Which College Football Team Fills the Most Seats at Home?

By Amy Daughters -

Tracking attendance success isn’t as easy as saying the school with the biggest stadium wins.

While on the one hand, Michigan—at 109,901 seats—has the biggest capacity, on the other, it didn’t fill them all in 2015. In fact, the Wolverines—at 95.5%—finished No. 32 in the FBS in fill rate last year.

Compare that to Ole Miss, with only 60,580 seats (No. 41 in the nation), but a fill rate of 101.6%. This means the Rebels sold every seat they had available, and then some.

Take a look at FBS fill rates from around the country, first the top ten and bottom ten nationally, then average by conference, followed by the highest and lowest rates within each league. Finally, check out programs that engineered on-field success, but still couldn’t sell out, versus those who struggled to win games, but still had lots of fans on hand to share in the misery.

Attendance figures and fill rates courtesy of Phil Steele’s 2015 College Football Preview.

The Top 10

  1. Oregon (106.3%)
  2. Kansas State (106.2%)
  3. Nebraska (104.9%)
  4. Oklahoma (103.7%)
  5. Baylor (103.5%)
  6. Ole Miss (101.6%)
  7. South Carolina (101.4%)
  8. Utah (101.4%)
  9. Ohio State (101.3%)
  10. Clemson (100.3%)

Though Kansas State and Utah’s numbers are equally impressive, both schools have smaller stadiums by Power Five standards. K-State’s Bill Snyder Family Stadium seats 50,000 (tied for No. 60 in the FBS in capacity) while Utah’s Rice-Eccles boasts just 45,807 (No. 68).

By comparison, Stanford Stadium seats 50,000, which the Cardinal filled to 95.7% in 2015 (No. 29 in the FBS), and Northwestern’s Ryan Field holds 47,330, which was only 81.6% full (No. 69).

The Bottom 10

  1. Florida Atlantic (47.9%)
  2. USF (46.6%)
  3. UNLV (42.6%)
  4. UTSA (42.4%)
  5. Ball State (41.7%)
  6. New Mexico State (40.4%)
  7. Rice (39.5%)
  8. UMass (37.5%)
  9. Temple (34.1%)
  10. Akron (30.6%)

Four of the schools at the bottom of the charts deserve a break, all playing in stadiums that aren’t necessarily the appropriate size. USF plays in 65,857-seat Raymond James Stadium, also the home of the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers. UTSA plays in the Alamodome, weighing in at a hefty 65,000 seats. UMass splits its time between 68,756-seat Gillette Stadium (also home of the NFL New England Patriots) and 17,000-seat McGuirk Alumni. Finally, Temple plays at 68,352-seat Lincoln Financial Field, home of the NFL Philadelphia Eagles.

Average by Conference

  1. SEC (96.39%)
  2. Big 12 (94.28%)
  3. Big Ten (90%)
  4. Pac-12 (89.14%)
  5. ACC (84.3%)
  6. American Athletic (69.5%)
  7. Sun Belt (68.73%)
  8. Mountain West (67.18%)
  9. Conference USA (64.03%)
  10. MAC (56.57%)

The big takeaway from the average conference fill-rate rankings is the Sun Belt, which comes in ahead of the Mountain West, Conference USA and MAC.

Either the Sun Belt has members with proportionally-sized stadiums, or football truly is a bigger draw in the South, where all its members other than Idaho are located.

Both these same factors—stadium size and geographic location—are likely in play for the SEC and Big 12 as well.

Top and Bottom By Conference

American Athletic

Top:  Navy (95.6%)

Bottom:  Temple (34.1%)

Navy joins the American this season, and therefore earned the top ranking by virtue of its final season (2014) as an independent. The second-place finisher was East Carolina, which filled 50,000 seat Dowdy-Ficklen to 89.6% capacity last season.

In all, the American had only two members under 50% capacity in 2014—USF and Temple—both of whom play in NFL venues.

ACC

Top:  Clemson (100.3%)

Bottom:  Pitt (63.1%)

The ACC is the only Power conference to have just one member at 100-plus percent —  Clemson at 100.3%. That said, Florida State finished just off the mark at 99.9%, followed by Louisville at 96.3%.

Again, the low school, Pitt, has the disadvantage of playing in an NFL venue, in this case Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Big 12

Top:  Kansas State (106.2%)

Bottom:  Kansas (68.1%)

The Big 12 touts three member schools over the 100% mark, with Oklahoma (103.7%) and Baylor (103.5%) joining K-State.

