College football attendance declines for seventh straight season to lowest average since 1981

At Arkansas, there is a simple solution to college football’s ongoing attendance crisis: Just win (big), baby.

Razorback Nation has wrapped its heart around coach Sam Pittman to the point Arkansas had the second-highest attendance gain among FBS teams in 2021, a whopping 14,353 fans per game, compared to the last full season in 2019. The Hogs are coming off their best season in a decade (9-4) after starting 4-0, a run that included the first win over Texas at home in 40 years.

Arkansas is also an extreme outlier. FBS attendance last season hit its lowest point in those same four decades years, according to annual figures compiled by the NCAA. The average for the division’s 130 teams slipped to 39,848 fans per game. That’s the fewest since 1981 when the average was 34,621.

Nationally, the average attendance in 2021 was down 15%, more than 7,000 per game, from a record mark of 46,971 in 2008.

There are exacerbating factors. Most notable are a disquieting return for some fans concerned about large crowds and COVID-19 and a growing list of small-stadium bandwagon jumpers moving up from FCS to FBS. It’s also easier and less expensive to watch games on TV at home.

However, it’s bigger than that for a trend that continues to define the sport in the 21st century, according to SEC commissioner Greg Sankey.

“There’s plenty of, if you will, negativity around the collegiate sports world,”  he said. “People have said, ‘Well, these decisions won’t affect fan interest.’ Well, something certainly is. It’s not just TV. It’s not just COVID. We have to rethink our approach on key issues. That’s almost a Captain Obvious moment.”

In this age of name image and likeness rights, the transfer portal and court battles, this serves as a…


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