SEC Tops College Football as Attendance Continues to Decline
For the 23rd straight year, the SEC led every other conference in college football with the most fans in attendance per game with an average of 72,195 fans.
Heading the SEC in average attendance growth for 2021 was Arkansas, which saw a 35.6% increase from the 2019 season as the Razorbacks had its first season over .500 since 2016, posting a 9-4 record. In head coach Sam Pittman's first full season at the Razorback's helm Arkansas finished third in the SEC West and had out-of-conference wins at home over Texas and in the Outback Bowl against Penn State. Pittman seemingly was able to bring the excitement of college football back to Fayetteville just in time for the team to host SEC powerhouses like Alabama, LSU, and Ole Miss in 2022.
Another positive for the SEC's college football attendance was the conference had five of the top 10 teams with the highest average of fans in their stadiums in 2021, led by Alabama's 98,720 fans per game. The other SEC teams in the top 10 were Texas A&M, LSU, Georgia, and Tennessee.
This was just about the end of the positives though as college football hit its lowest attendance average since 1981 as it has declined from the sport for the seventh straight season.
While the SEC claimed the crown for having the most fans in attendance per game, it wasn't immune from the sport's attendance drop as it lost 0.007% of it's fans since 2019, putting the conference at its lowest fan attendance since 1999.
Last season being college football's return from the COVID-derailed 2020 season, which forced teams to limit their stadium capacity in an attempt to prevent spreading the disease, is obviously the biggest possibility for why attendance in 2021 was so low as some fans were cautious about getting back to large crowds. But COVID isn't completely to blame as attendance was decreasing six straight years prior to the pandemic.
Other factors besides COVID that could possibly be to blame for the decrease are rising ticket/stadium prices, how predictable the sport has become in terms of who's going to be in the College Football Playoff, or even the comforts of being at home with unlimited food and drinks, free range to use the restroom, and control over the TV outweighing the excitement of watching a game live and in person.
However, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey believes that there's a bigger reason for the yearly decline.
"There's plenty of, if you will, negativity around the collegiate sports world," Sankey told CBS Sports. "People have said, 'Well, these decisions won't affect fan interest.' Well, something certainly is. It's not just TV. It's not just COVID. We have to rethink our approach on key issues. That's almost a 'Captain Obvious' moment."
College football has had major changes over the past few years, such as the inclusion of NIL so players can earn money from their name, image and likeness, and the Transfer Portal, that gives players who are unhappy with their situation the opportunity to transfer to another school with no penalties. The sport has expanded from being just about football and has given its players more freedom in their choices, something which has definitely caused controversy among fans about whether it is a good or bad thing.
Along with trying to figure out how to attract more fans back into the stadiums, the NCAA will have its hands busy trying to address some of the pressing issues that have risen in college football due to how the recent additions changed the landscape of the sport.
Alabama Crimson Tide All-Time Receiving Leaderboard
All of the SEC Marching Bands From Alabama to Vanderbilt
2022 Alabama Crimson Tide Career Record Book