Big Red Business: Fewer no-shows so far at Memorial Stadium
Scott Frost has helped put more fans in their seats at Memorial Stadium despite a rugged, winless start to the 2018 season.
Data collected by HuskerOnline from Nebraska’s athletic department show that total attendance -- based on the number of fans who actually show up -- is up about 8,000 through four home games this year compared to 2017.
This includes the home opening Akron game that was eventually canceled because of lightning and heavy rain, with the kickoff the only official play.
HuskerOnline reviewed tickets scanned at home games as people entered Memorial Stadium to gauge fan interest and the number of no-shows. For comparisons, the athletic department also provided scanned ticket numbers for the seven home games in Mike Riley’s final year.
Don’t confuse scanned ticket numbers with the total attendance figures you see in game summaries and box scores.
Total attendance, the number published by Nebraska and practically every other Division I school, counts everyone in the house, including ushers, vendors selling the Runzas and soft drinks, the press, and people with field passes. It explains why total attendance typically is posted as running between 90,000 to 92,000-plus at Memorial Stadium.
In reality, the official capacity at Memorial Stadium is 85,458, the athletic department said. This takes into account efforts in recent years to provide wider seating space in parts of the stadium at the expense of fewer seats available for sale.
Some observations from this year’s numbers:
--The high point so far this year was the Colorado game, which drew 80,654 fans for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff. That surpassed last season’s best attendance figure -- the Wisconsin game, a night game with 77,623 fans actually in attendance.
--The low point, through four home games this season, was against Purdue, an afternoon game attended by 70,816 fans.
--The would-be season opener against Akron might have had the fewest no-shows if not for the thunderstorm. According to scanned ticket number, 77,648 were in the house at the start of the game.
But the athletic department estimated that there were a good number of fans who never scanned in and made it to Memorial Stadium -- fans who traditionally come in a little late or right at the kickoff and weren’t inside before the delay.
“So that number (of scanned tickets) probably would have been at least a couple thousand higher had the game actually been played,” said Keith Mann, a spokesman for the athletic department.
--Those 11 a.m. kickoffs continue to hurt attendance. The Troy game accounted for 73,558 scanned tickets.
--There were more no-shows in the first three home games last year than this year. Arkansas State, last year’s opener, drew 76,508 (compared with Akron); the 11 am Northern Illinois game drew 70,525 (compared with Colorado), and Rutgers drew 70,104 (compared with Troy).
Only Wisconsin -- game four on the home schedule in 2017 -- outdrew this year’s fourth home game against Purdue.
--The total number of seats filled at Memorial Stadium this year is 302,676, or an average of 75,669 per game. Last year, the total number of scanned tickets through four games was 294,760, or an average of 73,690 per game.
Is the Frost effect having an impact? You have to conclude that it is. Fans are supporting the team and the new head coach. That was even more solidified this past weekend when an estimated 20,000 Husker fans were in Evanston to watch a 0-5 football team play at Northwestern. The question is whether that support will tail off if wins don’t come as the season winds down.
Sure, Nebraska sells out every seat for every game at Memorial Stadium in advance, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t tickets that don’t go unused and there isn’t room to swing some elbows when Adrian Martinez lights up the field.
No-shows are an increasingly problematic issue for college football, even at Nebraska where every game has been sold out going back to Bob Devaney’s arrival in the 1962 season.
Former head coach Tom Osborne even acknowledged recently that the nation’s longest sellout streak would have been in jeopardy had Nebraska not fired Riley and named Frost its head coach.
According to a Wall Street Journal study, averaged announced attendance at college football Division I schools dropped in 2017 for the fourth consecutive year. Attendance is down 7.6 percent from four years ago, the Journal reported earlier this year.
In addition, the Journal noted that the average count of tickets scanned at home games is about 71 percent of what you see in a football box score.
The no-shows reflect the challenges of filling large stadiums when nearly every game is televised. Rising ticket prices, parking issues, kickoff times that change a week before game time, and sagging student attendance play into fans’ decisions to stay home as much as wins and losses and the weather.
Even Alabama is having problems filling seats, enough so that coach Nick Saban called out students last month for not showing up to cheer.
At Nebraska, the number of empty seats at Memorial Stadium hit critical mass at last year’s Ohio State game. That night game -- a televised blowout loss -- drew 67,400.
The final two games on the 2017 home schedule against Northwestern and Iowa drew 68,996 and 69,436 respectively inside the gates of Memorial Stadium.
When asked to comment on the challenges of filling seats and reducing no-shows, the athletic department issued this statement: “We have great fans with a decades-long tradition of selling out Memorial Stadium. Our scanned ticket numbers this year have increased despite some weather challenges in the first month of the season.”
The department also recognized that “historically there are a lot of factors that play a role in the number of scanned tickets numbers varying slightly, including game time, weather and opponent.”
Despite those challenges, Nebraska ranked tenth in the country in average total attendance last year. According to the NCAA, Nebraska averaged 89,798 fans per home game last year, based on everyone in the house.
At the top were Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Tennessee, Texas and Georgia.
The SEC was number one in terms of scanned tickets to stadium capacity, followed by the Big Ten, the Pac 12, the ACC, and the Big 12, according to NCAA statistics.
Will Husker fans show up?
The final stretch of Nebraska’s home game schedule includes Illinois, Bethune-Cookman, Minnesota and Michigan State.
None of those teams are known for traveling in large numbers for road games. In addition, the Bethune-Cookman game, which makes up for the Akron postponement, will be played on what was to have been a bye week that gave people options to do something other than watch football.
The athletic department is certainly aware of the challenges of filling Memorial Stadium for the Bethune-Cookman game and the fact that there are a lot of events scheduled on campus and around Lincoln that Saturday. Kickoff time for the game has been set for 11 am.
Then there’s Nebraska’s won-loss record and the weather, which has been amazing for all the wrong reasons this fall. What that means is anybody’s guess, but there could be plenty of elbow room at Memorial Stadium down the stretch of the 2018 season.
Steve Rosen covers the business of sports for HuskerOnline. Questions, comments, story ideas? Reach Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.