Ohio State Football Has an Attendance Problem

Ohio State Football Ohio Stadium

Yesterday, thanks to the people who get counted who didn’t have to pay to get in — like staffers, players, and media — the Ohio State football program narrowly avoided their second game of under 100,000 in attendance this season.

There were wide patches of empty seats on Saturday, and scattered inside of those large gray patches of bleachers were fans dressed in their customary Scarlet garb. And with plenty of elbow room to boot.

Students are on fall break, which hurts the numbers a bit, but let’s not blame the Millennials for this problem as well. Especially since what we’re seeing now goes beyond just this generation.

The reported attendance for Saturday’s game was 100,042. That number would have been the lowest since 2002, if not for a game against Rutgers five weeks earlier, which featured just 93,057 in attendance.

The 93,057 was the lowest at Ohio Stadium since 1997, when the official capacity was 89,841. Of course, that still didn’t stop more people from showing up to a game against Bowling Green that year (93,151) than chose to witness this year’s Rutgers game in person.

Yes, there were rain concerns for that Rutgers game, but there have been rain concerns in other games over the last 21 years as well. Rain has never kept 10,000 Buckeye fans away before. Hell, 10-degree weather and a blizzard in the 1950 Snow Bowl only kept 30,000 fans away, and a few thousand of those were Michigan fans who smartly decided not to make the trip.

It should be noted that with new luxury suites added in the last year, the official capacity of Ohio Stadium dropped from 104,944 last year to 102,082 this year. But this year’s number is only about 250 more than the official capacity from 2007-2013 and 500 more 2001-2006.

But official capacity isn’t really the official capacity. The largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history was during the 2016 season when 110,045 crammed in to watch the Buckeyes defeat Michigan in double overtime. There were 5,000 people more than capacity in the stadium that day, and generally around 3,000-4,000 for most other games.

In fact, the 10 largest crowds in Ohio Stadium history have come since the capacity was expanded to 104,944 in 2014.

Ohio State expected a dip from past numbers this year, but there’s no way they can be happy with what they have seen so far. And it’s not just the Rutgers and Minnesota games that indicate a problem.

The game against Florida A&M (103,595) in 2013 would be the second-highest attendance this season behind the 104,193 that saw the Indiana game one week ago.

This year’s Indiana game — with more people in the stands than any other game this year — would be the lowest-attended game of the 2017, 2016, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007 seasons. And most of those years the capacity at Ohio Stadium is higher now than it was then.

Why are people staying away in larger numbers than ever before?

We all know the answers. The cost of going to a game is larger than it has ever been. The hassle is greater. The stadium is drunker. The view at home is better, cheaper, and easier, but admittedly, it is probably still just as drunk.

The thing is, tickets are actually easier to get than ever before — either through the actual ticket office or on the secondary market, and yet people are still choosing to stay away. And this is with a secondary market offering tickets often times cheaper than face value.

In other words, if people really wanted to get to a game, they could. Many of them just aren’t as interested as they used to be, which means it’s also a fan problem.

People are spoiled. Urban Meyer has spoiled them. Their living rooms, man caves, she sheds, and working cell towers have spoiled them. The ability to not have their ears blown off by overloud PA music has spoiled them as well.

And maybe the College Football Playoffs have ruined them.

Generally, this would be where the athletic director would be targeted and those who set the prices on goods inside the stadium would be seen as culprits, but it’s not the product in the concourses keeping people away as much as it is the product on the field.

If some Buckeye fans see a team that they don’t think is going to win it all, the desire to invest as much money, time, and effort into seeing them live just isn’t worth what it used to be.

The irony is that the product would likely improve with larger — and louder — crowds.

There are two home games left this season — Nebraska and Michigan — and both games are expected to set new season highs in attendance.

Those numbers, of course, will not match what they were two years ago when two of the five largest crowds in Horseshoe history saw the Huskers and Wolverines take on a Buckeye team that would make the playoffs and then be quickly discarded.

And it may be that memory more than anything else that is keeping people away at larger numbers than ever before.

But, hey, at least traffic is improving.

