- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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While attendance across the country might be getting spottier at college football games, the SEC’s numbers increased in 2013.
That’s after the league experienced a slight dip each of the four seasons prior to 2013.
One of the things to remember about the SEC is that the stadiums are huge. A stadium on the “smaller” side in this league still holds more than 60,000 people, and eight of the 14 schools play in on-campus stadiums with a seating capacity of more than 80,000.
Last season, the SEC averaged 75,674 fans, up from 74,636 in 2012. These figures, provided by the SEC office, include the Jacksonville, Fla., game between Florida and Georgia as well as the SEC championship game in Atlanta between Auburn and Missouri.
Even more telling, all but two of the schools in the league topped 90 percent attendance last season. The average percentage capacity in 2013 for SEC games was 99.02 percent, compared to 97.40 percent in 2012.
Alabama, coming off back-to-back national championships, led the SEC in home attendance last season, averaging 101,505 fans.
Kentucky (20 percent) and Tennessee (6 percent) had the largest increases in attendance last season. Arkansas (9 percent) had the largest decrease.
And while attendance was up this season in the SEC, it’s not as if league officials and athletic directors at the different schools had their collective heads in the sand.
The 2012 attendance figures for the SEC were the conference's lowest since the 2007 season, which was disconcerting to everybody.
So at the SEC spring meetings last May in Destin, Fla., it was announced that the league had created a committee in charge of making the game-day experience more enticing for fans.
High-definition televisions are getting better all the time, and there’s something to be said for sitting in the comfort of your home theater (or den) and watching all of the games there instead of going to the trouble or the expense of getting to the games in person.
SEC officials and administrators agree that with technology improving and ticket prices rising, in some cases exorbitantly, fans aren’t going to blindly keep going to games unless there’s something unique about the game-day experience.
Among the things the SEC committee addressed were finding a way to improve cell phone and wireless service at the stadiums, making more replays on the big screens available, dealing with the secondary ticket market, and improving the overall quality of games.
To the latter, SEC commissioner Mike Slive has said he wants to see every school in the league play at least 10 “good games” every season, whether that’s nine conference games and a marquee nonconference game, or eight conference games and two marquee nonconference games.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, a proponent of playing nine conference games, also has been outspoken that fans aren’t going to continue going to games to watch glorified scrimmages.
One of the biggest problems all schools in the SEC face is student attendance. Last season, Saban famously chastised the students at Alabama for leaving games early.
The Alabama student newspaper, The Crimson White, conducted a study and determined that only 69.4 percent of student tickets were used during the 2012 season.
In the past couple of years, Georgia has reduced its student-ticket allotment from 18,000 to 16,000, making those extra tickets available to younger alumni who can buy them without making an annual donation.
At Tennessee, student attendance increased dramatically last season in Butch Jones’ first year as coach. It was up almost 2,300 per game. As an enticement to continue getting students to go to the games, Tennessee plans to move more of them from the upper deck to the lower bowl.
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