Maximizing College Football Sales as Attendance Slowly Declines

No one is probably surprised to hear that College Football is America’s second favorite sport, closely following the NFL per a 2017 Gallup Poll. What you may be surprised to hear is that regardless of its popularity, College Football attendance has been steadily dropping the last several years. That begs the question, if College Football is still uber-popular, then why has attendance been on the decline?

Between 2014-2018 the FBS saw a 7.6% decline in attendance. In 2018, Florida, a perennial SEC powerhouse, posted its lowest attendance since the 1990 season. Other significant programs, including Ohio State, Virginia Tech, and Ole Miss each saw 5%+ decreases per Sports Illustrated. A Wall Street Journal article published in 2018 shows that only 71% of people that purchased tickets even bothered to show up to the game at all.

There are many theories as to why attendance is down. Academia has become more rigorous at many of the classic College Football powerhouses driving students to the library instead of the stadium. A better at-home experience where massive HD TV’s and the control to watch several games at once from the comfort of a couch surely doesn’t help. Maybe it’s the early noon start time that has people choosing to sleep in on Saturday rather than be up and ready to tailgate by 8 am.

Many people will point fingers at the new College Football Playoff system that sees most teams already out of contention before the year is even half over. On the flip side, people don’t want to see blowouts either, which has become a standard for several games on a major program’s schedule. Clemson won championships in 2016 and 2018, but during their undefeated season in 2019, saw only 3 sellouts all year as many games were decided by 30 or more points.

With attendance slowly on the decline, teams and sellers need to rethink their strategy to keep inventory moving while maximizing sales along the way. One would deduct that as we get closer to game day, that scarcity of tickets would increase driving prices up. The once shared idea that tickets become more valuable as game day draws near may no longer be accurate, as the data suggests.


Graphic first published via  Mike Guiffre, Stage Front


As the graphic above explains, most consumer traffic for an event is driven to secondary sites during the on sale. While tendencies to buy do pick up on event day interest is still 50% less than at the on sale. The graph also shows 4-5 months where interest has died down, but opportunities for high ROI remains. Smart distribution and pricing allows for maximization near the on sale and earlier in the sales cycle. On the flip side, having prices too high early on can leave many sellers stuck with inventory for long periods causing a fire sale on event day that many thrifty purchasers have begun to pick up on.

Stage Front performed a case study on 3 years of historical internal College Football sales and was able to show that higher ROI is obtained when tickets are sold earlier rather than later, in line with what our buyer on sale traffic above pointed out. Our study below hammers home the notion that tickets are most valuable closer to on sale date than event date. Tickets sold 15 weeks before the event date yielded an average 30%+ ROI compared to a -7%+ loss week of the game. Selling tickets earlier rather than later could provide an almost 40% increase in ROI.



In a College Football landscape where sellouts are nearly a thing of the past and driving fans to the stadium has become harder than ever, it’s important to review what the data is telling us and adapt to keep ROI high. As fans have adapted, so must ticket sellers, and the data tells us that capturing the on sale rush months before the event date is the best time to sell to see the highest ROI. The longer one waits, and the closer the event date becomes, the harder it is to see any significant ROI.