43 Responses

  1. It is a shame that a great sport and Buckeye tradition have to sacrificed to that greedy buziness addictions can be maintained. Those of us who are loyal fans have inadvertently become enablers. People are finally saying “enough” ! Go Bucks!

  2. Ticket prices are the sole reason I stopped going to OSU football games. They are focused on squeezing every penny they can out of the fan. I vote with my feet. Maybe they will lower prices until they find the happy spot that fills the stadium again, they certainly raised them to the point folks stopped coming. You know, the whole, what the market will bear thing…

    1. Unfortunately, the sweet spot doesn’t equate to a full stadium. The sweet spot will always accept thousands of empty seats.

  3. I would not pay face value for the seats up in C deck on the closed end. They are simply too far away. I would only buy those seats for a marquee game like Michigan, Penn State, or a national power to be in the house. They need to lower the price on those seats for the mediocre to bad games to sell out the stadium for all games. If there are remaining tickets by perhaps Wednesday of that week, the athletic department should market and promote reduced priced tickets. By that point, they will not sell, people will buy better seats on the after market for equal or lower prices. I buy after market tickets late (within 24 hours) for excellent prices in desirable locations.

  4. I paid for 2 games this year: TCU (top 15 team matchup) and Indiana. The TCU game was cheaper, and it wasn’t even close. Deciding between watching OSU play TCU or Indiana, attending a significantly more enhanced stadium (I still love Ohio Stadium, but Jerry World is an amazing atmosphere), with seats in the C Deck vs. lower bowl (huge difference in viewing). The price of the TCU ticket was 20% cheaper. Sure, I had to fly to Texas, but flights are under $100 r/t, and I have family to stay with in Texas. All in all, if I’m going to spend money in the future, I’d rather spend money for an away game vs a top tier opponent, than a ton a money for a mediocre opponent at the Shoe.

    Not too mention with more and more games starting in the evening, I can barely stay awake for the 2nd half in attendance. I can’t recall watching a 7:30pm (or later) game past halftime. My Sunday morning’s are just too important to destroy with a 3+ hour Saturday night TV show. Someone already mentioned competition with other entertainment options. This is why I only watch a couple CFB games each Saturday, and no other sports. There are just too many other options more interesting than television entertainment in today’s world.

  5. Well, for what it’s worth – my wife an I (alumni from ’81, and she is also an alumus of the Stadium Scholarship Dorm) will be in the Shoe for TTUN.

  6. Good job Tony. Once again, nail on head.

  7. No clue if this has anything to do with attendance or not… but I can barely watch a game on TV these days. Normally I record it on my DVR and start watching after an hour or so… so that I can fast forward through all the commercials and challenges. Seems to be the way society is moving, instant access…

    Something to remember too is that advertising on TV is now basically only done with live sporting events. So those commercial breaks aren’t going to get shorter at the stadium, they will probably start to get longer as TV execs need to make up for falling revenue outside of sports.

    1. I go to every game possible, which is a lot and I record the games directly into Premier Pro and Corel Video Studio Pro and edit them out to rewatch. It only takes a few minutes and the commercials are gone. IMO Corel does a better job with motion stabilization/tracking but Adobe gives more track options.

  8. The Bass Line played over the band at every break, the “touchdown celebration” sponsored by Coke. The constant flow of folks to and from the bathrooms sponsored by Beer Sales. The amount of people taking selfies, taking walks and generally having no interest in the game itself vs just hanging out to check in on Facebook. I declined a $5 Hot Chocolate. Saw OSU is now selling tailgates after they ran off so many naturally occurring ones. There’s not much juice left in the lemon to squeeze.

  9. My brother and I return to Ohio every year for 1 game. This year was the Indiana game. We will continue our tradition as long as we are able, no matter that:
    1. The piped-in music is awful as it is too loud, even in Section 16C.
    2. In the past TBDBITL played during time-outs as well as in between quarters, etc. Band members in 2nd half used to visit even in C-deck to play.
    3. We paid $20 to park almost on W. Dodridge St., furthest away ever, while there were plenty of empty spaces near Fawcett.
    4. Starting times of games not announced until well-after we have to make travel and hotel arrangements.
    5. Some comments above said we are too old. I still yell, wear Buckeye gear, plant Buckeye trees in Michigan, go to Skull session, donate to the band, go to Bowl games and away games such as TCU in Dallas this year.
    6. Team record does not matter. Leaky defense does not matter. Under-achieving o-line does not matter, questionable play calls does not matter. Supporting the team matters.
    7. The prices of everything are outrageous. The TV timeouts are outrageous.