Overall, all but two programs—Iowa State (85.6%) and Kansas (68.1%)—finished above 90%.

Big Ten

Top:  Nebraska (104.9%)

Bottom:  Purdue (61.6%)

Joining Nebraska at 100%-plus in the Big Ten is Ohio State at 101.3%; no small task, since at 104,944, the Horseshoe seats the fourth-most fans of any venue in the FBS.

What hurts the Big Ten is four clubs under 90%: Northwestern (81.6%), Indiana (78.7%), Illinois (68.5) and Purdue (61.6%). The Boilermakers also hold the dubious honor of having the lowest fill rate of any Power club in 2014.

Conference USA

Top:  Old Dominion (100%)

Bottom:  Rice (39.5%)

The big shocker in Conference USA is tiny Old Dominion, which despite an enrollment of under 20,000 students, filled 20,118 seat Foreman Field to 100% capacity in 2014.

At the bottom end is Rice, who does play in a stadium that hosted Super Bowl VIII in 1974, but has since shrunk to 47,000 seats on college game day. This means that, on average, the Owls played in front of 28,200 empty seats in 2014, an 8-5 campaign.

MAC

Top:  Ohio (85.5%)

Bottom:  Akron (30.6%)

Other than Ohio, which plays at tiny Peden Stadium (24,000 seats), every other MAC club finished under the 80% mark in fill rate last season.

Akron (5-7) only managed a paltry 9,180 fans in 30,000-seat Infocision Stadium. Compare that to Miami of Ohio, which drew 15,907 to Fred C. Yager (24,286), despite winning only two games.

Mountain West

Top:  Boise State (89.3%)

Bottom:  UNLV (42.6%)

Though no Mountain West team finished above the 90% mark in 2014, only two finished below 50%, San Jose State (49.5%) and UNLV (42.6%).

Of note is San Diego State, which managed to fill a whopping 60% of Qualcomm, also home of the NFL San Diego Chargers. Then there is Colorado State, which despite going 10-3, its best finish since 2002, only filled 81.8% of 32,500-seat Hughes Stadium.

Pac-12

Top:  Oregon (106.3%)

Bottom:  Colorado (74.8%)

Though you could argue that Oregon has the advantage of playing in smallish Autzen (54,000), consider Arizona, which only managed a 90.5% fill rate in similarly-sized Arizona Stadium (56,037). Both teams finished with double-digit wins.

What hurt the Pac-12 were its five member school that finished under 90%: Arizona State (84.5%), UCLA (84.1%), USC (78.3%), Cal (76.3%) and Colorado (74.8%). Though both the Bruins and Trojans play in gigantic 90,000-seat venues, their fill rates lag behind Georgia (100%) and Texas (94%), who play in similarly-sized stadiums.

SEC

Top:  Ole Miss (101.6%)

Bottom:  Vanderbilt (84.9%)

The SEC has four member schools at 100-plus percent and four more at 99%-plus: Ole Miss (101.6%), South Carolina (101.4%), Auburn (100%), Georgia (100%), Mississippi State (99.7%), Alabama (99.7%), LSU (99.4%) and Texas A&M (99.2%).

The leagues low finishers—Kentucky at 85.2% and Vanderbilt 84.9%—are both higher than the ACC’s group average of 84.43%.

Sun Belt

Top:  Appalachian State (96.3%)

Bottom:  New Mexico State (40.4%)

It’s impressive that the Sun Belt’s top member (Appalachian State at 96.3%) beats out the first place school in the Mountain West (Boise State at 89.3%), the MAC (Ohio at 85.5%) and the American (Navy at 95.6%).

It puts the Mountaineers—who play in 24,050 seat Kidd Brewer Stadium—on par with Rutgers (96.5%) and Louisville (96.3%).

Underachievers

Northern Illinois (57.5%)

Despite posting an 11-3 record in 2014, its fifth consecutive double-digit season, Northern Illinois finished a dismal No. 105 in the FBS and No. 6 in the MAC in fill rate.

Huskie Stadium seats a very reasonable 23,595, meaning that an average of only 14,039 were on hand for NIU’s 4-1 home record.

