Tracking 2016-17 college football bowl game attendance

By Amy Daughters -

If at any time during your bowl viewing this season you thought, “There is nobody in the stands!” not only were you not alone – you were 100% correct.

The cumulative number of people attending the 40 FBS bowls (not including national title game) went down from 1,720,733 in 2015-16 to 1,634,287 in 2016-17. That’s 86,446 fewer fans in the seats for the same number of games that were offered up last season.

Winners and Losers vs. Last Year

The Biggest Losses

5. TAXSLAYER (-15,110): 2015 Georgia-Penn State (58,212) vs. 2016 Georgia Tech-Kentucky (43,102)

4. CITRUS (-17,050): 2015 Michigan-Florida (63,113) vs. 2016 LSU-Louisville (46,063)

3. SUGAR (-18,040): 2015 Ole Miss-Oklahoma State (72,117) vs. 2016 Auburn-Oklahoma (54,077)

2. COTTON (-23,197): 2015 Alabama-Michigan State (CFB Playoff Semifinal) (82,812) vs. 2016 Western Michigan-Wisconsin (59,615)

1. BIRMINGHAM (-28,201): 2015 Auburn-Memphis (59,430) vs. 2016 USF-South Carolina (31,229).

The Biggest Gains

5. RUSSELL ATHLETIC (+8,207): 2015 Baylor-North Carolina (40,418) vs. 2016 West Virginia-Miami Fla. (48,625)

4. CURE (+8,677): 2015 San Jose State-Georgia State (18,536) vs. 2016 UCF-Arkansas State (27,213)

3. ARIZONA (+13,443): 2015 Nevada-Colorado State (20,425) vs. 2016 South Alabama-Air Force (33,868)

2. MUSIC CITY (+18,018): 2015 Louisville-Texas A&M (50,478) vs. 2016 Nebraska-Tennessee (68,496)

1. HEART OF DALLAS (+18,888): 2015 Washington-Southern Miss (20,229) vs. 2016 Army-North Texas (39,117)

Overall Attendance

Highest Overall Attendance

5. TEXAS (68,412) – Texas A&M vs. Kansas State

4. MUSIC CITY (68,496) – Nebraska vs. (21) Tennessee

3. FIESTA (71,279) – (3) Ohio State vs. (2) Clemson (CFB Playoff Semifinal)

2. PEACH (75,996) – (4) Washington vs. (1) Alabama (CFB Playoff Semifinal)

1. ROSE (95,128) – (9) USC vs. (5) Penn State

Lowest Overall Attendance

5. CAMELLIA (20,300) – Appalachian State vs. Toledo

4. QUICK LANE (19,117) – Maryland vs. Boston College

3. ST. PETERSBURG (15,717) – Miami Ohio vs. Mississippi State

2. MIAMI BEACH (15,262) – Central Michigan vs. Tulsa

1. BAHAMAS (13,422) – Eastern Michigan vs. Old Dominion

Fill Rate

Awarding accolades for total ticket sales is somewhat misleading because each bowl had a different number of total seats to fill. Even though the Bahamas had the lowest total attendance at 13,422, it only had 15,023 tickets to sell to fill Robinson Stadium. The bigger picture is it filled 89.34% of its available seats and left only 1,601 spots open, among the fewest this bowl season.

We’ll expand the rankings for fill rate to the top ten to recognize smaller bowls who achieved high marks.

Highest Fill Rate

10. HOLIDAY BOWL (90.2%) – Minnesota vs. Washington State – 48,704 (attendance) of 54,000 (capacity at Qualcomm for San Diego State games) – 5,296 empty seats

