College Football attendance in 2017 suffered the biggest drop in 30 years, combined with yet another year of a huge TV ratings gain. So, is the answer that obvious? People are simply bowing to technology and flopping in front of their 70-inch sets and spending their Saturdays with their own bathroom 10 feet away? Well, in short, yes.
However, the real story is more nuanced – and yet simple.
It is too damn expensive for most fans to go see their favorite boys play ball in the fall. This is not about ticket prices and or how the stadium Coke is now $6. In fact, most college football tickets are still under $80 and you would be hard-pressed to find a concert anywhere for that much. If you cannot afford the Twizzlers at the end zone stand, you have a choice to eat in the parking lot. No, the real issue is accommodations.
Most college towns are not in major metros and thus have limited hotel rooms. 46 weekends a year, these hotels operate at 60% occupancy if they are fortunate, and charge a reasonable rate. Then, in what makes capitalism apologists honk at the moon, they gouge like angry hyenas for home football weekends. When a Holiday Inn Express in Starkville or a Fairfield Inn in State College can get a fanatic to fork over $400 a night, all those slow Tuesdays in February are now paid for.
For a time, this worked fine for both parties. But this season showed the trend is real, and everyone will be losing soon if the market does not correct itself. VRBO and AirBnB are growing options, but habits are forming. Families are dropping season tickets in favor of one game a year – maybe. The truth for most college football fans is that 40% of their ticket buying fan base lives more than 2 hours away. These people need a place to stay. When a single weekend becomes a $1,500 vacation, then other choices are made.
Universities who have quietly benefitted from local hotel sponsorships need to actively work within their communities to create affordable options for season ticket holders. Hotels need to be smart enough to be ahead of the coming crash by cultivating loyalty allowing preferred members single night stays and bonus rooms for baseball or basketball stays.
College Football was not meant to be exclusively for the top tax bracket, but if schools and hotels are not careful, it soon will be.