For all the talk about how the NFL is in decline and that television ratings were being torpedoed by national anthem protests, football prognosticators may have been missing one key part of the narrative.
From all indications, football as a whole may be declining in popularity in America.
Despite the anecdotal evidence of football fans saying they would watch only NCAA football and boycott the NFL, it seems the college game is suffering as well.
According to figures released by the NCAA, college football saw its lowest attendance figures since 1997.
In 2017, the average attendance of the 129 FBS teams dropped for the fourth consecutive year to 42,203 fans.
That decline has historical ramifications.
Between 2016 and 2017, FBS attendance dropped by an average of 1,409 fans. That figure might not seem huge, but it’s the biggest decline in 34 years, according to CBS Sports, and the second-biggest decline since the NCAA began tracking attendance in 1948.
College football attendance had never previously dropped for four consecutive seasons — until now.
The consistent decline is also indicative of the record drop in the last nine years. FBS attendance hit an all-time high as recently as 2008, but has dropped over 10 percent since then.
Even the most popular football conference in the NCAA was not immune to the decline.
Despite leading all conferences in average attendance, the SEC averaged its lowest attendance since 2005.
The only Power Five conference that saw an increase in its average attendance was the Big Ten, and that comes with one huge caveat: The conference saw its average attendance increase by a mere .01 percent.
The ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 all joined the SEC in losing attendance.
There could be numerous contributing factors to the decline in college football attendance.
First and foremost, as home theater setups get more elaborate and impressive, there’s less incentive to visit the stadium in person.
After all, a 4K ultra-HD television with premium surround sound gives viewers 90 percent of the experience without their having to pay for parking or seats or to deal with swathes of other people.
Another contributing factor in the decline of average attendance could be the rapid growth of the FBS. While schools like Michigan or Alabama will always draw sizable crowds, schools such as Appalachian State and Georgia Southern do not.
It’s also possible that public sentiments about the possible long-term health issues associated with football, such as CTE, have played a role in declining attendance.
College football brass are painfully aware of the situation.
“Are we concerned about it?” Wright Waters, Football Bowl Association executive director, told CBS Sports.
“You’re damn right.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.