9. ALAMO (92%) – (12) Oklahoma State vs. (10) Colorado – 59,815 of 65,000 – 5,185 empty seats

8. TEXAS (95.3%) – Texas A&M vs. Kansas State – 68,412 of 71,795 – 3,383 empty seats

7. CAMELLIA (96.67%) – Appalachian State vs. Toledo – 20,300 of 21,000 – 700 empty seats

6. DOLLAR GENERAL (96.73%) – Ohio vs. Troy – 32,377 of 33,471 – 1,094 empty seats

5. FIESTA (98.7%) – (3) Ohio State vs. (2) Clemson (CFB Playoff Semifinal) – 71,279 of 72,200 – 921 empty seats

4. MUSIC CITY (101.2%) – Nebraska vs. (21) Tennessee – 68,496 of 67,700 – over capacity by 796

3. PEACH (102.4%) – (4) Washington vs. (1) Alabama (CFB Playoff Semifinal) – 75,996 of 74,228 – over capacity by 1,768

2. ROSE (102.8%) – (9) USC vs. (5) Penn State – 95,128 of 92,542 – over capacity by 2,586

1. ORANGE (103.2%) – (6) Michigan vs. (11) Florida State – 67,342 of 65,326 – over capacity by 2,016

Lowest Fill Rate

10. POINSETTIA (52.1%) – BYU vs. Wyoming – 28,114 (attendance) of 54,000 (capacity) – 25,886 empty seats

9. NEW ORLEANS (47.9%) – Southern Miss vs. Louisiana-Lafayette – 35,061 of 73,208 – 38,147 empty seats

8. HAWAII (46.4%) – Hawaii vs. Middle Tennessee – 23,175 of 50,000 – 26,825 empty seats

7. MIAMI BEACH (44.9%) – Central Michigan vs. Tulsa – 15,262 of 34,000 – 18,738 empty seats

6. BIRMINGHAM (43.6%) – USF vs. South Carolina – 31,229 of 71,594 – 40,365 empty seats

5. HEART OF DALLAS (42.5%) – Army vs. North Texas – 39,117 of 92,100 – 52,983 empty seats

4. CURE (41.9%) – UCF vs. Arkansas State – 27,213 of 65,000 – 37,787 empty seats

3. FOSTER FARMS (40.3%) – Indiana vs. (19) Utah – 27,608 of 68,500 – 40,892 empty seats

2. ST PETERSBURG (34.6%) – Miami Ohio vs. Mississippi State – 15,717 of 45,369 – 29,652 empty seats

1. QUICK LANE (29.4%) – Maryland vs. Boston College – 19,117 of 65,000 – 45,883 empty seats

Perhaps the most telling statistic of all is 651,373 – that’s the total number of seats left open this bowl season. It amounts to 28% of the 2,285,660 available seats being empty.

  1. Peter
    January 3, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    If the Miami Beach Bowl had more than 2,000 in attendance than I’m Peter Pan.

    • Kevin Kelley
      January 3, 2017 at 1:15 pm

      Attendance = tickets sold. There is no way to determine actual attendance.

    • Sonny Hirsch
      January 5, 2017 at 7:22 pm

      The Marlins routinely announce attendance figures of 16,000 to 18,000 for their games, while people actually in seats total more like 2,000; why should its bowl game do things any differently? I still say there’s something inherently wrong with tearing down a football stadium (the Orange Bowl) to build a baseball park, and then turn around and try playing a football game there.

    • Day
      January 6, 2017 at 8:47 am

      They do it at Yankee Stadium every year. I went to see the Michigan vs Bama game at the Orange Bowl in 2000, it was not easy seeing the field due to where our seats were. I don’t think they play baseball there anymore, now it is the Hardrock stadium.

  2. lost in Va.
    January 3, 2017 at 3:44 pm

    Some of these “middle” and “lower” tier bowls may have to start to regionalize who they choose to play……ala the 1-AA playoffs…..you can’t expect 24,000 Indiana fans to go to the Bay area. Or, 17,000 MTSU fans to fly to Hawaii. And, both maryland and BC travel like crap anyway….that game’s attendance to be expected.

  3. Joe
    January 3, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    “Perhaps the most telling statistic of all is 651,373 – that’s the total number of seats left open this bowl season. It amounts to 28% of the 2,285,660 available seats being empty.”

    I wonder what the average is across all 120-whatever number of teams there are in FBS during the regular season?

    I would bet when you factor in the smaller schools, the attendance isn’t a whole lot better in the regular season. It probably is a bit higher because the games are more convenient, located on campus, close to fans… but 28% empty probably isn’t that bad…

  4. Biggs
    January 3, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    Maybe if ESPN ever decides to remove some of the bowls that the remaining bowls become more regional in nature. I’ll be honest the G-5 bowl games are the ones going to be removed. Maybe have the lower tier SEC bowls against the Sun Belt conference in the New Orleans bowl. They could schedule a MWC Vs Big 12 somewhere in Texas or have the Big Ten Vs the MAC in Detroit.
    For me it would make to much sense to cut out some of the smaller bowls and fill in some of the others G-5 teams against the lower end of the P-5 schools. Of course the P-5 schools will lose spots. We really don’t need to see the Big Ten #7 school against the ACC #6.