  10. I agree with every thing said before. The ticket prices are just getting ridiculous. I try to get to one game a year, usually one of the lesser games. The ticket prices for the “premium” games are ridiculous. My local alumni club gets tickets to THE GAME when it’s in Ann Arbor, and they have been running just over $100 face value. In Columbus, there almost $200. I guess the TV money makes up more of the budget than ticket sales. And the fan has a better view at home.


    Holy cow you have too take out a mortgage just too goto the game!!!!

    Tickets = TOO DAMN MUCH!!!

    I got tickets to the bowl game last year, 2 rows from the top, parking plus getting my son a hotdog, nearly broke me.

  12. I read all this, and consider the B1G mistake of installing luxury boxes at the $hoe (really, in a college football stadium?!) and think, the decline of CFB probably has become irreversible.

    So I’ll enjoy CFB while I can.

  13. I am a Buckeye Alumni and I live about 500 miles away in NJ. I try to get back to campus every year for 1-2 games when I can but I have to tell you that the ticket prices are out of control for decent seats. Then you have to factor in the parking constraints, the cost of parking and hotel prices which are super high when there is a decent game in town. It adds up and takes a lot of planning. While I love going back to campus, the costs prevent me from doing so as much as I probably would otherwise.

  14. Think we need to stop with blaming our coach, team and fans. Attendance is dropping across almost all sports. With the competition for time and money, people are no longer willing to deal with the negatives when they have multiple other options to follow their teams. Stadiums no longer hold a monopoly on viewing your team.

    If the shot callers want to keep their prices, they need to start making serious concessions for the fans; wifi, comfortable seats, easy parking…..

    The TV timeouts are easily my biggest pet peeve. Totally breaks up the rhythm of the game.

  15. The Nebraska game is one of two premium games this year and the face value is $120 per ticket. I don’t think anyone thought Nebraska would be 0-6 right now and that could be the reason the time of the game has not been announced yet.

  16. Season ticket holder since 1980 even when I lived 25 years in Louisiana. Now back in Ohio. Tix are definitely expensive and it is becoming more attractive to buy desired game tix on line rather than a whole season package. Furthermore when they sent me my notice about the changes to the lottery system, I fell several thousand places in priority because it’s become more important to donate dollars than be a long term loyal alum (and double grad). When I retire out of state (but drivable) I’m pretty sure I will drop the season tix. OSU doesn’t value me and they dropped the value prop too much. Sad for multi-decade alums

  17. Commercial Timeouts, Great TV coverage, Over Saturation of Sports in General, Always Favored to Win, Ear Damage, Commercial Timeouts

    Think of the home games with Texas and USC. You could not walk in the tailgate areas it was so crowded. Our generation went to the games! Anyone younger is sitting home swiping tinder, watching Netflix, and ordering uber eats with the game in the background

  18. Or, just maybe there are some fans who are sick of the performances this particular team is putting on the field.

    Ohio State has an assistant coaching problem and people are tired of Urban not addressing it.

  19. I live 500 mi from Columbus, and have made it back for only a few games in the last 30 years – although I remain a big fan. The teams are always great, but as mentioned above, the stadium experience has changed enormously. I remember my first game experience in the 60s, when there was near silence between plays. You could actually hear what was going on on the field. The constant loud noise and “entertainment” between plays and during commercial breaks are annoying and distracting. I appreciate that students of today are different – as they should be, but frankly the whole experience was over the top and rather disappointing. The ramp entrance was the high point. Everything else – not so much. I may have attended my last game in the Shoe.

    1. You must have missed that part in the article.

      1. I didn’t miss it……..because I actually read articles in their entirety! Amazing how that resolves comprehension faults.