Marshall (71.8%)

Marshall’s 13-1 finish marked its best finish since 1999. Even that couldn’t get their fill rate above a No. 80 rank in the FBS and a No. 4 mark in Conference USA.

Joan C. Edwards holds 38,227, but welcomed only an average of 27,446.

Air Force (60.3%)

Air Force finished No. 67 in the FBS and No. 7 in the Mountain West in fill rate in 2014, despite hitting double digits (10-3) for the first time since 1998.

The low ranking can at least be somewhat explained by Falcon Stadium’s 46,692 seats, versus the Academy’s enrollment of 4,413.

Overachievers

Washington State (93.5%)

Washington State went 3-9 in 2014, its eleventh-consecutive losing season, but that didn’t stop it from filling 93.5% of its available seats, No. 4 in the Pac-12 and No. 37 in the nation.

What helps the Cougars is tiny Martin Stadium, at 32,952 the smallest venue in the conference and No. 88 in the FBS.

Texas Tech (97.5%)

Texas Tech drew an average of 58,942 to its six home games in 2014, earning it the No. 23 rank in the FBS and No. 5 in a stacked Big 12. Not bad for a team that suffered a 4-8 mark, its worst performance since 1990.

Jones Stadium holds 60,454, No. 42 in the nation and No. 4 in the conference.

Army (90.2%)

Another school that deserves tons of credit, Army finished No. 47 in the FBS in fill rate despite finishing 4-8. That means an average of 34,276 filed into 38,000-seat Michie Stadium on game day.

This explains why the Black Knights went 3-2 at home, and it’s even more impressive when you throw in West Point’s meager enrollment of 4,591.

Amy Daughters is a contributor to FBSchedules.com.

  1. Shep
    July 9, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    I can tell you these numbers are not valid based on one school alone – Eastern Michigan. They draw literally hundreds and then corporate sponsors such as Pepsi “buy” the rest to allow them to stay.

  2. Dean
    July 9, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    I totally concur with “Shep”….many schools highly inflate actual
    figures…..I personally observed two Rutgers home games
    on 9/24/11 (announced was 41,388….actual was no more than
    35,000) and 9/27/14 (announced was 48,361….actual was no
    more than 42,000)….I am CERTAIN RU counts the student
    freebies as “sold” tickets whether undergrads come or not!
    Don’t buy that 96.5% for Rutgers in the article….not close!
    I am sure Rutgers is not alone in this type of practice.

  3. GEG
    July 9, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    You would think it would be schools that play home and home teams in Non-Conference. I don’t trust Phil’s numbers.

  4. Jeff J
    July 9, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    Game day at App State is a not to be missed experience

  5. Josh
    July 9, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    I’m glad somebody mentioned Eastern Michigan. I bet they don’t draw more than 5,000 ever. I’m guessing donors or boosters buy up some seats and they get alumni/parents/relatives to show up. IMO they are still reeling from that nickname change to “Eagles” from Hurons”. So many high-profile alumni and boosters ran away and never came back after that.

  6. G of F
    July 9, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    The independents could have used a mention in this article, but overall very interesting.

  7. Lisa
    July 9, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    as a Kansas State Fan.. those numbers for us are accurate… and our Students must Pay for their tickets… and are not assured a seat —- they must stand in line for hours before the game in order to get a seat … that they paid for !!!! Our new stadium additions are awesome … proud to be a KSU WILDCAT FAN

    • Tanner
      July 11, 2015 at 12:45 am

      No that is not accurate for K State… Been to many openers that are not 100 percent filled. This is one of the most pointless stadium facts bc it’s so easily scewed

  8. Jerry Mander
    July 10, 2015 at 12:56 am

    Nebraska has sold out every game for the last 50+ years…a record and there is not even a close second. Might have been worth a mention. There are fans all over the country with a passion for college football. Good to see.

    • Travis B
      July 10, 2015 at 9:19 am

      Since 1962 bro!!!

      Oregon and KSU impress me on how good they have been with filling their stadium. You do have to take into account that Oregon seats 54K and KSU 50K while Nebraska has 87K!

      Also, B12 has smaller stadiums so that does help them. Going into 2015, ISU actually has the 3rd biggest stadium after OU and UT. OU and UT are the only stadiums over 61K in that conference.

    • Vic
      July 10, 2015 at 10:35 am

      Both KSU and Oregon have two FBS schools in state to split the possible attendance, so stadium size is probably ok. Neb does have a rabid fanbase, was fun to visit and selling out stadiums in the era of HDTV should be commended.

