College football in-stadium bowl attendance rises, but what does it mean?

The lousy thing about numbers is that they can say whatever the heck a person wants them to say just by moving the goal posts a bit to suit whatever argument they want. Numbers are eye-catching and look powerful, which is why people tell you that if you can sneak some stats in on a resume, you’re going to get bonus points with the guy taking two minutes each reviewing a stack of them.

For all the brouhaha about the television ratings for the 2015-16 college football bowl season resembling the break room when someone decides to microwave fish for lunch, the Football Bowl Association gleefully noted Wednesday in a news release that in-stadium attendance was up.

Is it Fun with Numbers, Cooking the Books, a little fudging, or are people shockingly taking more boots to the ground to attend bowl games?

Your answer is: both.

The release pointed out that attendance had been taking a flogging since the 2008 recession, and it’s been most damning visually, turning on especially lower-tier bowl games and seeing a bunch of fans dressed up as quiet, empty seats. Bowl games are naturally going to be a tough sell.

Only rich fans or those transient fans who happen to live in an area where their team is playing are able to go to support their teams. The remainder of the seats that are filled have to be scooped up by locals who have nothing better to do than fight a little traffic and burn some time and money to watch a game in-person.

Add to it that bowl games occur around the holiday times, when everyone is bleeding every last drop out of their wallets, and you wouldn’t expect filled stadiums. It wouldn’t mean much either way, as ticket sales really aren’t the big cash cow of these events.

The other part of it is, yes, while there was an overall increase of 22,524 attendees, there also was one extra bowl game. So that sort of is an obvious jump to conclusion that there are more in-stadium butts in seats than last year.

Now, for the positive. Twenty-three games showed attendance increases over the previous season, which is just over 50 percent of the bowl games. That’s a pretty good deal right there. It shows that the passion for college football isn’t waning as television ratings have to have folks scrambling to wonder if the game has outgrown the love for it.

Fourteen games showed at capacity or over, highlighted by the Rose Bowl, which once again drew over 94,000.

These are positive signs for a sport that gets annually chided for having “too many bowl games,” even though “too much football” is like “too much money” or “a girl too pretty” or a “steak cooked too perfectly.”

College football has to be somewhat pleased with these numbers, and ESPN should use them to argue that people are really still stoked about getting into the sport, so move the damn games off of New Year’s Eve so folks can watch.

The overall numbers are worth sending the stink eye to, but the overall narrative of increased attendance at 23 games shows the passion for college football is not waning at all, rather, it’s still somehow increasing. It also shows that the various bowl committees chose ideal teams for their exhibitions.

Just remember, there are never too many bowl games, just too many people complaining about too many bowl games.


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