Tracking the Big Ten attendance figures

January, 23, 2012
1/23/12
11:00
AM ET
Derek from Madison, Wis., recently emailed in, asking:
Adam, I saw the SEC blog posted their stadium attendances. Could you do the same thing for the B1G teams? I'm curious to know how our attendances compare to theirs.

Not a problem. Here's the SEC post on the attendance figures, which are now available for the 2011 season.

Sports Business Journal recently looked at the average attendance figures for the past three seasons (2009-11). Not surprisingly, the Big Ten occupied the top two spots in average attendance in 2011 (Michigan, Ohio State), while Penn State ranked No. 4 behind Alabama.

Let's look at the three-year averages:

Michigan

  • 2011: 112,179
  • 2010: 111,825
  • 2009: 108,933
Ohio State
  • 2011: 105,231
  • 2010: 105,278
  • 2009: 105,261
Penn State
  • 2011: 101,427
  • 2010: 104,234
  • 2009: 107,008
Nebraska
  • 2011: 85,267
  • 2010: 85,664
  • 2009: 85,888
Wisconsin
  • 2011: 79,813
  • 2010: 79,862
  • 2009: 80,109
Michigan State
  • 2011: 74,078
  • 2010: 73,556
  • 2009: 74,741
Iowa
  • 2011: 70,585
  • 2010: 70,585
  • 2009: 70,214
Illinois
  • 2011: 49,548
  • 2010: 54,188
  • 2009: 59,545
Minnesota
  • 2011: 47,714
  • 2010: 49,513
  • 2009: 50,805
Purdue
  • 2011: 45,225
  • 2010: 48,063
  • 2009: 50,457
Indiana
  • 2011: 41,380
  • 2010: 41,953
  • 2009: 41,833
Northwestern
  • 2011: 33,442
  • 2010: 36,449
  • 2009: 24,190

Some thoughts ...
  • Thanks to the addition of Nebraska, the Big Ten set a new attendance record in 2011 and broke the 6 million mark for the season. The league averaged 71,534 fans per game and had 39 sellouts, which rank fourth all time in league history. More than 3.4 million fans attended conference games, which surpassed the Big Ten record of nearly 3.2 million from 2010.
  • Despite the big numbers, only two Big Ten programs had an increase in average attendance from 2010 (Michigan and Michigan State). Iowa had the exact same average and Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Indiana had very slight decreases from the previous season.
  • It will be interesting to see what happens to Penn State's attendance in 2012 following Joe Paterno's firing and the sex-abuse scandal. A lot of fans are upset about Paterno's ouster and could avoid the games. It also remains to be seen how much buzz the program will generate under new coach Bill O'Brien. Penn State's attendance has dropped in each of the past two seasons, and some attributed the 2011 drop-off to the athletic department's new ticketing program (STEP).
  • The Big Ten has more programs averaging 100,000 fans or more (3) than the SEC (1), but the SEC has more programs averaging more than 85,000 fans than the Big Ten (6 vs. 4). What's crystal clear is that the Big Ten and SEC remain the nation's two most popular conferences, and while the Big Ten has struggled to match the SEC in national championships, the Big Ten always remains a relevant league because of its fan following.
  • This isn't a news flash, but both Purdue and Illinois have to be concerned by these numbers. Both schools have seen significant drop-offs in football attendance. Purdue announced some initiatives to boost football attendance after awarding coach Danny Hope a contract extension, and Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas also cited declining attendance when announcing Ron Zook's dismissal as coach. Minnesota also has seen attendance decline since opening TCF Bank Stadium in 2009, although the team's struggles certainly play a role. Northwestern received an attendance bump in 2010 because of its game at Wrigley Field, so the drop-off in 2011 was expected. It's important for Northwestern to keep increasing attendance in the coming years and make sure the 2009 total never happens again.
  • It's interesting to look at the drop-off in attendance average between the top seven programs and the bottom five. You go from 70,000 for Iowa (No. 7) to around 50,000 for Illinois (No. 8). How much does this say about the annual expectations for Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa versus the rest of the league?

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