Gary Doran

Sun Devil Stadium Attendance During the Pac-12 Era

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For fans across the Pac-12 Conference, their team’s home attendance becomes almost as important as the wins and losses. Attendance is a reflection of so many elements of a team and its fanbase. With that in mind, the ASU Devils Den undertook an analysis of home attendance for every team since 2011, when the conference expanded to twelve teams and a divisional playoff.

The analysis only tracked the attendance of Pac-12 conference games, because the out-of-conference schedules varies so drastically in the level of competition, which could skew the numbers. Although some conference opponents are a bigger draw than others, the only significant variable in tracking conference games was that each team only played its rival at home every other year.

Pac-12 Attendance Rankings (2011-2016)

overall

In the Pac-12 era, ASU really has been average team in many of the above categories. They ranked fifth in average attendance, sixth in the number of conference wins, and eighth in both the percentage of fans that filled their stadium and in the number of attendees per conference win.

The Devils ranked only one spot ahead of the Wildcats in average attendance since 2011. During this time, however, ASU has had three seasons in conference play with a winning record, while the Wildcats have had just one.

UCLA is the only team with a winning conference record while being in the top five of overall attendance per conference win. This probably speaks more to stadium capacity constraints and core fan loyalty than to a “win and they will come” philosophy.

power_five

The Pac-12 Conference has five stadiums that hold less than 52,000 fans, the most of any of the Power 5 Conferences. As of 2016, only four of the Pac-12 stadiums have a capacity of more than 60,000, or in other words, two-thirds of the Pac-12 stadiums hold less than 60,000 fans.

Excluding the SEC Conference, over 50-percent of the stadiums in the other four conferences are under 60,000 capacity, and only about 10-percent are over 90,000 capacity.

Pac-12 Home Attendance (2011-2016)

yearly

Seven of the twelve conference teams saw a decrease in attendance from 2011 to 2016, while the conference as a whole dropped roughly five percent.

ASU and Oregon State were the only two teams that has seen a decrease in attendance in each of the last three seasons. During that time, ASU was 12-15 in conference play, while Oregon State was 5-22.

Only three of the twelve teams (UCLA, Utah and Cal), had more seasons with an increase in attendance over the previous year than decreases over the previous year.

The top three attendance increase year-over-year were: an 18.5% increase in 2012 for Mike Leach’s first year at Washington State, a 17.4% jump for Colorado in 2016 while winning the South Division Title and a 16.8% increase in Jim Mora’s first year at UCLA. (This does not count the enormous increase in 2012 for the Cal Bears, when they returned back to Memorial Stadium after playing their home games in a smaller AT&T Park in 2011).

The top three attendance decrease year-over-year were: a 16.5% drop in Sonny Dykes’s first year at Cal where the Bears went 0-9 in conference play, and a 14.6% decrease for UCLA in 2015, which was their first year without three-year starter Brett Hundley at quarterback and a 12.0% drop this past season for ASU.

pro

The Pac-12 programs that are situated in a metropolitan region that also have pro football teams draw about 20-percent more fans to their games. The capacity of their stadiums averages about 20,000 more seats than the stadiums in non-pro football regions.

Arizona Stadium has the largest capacity of all the non-pro football stadiums, while ASU has the fifth largest of the pro football stadiums, behind USC, UCLA, Washington and Cal. In 2011, Sun Devil Stadium was the fourth largest stadium among the Pac-12 schools.

Since 2011, six of the seven teams located in pro football cities have won a Division Title, with only the Cal Bears still waiting. Only two of the teams that reside in non-pro football cities have won their division (Oregon and Arizona).

The average attendance per win for teams in pro football cities is 1,993 per win, while in non-pro football cities it is 1,721.

region

From a regional standpoint, overall the Southern California teams have been the most successful region in terms of conference wins in the Pac-12 era, while the two newcomers, Utah and Colorado, really took their lumps heading into this past season.

The four California teams have had the hardest time filling their stadiums to capacity compared to the other eight conference teams. Part of the problem may be due to the fact that three-out-of-four of those stadiums are the largest in the conference.

Even though each Arizona team has won the Pac-12 South division, overall from a regional standpoint of wins and losses, the two teams have been outperformed by all the other regions except the two newcomer schools within the Mountain region.

On a state by state comparison, the two Arizona schools have averaged filling their stadiums only better than the combined California schools, and barely ahead of Colorado.

What the Numbers Mean

When you look at the different categories analyzed for this story, it’s obvious that ASU has been average, at best, in the performance on the field and in the stands during the Pac-12 era. The real questions is: “Does all this point to a sleeping giant, or just an average program?” The answer sure would play an important part in the long-term facilities planning for the football program.

Another issue to consider is that a CBS Sports analysis after the just completed 2016 regular season showed that overall, the Football Bowl Subdivision schools have now seen six straight years of attendance decreases. This coincides somewhat with the numbers from our analysis of the Pac-12 teams.

Additionally, much like we see going on with the current renovations of Sun Devil Stadium, many schools have been reducing the capacity of their stadiums in response to the declining attendance. The decrease that has taken place in Tempe is not unique, as a proposed renovation plan in 2015 for the LA Coliseum calls for a reduction of 16,000 seats. This is a proposed reduction for one of the conference’s premiere football programs. Clearly, there is a downward trend taking place with college football attendance, and with the adjustments being made by many football programs.

As of 2016, the Pac-12 Conference has the most stadiums that hold under 60,000 fans, and in 2015, it ranked fourth out of the five Power Conferences in the average capacity for its conference stadiums. This doesn’t even consider the fact that the Pac-12 fills its stadiums a bit lighter than many of the other conferences. Could this highlight a reason why the conference overall seems to receive less national coverage compared to the other four conferences?

A troubling trend for the conference is that three of the Pac-12 teams have seen a double-digit decrease in attendance since the conference expanded. More troubling for ASU fans is that Sun Devil Stadium has seen the biggest decrease over the six-year period with three straight years of declining attendance for conference games. In those three years, ASU won 45-percent of its conference games, which isn’t great, but not devastating.

One last point is that although the attendance trend is down for the conference, on average, it declined less for those teams playing in metro areas where other professional football teams also play their games compared to the conference teams playing in cities with no competing professional football teams. Although the capacities of those stadiums in cities with pro football teams are about 45-percent larger than non-pro city teams, the attendance is only about 23-percent higher.

Overall, attendance is down in college football, however, closer to home, it is down significantly for the Sun Devils.  There are probably many factors that have contributed to the sharp decline for the Devils, such as the last two disappointing season and the reduction in seating capacity, however, the decline points to factors beyond just those two.  Fan support for the Sun Devils seems to have significantly softened during the Pac-12 era, and may need more than a winning program to completely fix.

Sources: pac-12.com, wikipedia.org, cbssports.com

About Gary Doran

Gary Doran

Gary graduated from ASU many years ago. After careers working in banking, finance and the financial administration of academic research funding, he is now interested in utilizing his passion for numbers towards two things he thoroughly loves; Arizona State University and college football. He is looking forward to finding the “stories” buried within the numbers on a football stat sheet. He has gone to ASU football games all the way back to the days of Frank Kush and the WAC. He has been married to an amazing ASU graduate for almost forty years, and they currently live in Ventura, CA. Although this may disqualify him from talking football, he and his wife enjoy the practice of yoga and dancing the Argentine Tango. Ole!

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