Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A deeper look at NCAA football attendance and Pitt

This is my own not so scientific examination of where Pitt truly compares to other football programs across the country.

Criteria I used and why I assigned certain points to each:

Large enrollment  +2  Obviously a big factor in attendance is how big your university is.  Theoretically, more students mean more alumni.  Even a difference of just five or ten thousand adds up over the decades.

Medium enrollment  +1

No pro teams  +3  There's a reason why 41 out of the top 50 schools in attendance have one or fewer pro teams in their area.  When you're the only show in town, you immediately become a draw.

One pro team  +2

Metro population over 1,000,000  +2   A big population area obviously means more people to choose from.

Metro population under 500,000  +2  Small college town means more rabid fans.   Why no points for population between 500,000 and one million?  Because they are too small to be the only show in town, but not big enough to have a huge population to draw from.

For comparisons as you look through the numbers, Pitt has the No. 40 attendance, 28,823 students, and a metro population of 2,356,285.

The number before the name of the university is where they were ranked for 2010 attendance.

First Level  +7

Large enrollment (over 25,000 students), no pro team, major city (metro population over 1,000,000):   

4.  Alabama         101,821             31,747 students   1,128,047 metro population
5.  Texas             100,654               51,145               1,716,291
30.  North Carolina  58,250            29,390               1,749,525
31.  California        57,873              25,530               4,335,391
36.  Arizona          55,408               39,086               1,020,200
63.  Central Florida  39,614            56,337               2,134,411
91.  UNLV           20,612               28,203               1,951,269

Large enrollment (over 25,000 total students), no pro teams, metro population less than 500,000: 

1.  Michigan        111,825 avg.  41,674 students
3.  Penn State      104,234          44,817
7.  Georgia           92,746            34,885
10.  Auburn         86,087             25,469
13.  Texas A&M  82, 477            46,422
19.  Michigan State  73,556         47,800
20.  Florida State      71,270         40,838
21.  Iowa               70,585            30,328
24.  Virginia Tech  66,233           30,739
25.  Kentucky        66,070            27,209
26.  Missouri         61,540             33,805
32.  Texas Tech     57,108             32,327
34.  West Virginia  56,325            29,306
38.  Illinois            54,188              41,495
44.  East Carolina    49,665            27,816
46.  Purdue              48,063            39,697
50.  Rutgers            46,195             56,868
54.  Iowa State        45,395             29,887
55.  Kansas              44,851            30,004

Second Level  +6

Medium sized enrollment (20,000-25,000 total students), no pro teams, metro population under 500,000: 

22.  Arkansas        68,932              23,153   students
29.  Oregon           59,398              23,389                   
35.  Mississippi      55,898             20,822
37.  Mississippi State  54,999         21,424
41.  Oklahoma State  50,812          23,522
43.  Kansas State     49,816            23,126

Large enrollment, one pro team, major city: 

2.  Ohio State      105,275    55, 014 students  1,836,536 metro population
9.  Florida             90,511     50,116                1,345,596
12. Oklahoma      84,738      30,303                1,252,987
33. NC State        56,877     31,043                1,130,490
51. Utah               45,459     30,819                1,124,197

Third level +5

Large enrollment (over 25,000 total students), no pro teams, metro population between 500,000 and 1,000,000: 

6.  Tennessee       99,781  attendance    27,523  students    699,247  metro population
8.  LSU                92,718                       28,871                  802,484
16.  Wisconsin      79,862                      42,099                  561,505
18.  South Carolina  76,668                   29,597                  767,598
27.  BYU              61,381                      34,310                  526,810

Small sized enrollment (under 25,000 total students), no pro teams, metro population less than 500,000:  

14.  Notre Dame    80,795              11,733 students
17.  Clemson         77,469              19,089
51.  Oregon State   45,509              23,761
53.  Virginia           45,459              20,554

Small enrollment (under 25,000 students), no pro team, major city (metro population over 1,000,000): 

42.  Louisville        50,648              19,473 students   1,307,647  metro population

Fourth Level  +4

Large enrollment, four pro teams, major city:  

