Big 12 Attendance Rates Can't Compete
By Steve Pipps
Some teams in the Big 12 are looking to make a few changes this offseason. Baylor plans to unveil McLane Stadium on Aug. 29, just two days before its home opener against SMU. Oklahoma is working on plans to expand Owen Field to hold about 90,000 fans.
However, neither of these two expansions will allow the Big 12 to compete nationally in attendance averages. McLane Stadium will hold 45,000 with the possibility of expanding to 55,000. If Oklahoma goes through with its renovation plans it will increase its stadium capacity by just under 8,000. These increases will do little to impact the ever-growing divide between the SEC and Big Ten attendance levels and those of the Big 12.
The Big 12 might be a powerhouse conference when it comes to level of play, but it has ground to make up in attendance. Last year the Big Ten and SEC dominated the list of the top 14 schools in average attendance. Only Texas and Oklahoma, No. 4 and No. 13 respectively, represented the Big 12 in the Top 30.
Texas has ranked in the Top 5 in average attendance since the 2007 season. The Longhorns averaged 98,976 in 2013 and Oklahoma averaged 84,722.
Before realignment, the Big 12 was home to Nebraska, Missouri and Texas A&M, all of which rank in the Top 25 in average attendance.
Overall, attendance in college football has slowly declined in the last few years despite jumps in attendance in both the SEC and the Big Ten. In 2013, the SEC set a conference record with 7.56 million fans attending games. The Big Ten also set a conference record with 6.12 million. The Big 12 was a distant fifth* with 3.88 million.
Obviously the Big 12 has the disadvantage of not having as many teams as both the SEC and the Big Ten. The total number of games played last season was 100 for the SEC, 87 for the Big Ten and 66 for the Big 12. So that has to be the cause of the discrepancy, right?
Even if the SEC played 66 games last season it would have netted 4.99 million. That’s because the conference averaged 75,674 fans per game, while the Big Ten averaged 70,431. The Big 12 averaged only 58,899. The conference doesn’t have the depth in stadium size as the Big Ten and SEC do.
Nationally, Texas Memorial Stadium ranks No. 6 in capacity with 100,119 seats (spots 1-5 are held by Big Ten and SEC teams). Oklahoma sits at No. 16. The next Big 12 team is Texas Tech at No.47. There are a slew of teams in the 50s while Baylor and TCU hold down the last place in the Big 12 with a capacity of 45,000.
To compete with these two power-house conferences in attendance, the Big 12 would have to add at least two teams, one or both of which ranked in the Top 30 for average attendance. The smaller schools in the conference would also have to increase the size of their stadiums substantially. This would all mean more fans could attend, but it doesn't more fans would attend.
However, if you add too many seats, you decrease the demand for tickets and even decrease the enjoyment of getting tickets to a game.
Barry Switzer put it best. In an article on NewsOK, Switzer said, “we're a small state and you want them to fight for those tickets and it be a premium for them to come to Oklahoma games.”
Does it matter n the grand scheme of things? No.
The Big 12 is one of the top conferences in the country based on its high level of play. If it keeps raising the caliber of play within the conference, teams will sell out more often. I’d rather have the highest sellout percentage than the highest average attendance.
*Although both the Pac-12 and the ACC managed 4.28 and 4.84 million overall attendees last season, respectively, I’m not including them in the argument because both teams averaged fewer attendees per game. Both conferences also have more teams, which translates to more games than the Big 12. Proportionally the averages are smaller, but the number of games allows the yearly totals to jump above the Big 12.