    • JackStriker
      January 3, 2017 at 11:08 pm

      They already had MAC vs. Big Ten in Detroit with Motor City Bowl. it was dropped because attendance was anemic.

      SEC teams vs. Sun Belt teams? Don’t we see that enough during the regular season?

      MWC vs. Big12 in Texas? OSU played played the Pac12 South champion Colorado and didn’t even sell out the AlamoDome. How many MWC teams travel well, save Boise?

      I like to see P5 conferences play each other in bowls. It is another way to gauge how teams from other conferences compare later in the season.

      The most important thing I take from this is that save for the Playoff games and the Rose Bowl, the New Years Six games that don’t host a playoff game and don’t get an in state team playing there the stadiums will be empty. The attendances at the Cotton and Sugar Bowls were abysmal.

  5. David
    January 3, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    As long as the income and revenue from televising, and local and national sponsorships far outweighs the income and revenue from selling seats, the bowls will continue as they are. I would agree that a bit of loosening of all the lock-ins, to at least let lower tier bowls “trade” teams for more local matchups would make a lot of sense. Another idea would be to have teams from conferences that didn’t play during the regular season play each other in bowls. So, let’s say the SEC had one of the bowl games where both teams were from the SEC, two teams that didn’t play this year. Mississippi State versus Vanderbilt would have been a hell of a lot more meaningful for both teams. And in the ACC for example… Wake Forest vs. North Carolina should happen every year anyway! That could help attendance to pair bowl-eligible non-playing-year conference mates.

    • JackStriker
      January 3, 2017 at 11:29 pm

      “Another idea would be to have teams from conferences that didn’t play during the regular season play each other in bowls. So, let’s say the SEC had one of the bowl games where both teams were from the SEC, two teams that didn’t play this year. Mississippi State versus Vanderbilt would have been a hell of a lot more meaningful for both teams. And in the ACC for example… Wake Forest vs. North Carolina should happen every year anyway! That could help attendance to pair bowl-eligible non-playing-year conference mates.”

      Interesting idea given that the SEC, ACC, and Big10 each have 14 teams and are getting as many as 12 teams bowl eligible. But that is just pushing the G5 schools further out the door.

      A team like USF would not have the chance the beat an SEC team like they did this season with their win over South Carolina. I guess that is the question G5 admins and presidents will be asking themselves.

      “Do I want to play a mediocre P5 team in front of 31,000 fans in Birmingham. Or do I want a possible home game against a conference champ ?’

      But I wouldn’t mind a G5 playoff, either. Or, try a separate bowl system with AAC champ vs. Sun Belt champ on campus and just alternate years which team is home. AAC#2 vs Sun Belt#2, etc.

  6. wiksia
    January 4, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    I think the long-term answer is to limit the FBS division. It’s been a few years now but I did a conference-based analysis over a couple of seasons and it’s clear that most of the G5 can’t realistically compete with the P5. I think the P5 plus the American and Mountain West would be a good top level of college football. There may be a program or three in the Sun Belt, MAC or C-USA that might want to pony up the bucks to be competitive but basically around 90 or so is plenty. 127 schools in FBS is not workable. That would, among many other things, eliminate a lot of lousy bowl games as would not rewarding a 6-6 or 5-7 team for a mediocre season.

    But it’ll never happen for other rea$on$.

    • C
      January 5, 2017 at 11:45 pm

      I agree with you there. Take all P5, the American conference, MWC, and then Western Kentucky, Army, Notre Dame, Appalachian State, Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, Louisiana Tech, Troy, Arkansas State, and others you think are good and make that FBS. Everyone else drop down to FCS.

  7. Steve
    January 4, 2017 at 9:03 pm

    Are these attendance figures actual butts in seats? I don’t think so.

  8. A C Taylor
    January 5, 2017 at 10:04 pm

    Too many bowl games. It is ridiculous that a team with a losing record is invited to a bowl game. They could easily drop about 8 -10 more bowls and make it a reward for teams with a winning record.

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