  9. aahughes
    July 10, 2015 at 10:08 am

    But a degree from Stanford or Northwestern………Kst or Utah????

  10. bstevens43
    July 10, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Good old Owls. I have a feeling that Rice has started a push to get back their old spirit. Once they were the best football team in the United States! Remember? (And I am a K-Stater.)

  11. Jeremy
    July 10, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    Playing in an NFL stadium is no excuse. I will concede that G5 schools should get a pass, but P5 schools should not. The reason is that a large portion of P5 schools play in stadiums (even on campus) that have a seating capacity larger than your average NFL stadium. P5 schools like Pittsburgh don’t get to claim (yes, I know Ms Daughters is the one claiming) that the reason they are not filling the stadium, is because it’s the home of the Steelers. Using Pitt as the example, there are two reasons why attendance is low: 1. There are plenty of other options for watching sports in Pittsburgh. 2. Pitt hasn’t been relevant for some time.

  12. ihatekstate
    July 10, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    This is crap I looked up what the ncaa one had and this isn’t close. Also Utah is like a high school you can always sale out. Montana and Montana State Do the same every year. 45,000 hahaha. Try 100 then you’ll be cool

    • kstate15
      July 10, 2015 at 6:18 pm

      Maybe you should get an education from k-state. If you do you may learn the proper use of the words “sell and sale”.

      Another thing you need to think about before speaking up is what these schools have for a supporting community. Manhattan, KS for example is around 50,000 people including students.

    • ihatekstate
      July 11, 2015 at 7:52 am

      Well k-state15 I wasn’t talking about the grate and wonderful k-state. I was talking about UTAH! 40,000! So just cuz I think your teams sucks. I know they can get do. Iv been there.
      Thank got my team left big 12. Go A&M.
      So maybe read it. Not get mad. Cuz k sate sucks.

  13. RyProj
    July 10, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    For this type of analysis there needs to be some sort of “weighted average” of sorts. You present some great points – schools that have 100,000 seats but only fill 90% is going to be ranked lower due to their fill rate; yet a brand new stadium like Baylor seats 45,000 fans and has a 103% fill rate. So who has the better attendance truly? My opinion is still my 90,000 fans at 90% full is 2 times the fans with your 103% full.

    Likewise, I am a Penn State alum/fan and we have a 107,000 seat stadium and they make about $1,000 from me for my 2 behind the goal post seats. That means, if you would assume all people paid the low end like me (ie: endzone seats are cheapest), then they make over $53,000,000 per year if full and at last years average (99,000 fans) they got a minimum of $49,500,000 from tickets.

    So maybe an interesting statistic would be to figure in a weighted average of 3 variables – percent full, total ticketed fans, and estimated ticket revenue and then see who is really doing well.

    ****
    For disclosure purposes, I went to 9 FBS games in 2014 – all 7 PSU home games, 1 Pitt (vs Syracuse) home game, and 1 WVU (vs Baylor) home game.

  14. Alan Pate
    July 10, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    Come to Raleigh. We’ll kick your ass !

  15. Peach Stealth (@PeachStealth)
    July 11, 2015 at 10:03 am

    Georgia State plays in the Georgia Dome which has a capacity of 74,228 when the Falcons play. State says it has a capacity of only 28,155 when they play.

  16. Michael
    July 14, 2015 at 11:23 pm

    There is a demand at Utah, we could expand to 48,000 to 50,000 and still sell out.

    • Phil
      July 17, 2015 at 3:28 pm

      While some teams dream of expanding to 48,000. I think that most teams could reduce to 48,000 and be on this list. The bigger the stadiums the harder they are to fill, the smaller the easier. I am not impressed by the demand at Utah. Its not even the biggest draw / stadium in their state. In Manhatten, we are.

  17. mike
    July 15, 2015 at 11:50 am

    can you post a link to a list of all D1 schools

  18. Drew
    July 16, 2015 at 2:14 am

    Maybe population of the State or geographic area should be calculated. Say the percentage of attendees divided by every person within 50 miles of the stadium. That I think would show more about true fan support. By that metric if you look at a team like Wyoming that fills about 20k seats with only a population of about 35k with 50 miles, by comparison USC and UCLA would need stadiums of about 4,000,000, if we are looking at percent of population.

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