Every Saturday, college football fans are faced with a choice: They can buy tickets to watch their local college football team in person, amid thousands of other screaming supporters. Or they can watch the games from the warmth and safety of their couches, enjoying crisp TV production and snacks that don’t cost $12.
More and more, fans seem to be choosing the latter option.
On Tuesday, CBS Sports reported that college football had experienced its second largest attendance drop ever and largest since 1983. Per CBS, average attendance across the sport was down from 43,612 per game in 2016 to 42,203, the lowest figure since 1997, marking the fourth straight year of decline. The dip reportedly continues a near decade-long trend that has seen attendance fall by 10.1 percent since peaking in 2008.
There are several possible reasons attendance is down in college football, from increased ticket prices to America’s general discontentment with the sport as a whole. But the primary cause would seem to be technology. Every year that goes by, fans have more screens, bigger screens and clearer screens at their disposal. As we all grow increasingly depended on our various devices, the prospect of standing outside for three hours without WiFi becomes less and less appealing. Via CBS:
College sports has long been at odds with how to manage the time/value relationship. In other words, how to make attendance at a live event more valuable than the alternatives, which range from remaining at a tailgate outside the venue to viewing on a smartphone while on the go to watching in the comfort of one’s living room.
“It’s a technology issue,” said Wright Waters, Football Bowl Association executive director and former Sun Belt commissioner. “The public is ahead of us every day in what they can get from technology. We have not been able to keep up.”
This dynamic impacts attendance across sports, but it figures that it’s particularly powerful in football, a sport that features long games and bad sight-lines in cold weather. As long as ticket prices are what they are and Americans’ attention spans are what they are, college football attendance probably won’t rebound anytime soon.