If you are wringing your hands over the difficulty you are having attracting students to your performances and events, you are not alone– university football programs are having difficulty, too.
An article on Inside Higher Education’s website reports some pretty significant drops in attendance by students at football games.
Student attendance at major college football games is declining across the country. By how much varies greatly at each institution, but a recent Wall Street Journal analysis of turnstile data at 50 public colleges with top football programs found that average student attendance is down more than 7 percent since 2009.
In 2013, the University of Georgia’s designated student section was nearly 40 percent empty. The University of California at Berkeley has sold about 1,000 fewer student season tickets this season than last year — a season that already saw a decline from the previous one. Since 2009, student attendance at the University of Florida has dropped 22 percent. Three-fourths of the University of Kansas’ student tickets went unused last season.
The article blames cold weather, lack of cellphone/wifi signals and alcohol in stadiums, along with the option to watch the game on a wide variety of media as reasons why attendance is dropping.
And by the way, none of these problems are new. A little over a year ago, Jon Silpayamanant wrote about the exact same attendance issues facing professional sports. Inside Higher Ed mentions that universities are using many of the same solutions the professional teams were adopting including more robust wi-fi, better access to food and beer, and more promotions and giveaways.
One of the concerns expressed about the lack of student attendance is the poor image it provides on television.
“Fundamentally, students are part of the show and that’s something that folks don’t always recognize,” Southall said. “If you watch a college sports telecast, where do the cameras go for in-crowd shots? The cameras are in the student section. If that section is not there, it’s like having a movie without enough extras to walk in the background of the shots. I always joke to my students, ‘You understand you’re paying to be extras. You’re just there for the show, so everyone else can keep consuming it.’ “
The long term concern is that disinterested students will become disinterested alumni who won’t support the athletic program and the university down the road.
As always when we talk about sports and the arts, there are a number of parallels here. One of the big one being the concern that the lack of interest/exposure as “kids” will translate into lack of investment as adults.
This article made me wonder about the real viability of Tweet Seats programs. If students aren’t motivated to attend a football game by the opportunity to be on television or, at the very least, being able to make “I am here participating” posts on social media sites, then are Tweet Seats programs really valuable as a way to attract and retain young audiences?
Given that many Tweet Seats program segregate social media users to their own section, the participants may feel even less engaged than students in a stadium surrounded by tens of thousands of others. (Though I suppose they could feel like they are part of an exclusive group if the environment is right.)
In the great battle of sports versus arts, among the advantages sports had were the ability to be a loud part of a large group at an event where the outcome was unknown. I found it somewhat worrisome that even with these advantages, sports were losing its audiences. What chance do the arts have then?
If you have been reading the results of audience research studies over the last decade or so, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that the answer university athletic departments have arrived at is focusing on the audience’s experience, not on the “performance”.
“…according to a recent survey conducted by Ohio University’s Center for Sports Administration and stadium designer AECOM. The top three priorities for that spending — enhancing food and beverage options, premium seating, and connectivity — all focus on the experience of fans, rather than the players.”