What’s The Deal With The Empty Seats?
In case you haven’t noticed, Penn State has an attendance problem.
Two weeks ago Penn State played Eastern Michigan in front of a paid attendance of 92,863 fans — nearly 16,000 below capacity. Not to worry! The next week the Lions took on UCF in a much-hyped White Out game that was sure to fill the stadium — except — attendance was actually 8 lower than the week before. 93,000 is a lot of people, but in 2007 the stadium was averaging a crowd size of about 108,000 to watch a team that had four losses.
To really put those numbers in perspective, last week’s UCF game was the second smallest crowd that Beaver Stadium has seen since its 2001 expansion — and it was a night game. In fact, the ten smallest crowds have all occurred after 2011. Considering Bill O’Brien frequently touts Beaver Stadium’s crowds as a recruiting tool, this is a big problem. The logic goes: Who needs a bowl game when you play in front of 108,000 screaming fans? There hasn’t been a crowd that big since the Michigan game in 2010.
So what’s the problem?
Well, it’s hard to say exactly and it’s almost certainly a number of reasons. Single game ticket prices have actually fallen over the last few years. According to Forbes.com, the average ticket price has fallen 34% in the last three years to an average of $133. That still leaves Penn State ranked #18 for college ticket prices, down from #12 in 2012 and #6 in 2011.
Many people blame the downward trend on the Sandusky Scandal. Curiously, immediately after the scandal broke, the Nebraska game drew the biggest crowd of the year with just under 108,000 fans.
The attendance numbers really took a dive with the introduction of the much maligned STEP program in 2011. The program requires a per seat donation that ranges from $100-2,000 just for the opportunity to buy tickets. Athletic Director David Joyner has assured fans that STEP has been a success. Apparently, success is measured in money. Despite a significant drop in season ticket holders, STEP increased total revenue by several million dollars. Sure, times are tough for Penn State athletics but choosing mo’ money over mo’ fans seems like a bad decision in the long term.
Penn State has tried to right the sinking ship with the introduction of new ticket packages, but that hasn’t solved the problem. This year’s numbers are following the same downward spiral. The quality opponents are yet to come, but starting off the season with two of the three smallest crowds since the expansion doesn’t exactly foreshadow a turnaround.
But hey, at least the student section is full.