15.  USC         79,907            36,896 students   12,828,837 metro population
28.  UCLA      60,376            39,593                12,828,837
39.  Miami, Fla.  52,575         15,657                 5,564,635
45.  Minnesota   49,513          52,557                 3,317,308
47.  Arizona State  47,943      70,440                 4,192,887
48.  Colorado      46,864         29,952                 2,543,482
49.  Georgia Tech  46,449      20,487                 5,268,860
56.  TCU              42,466          9,142                 6,371,773
65.  Boston College  38,369     14,640                4,552,402
68.  Northwestern   36,499       19,184                9,461,105
85.  SMU               23,515        10,891                6,371,773
92.  Temple           20,515         37,697                5,965,343

Medium sized enrollment (20,000-25,000 total students), no pro teams, metro population between 500,000 and 1,000,000:  

11.  Nebraska       85,664               24,593 students     885,350  metro population

Small enrollment (under 25,000 students), one pro team, major city:  

84.  Memphis        23,918     23,031 students            1,316,100  metro population

Large enrollment, two pro teams, major city:  

23.  Washington    66,264       42,907 students     3,439,809 metro population
69.  Cincinnati       35,067       32,283                  2,130,151
70.  San Diego State  34,133   33,790                  3,095,313

Large enrollment, three pro teams, major city: 

40.  Pittsburgh      52,165     28,823  students  2,356,285 metro population
58.  South Florida  40,849    47,122                2,783,243
75.  Houston         31,728     39,825                5,946,800

Fifth Level  +3

Small enrollment (under 25,000 students), no pro team, medium city (metro population between 500,000-1,000,000):  

71.  Fresno State    34,120              24,939  students    930,450  metro population
73.  Boise State     33,269               19,964                  616,561  
79.  UTEP            29,350                21,011                 800,647

Sixth Level  +2

Small enrollment, two pro teams, major city:  +2

72.  Vanderbilt        33,269     12,714  students     1,589,934  metro population
86.  Tulane              23,220     12,622                   1,167,764

Small enrollment, three pro teams, major city: +2

82.  Rice               25,571       5,760 students    5,946,800 metro population

Summary:  The number of teams that get a +5, +6, or +7 totals 47.  The number of teams getting a +4 totals 20.  That means Pitt's attendance rank should be between 48 and 68.  In reality, they are ranked No. 40, better than 11 schools who have better criteria.  Even if one argues that Pitt's attendance totals are padded, they still will fall into where they should be.

Before I get accused of wearing rose colored glasses, here are more facts.  As I mentioned before, of the 50 schools with the best attendance, only 9 play in the immediate location of two or more pro teams.  One of those is Pitt.  Amongst the other eight, four have less attendance than the Panthers despite having more population.  Three of those also have a higher enrollment, and one of them, Arizona State, has almost two and a half times more students.  The only one of the four that has lower enrollment, Georgia Tech, is in a metro area twice as big as Pittsburgh.

So let me be clear about this.  There are only four schools with a higher attendance than Pitt that has at least three pro teams.  Of those, USC and UCLA have a metro population six times more than Pittsburgh and Miami has a metro population almost three times more- and they are only one slot above Pitt.   The fourth school, California, has roughly two million more people in their metro area.

Th only other two schools that are similar to Pitt in the basic criteria are South Florida and Houston.  Both have significantly more enrollment and metro population, yet Pitt gets higher attendance.

Bottom line, Pitt, like it or not, is right about where an impartial observer would predict them to be.  Pitt is in the second smallest city to have at least three professional teams, and the first, Cleveland, does not host a university with a major college football program.

Add it all up, and it's a big, but not giant university, in a big, but not giant city.  Yet they still have three professional teams, with two of them being highly popular.  If you think about it, it's amazing that Pitt has the attendance that it does.

That doesn't mean it looks good on television, because it doesn't.  You can complain that the stadium makes the attendance look worse, and you can complain that the fans that do go are not very rabid.  But as this article shows, Pitt's attendance is right on line for where it should be, and even with great success,  it's unlikely the attendance will go up much.  That doesn't mean that Pitt doesn't have fans.  It just means that the maximum attendance for Pitt football is limited due to factors outside of their control, and as of now, they are doing about as good as can be expected.


