating the old record of 6,008,124 set in 2011. According to ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg in a December 2012 post, the Big Ten’s average attendance dropped 0.5 percent from 2011 to 2012, and in some locations such as the University of Illinois the attendance dropped 8 percent. The team-by-team numbers for 2013 haven’t been released yet, but using basic math, if the Big Ten is claiming 6,061,514 people attended games in 2013, then the average attendance per team is more than 72,000 per game. This would put the conference near a 3 percent increase from 2012 and a 2.5 percent increase from 2011.

Additionally, how will Maryland and Rutgers joining the Big Ten in 2014 help (or hurt) the conference's attendance numbers? In 2013, Maryland averaged 38,878 in attendance which is up nearly 8 percent from 2012. Meanwhile, Rutgers averaged 55,168 in 2013, up nearly 14 percent from 2012. If the two incoming schools were factored into the 2013 Big Ten attendance numbers, the average attendance per team per game should actually drop to just more than 68,500, a near five percent drop. `

The 2014 season also brings the death of the BCS and the birth of the new playoff system. It is unclear how the playoffs will affect the “lore” of such games as the Rose Bowl — which now is a part of the rotation for the national semifinals, or the Big Ten championship, which should become an annual play-in game for the College Football Playoffs.

Though the 2014 bowl season showed a lackluster Big Ten turnout, the 2013 season overall was a great success for the Big Ten Conference.