  1. Chris,

    I am going to trust you have interpreted all that statistics properly. One thing I disagree with though is the statement " and even with great success, it's unlikely the attendance will go up much." This is totally against the human nature of sports fans. There are plenty of examples of winning creating crowds here in Pittsburgh. One has to look no further than the pathetic Pirates this summer. The fans came out in droves when it looked as if the Bucs had even a tiny glimmer of hope. The same goes for the crowds coming back to the Penguins as they started winning with the drafting of Crosby and Malkin.

    Given Pitt recent history of losing games to lesser teams and consistently letting their fans down in big games, I see plenty of upside for attendance. Will we have sellouts for Maine, Villanova, etc? No I do not see Pitt ever doing that. Even in Happy Valley there are plenty of empty seats for those games (most of those fans just never bother leaving the tailgate). I do believe if we get competitive we will see sellouts for Va. Tech, Florida State, Clemson, etc. I really believe you are underestimating the latent demand for good Pitt football.

  2. I was thinking the same as John in SC. Success would inevitably bring a decent bump in attendance. Of course, the argument could be made...and would probably be right...that as soon as they slip back into mediocrity that bump would be short lived.

  3. That was interesting. I always thought that Pitt drew as well as it could given its small market size, sports competition, and there are other school alumni in town.

    For those who can remember, Pitt back from 1976-80s drew about the same. I remember many empty seats for in Pitt Stadium against teams that were not very good.

    I agree with John in SC that playing a more competitive schedule will increase attendence. Likely will increase some season tickets and get some casual game day sales that would not exist for UCONN or Rutgers.

    Chris, another interesting post would be to compare how Pitt's local radio and TV broadcasts ratings look against other schools. I think that is another clear indicator of fan interest, even if it does not translate into ticket sales. I recall that the Pirates back in the 70s and 80s, when they actually were among the winningest teams, also had attendence problems. Yet their radio broadcasts were among the highest in MLB year after year. If people were so interested in the Pirates, why did not more come out 3 Rivers? Could same be said for Pitt?

  4. There is no doubt that attendance would go up with great success, but even if Pitt was a top 5 team, they aren't going to be suddenly selling out every game. That was proven in the 70s.

    And, Sal, I wish I had data on TV ratings because that was something I considered. Pitt games always have high ratings, and Pitt was just rated No. 37 in the amount of fans they have, so clearly the interest is there. They just don't come to the games in droves for various reasons.

  5. Chris- love the blog. It's always my first stop for news on Pitt football and hoops. I live in Central PA and while it's unquestionably PSU country, there are (anecdotally) a LOT of rabid Pitt fans that simply can't make the 3 hour trip (1 way with no delays in the Squirrel Hill Tunnel) to catch a game. If I lived closer, I'd LOVE to get season tickets, but it's just not gonna happen, especially with weeknight games. I think you're spot on in that just because there aren't fannies in the seats, doesn't mean there Pitt football doesn't have a good following.


  6. Wait, so its ok for attendance to stink because other schools' attendance stinks? or because we have pro teams?

    I live in PGH and am not a PSU or Pitt Alum but I spend my money on PSU rather pro. Where is the stat for someone like me who doesnt live in State Collegem but chooses psu over pro and pitt?

    Well, If you you wanna be Maryland, then go ahead.

  7. Also needs to be taken into account that although LA has many pro sports teams, none of them are for football. I would be willing to bet that with one or two pro teams in town, there would be some negative impact on attendance for USC and UCLA.

  8. USF is the best to compare Pitt to, all tangible factors included.

    Roughly the same size metro area (the TB area has only about 400,000 more people, but is more spread out than Pittsburgh is), and 3 pro teams.

    USF does not have the benefit of decades of built up fandom, but does have the benefit of a larger enrollment.

    I've been to poorly attended games for both schools, and they both pad their attendance stats considerably.

  9. Clemson alum (living in Pgh) here...

    ACC schools, for the most part, travel well. At the Clemson-Maryland game in College Park last month, there were probably 10,000 people clad in orange and purple.

    Of course Pitt's attendance will rise!

  10. Correction to be made: Alabama is not in a big metro area. Tuscaloosa is pretty far from Birmingham.