  20. I wonder how many people decided not to go to the games this year because of the whole Zach Smith thing. I know there were some people who did not want Urban Meyer to come back from his suspension.

    1. Any complaints about Urban Meyer should be limited to his comments in Chicago, which were actually 100% true from his perspective but easily misinterpreted. Anyone paying attention would know this.

      In hindsight, he should have fired Zach Smith much earlier, but the reasons had nothing to do with domestic violence.

  21. After over 50 years of avid attendance of most Buckeye home games I deeply resented the blasting of sound, not even music, just shear sound vibrations, onto the playing field. The idiot money changers have taken over the temple and give them time and they will destroy every tradition that has made the Ohio State tradition so great. I remember the time when going to the game actually had an aspect of returning to campus. Want to improve the game experience a thousand per cent? Just pull the plug on the fake sound enhancements of (to quote Gene Smith) “the game experience”.

    1. Now they’re blasting the OSU Marching Band over the huge speakers at field level. It sounds REALLY BAD from everywhere in the stadium. Near them, it’s DEAFENING.

    2. You’re old, stay home…we need louder fans.

      1. Totally agree we need loud younger fans at the game. The shoe doesn’t get loud enough

  22. The demand for the product at the price offered is below the supply point. Since the price is the variable under complete control of the provider, tweak it. Economics 101.

    1. The opportunity costs may outweigh the reduction in attendance, actually bringing in more revenue, and lowering the labor costs..,,.Economics 101.

  23. There are so many reasons but mainly I have found that Ohio State has made it more difficult and not nearly the in game experience it used to be. Every year parking is harder to find/costs more, ticket prices increase, etc. But the final straw for me is the actual in game experience…piped-in music, tbdbitl pays very little during games, and the media time outs are excruciating! The game attending fan base has turned into a corporate crowd instead of die hard actual fans. It’s just not the same and I would rather watch at home on my 70″ screen.

  24. Thank you for writing this – I’ve been going to the Shoe since 83 and this was my first visit of 2018. You are right that attendance is down – the published numbers are fiction. A couple of observations/theories in no particular order.

    1) TV timeouts are insufferable. I kept thinking how much I would prefer to be at home using my DVR and going through all of that.

    2) It’s just darn expensive. $20 to park, $5 for hot dogs etc….

    3) Thus, if I am going to go to the game, it better be a BIG one. Why would I spend the money and time to see Tulane?

    4) Ohio State is making the problem by not even offering for sale tickets in 7-9C. None were available on Ticketmaster Thursday and nobody was in those seats Saturday. They’ve tarped over those seats via electronic means.

    5) One solution – it might be time to start pricing seats by location in addition to varying prices by game. A nosebleed upper C deck end zone seat should not cost the same as a 30 yard line B deck seat, but they do today.

    If we’re drawing these numbers as an undefeated team ranked 3rd in the nation, what happens if there is a slump?

  25. Tickets for “big” games still command a big premium. It’s the lower quality opponents who people are “meh” able seeing.

    Case in point, cheapest pair of tickets for the OSU/UM game are now about $700 for bad seats. Good seats in the $2-5k range.

  26. Not a great experience. Horrible parking. Chased away the tailgates. Hard to get in the stadium. Unfriendly staff and lines are 20 minutes long for concessions

  27. People simply don’t like watching shitty football anymore! They’ve had enough. No one wants to take out a second mortgage in order to take their family to watch Rutgers, Tulane, “Directional State University!” Hell, look at Alabama! No one is going to their games, because they play garbage also. It’s really not hard to understand. I’m surprised it took this long.

  28. I’d stay away too because this is a hard team to watch. They have a mediocre defense, a lousy offensive line, give up big plays every game and commit stupid penalties on offense and defense. Michigan will beat them and so may Michigan State. They aren’t going to make the playoffs, so it’s wait for next year even though they are 7-0.

  29. I enjoy the Skull Sessions just as much as the games themselves. Some people like to drink before the games and watch a live band perform on Lane Ave., but I choose not to do that anymore because the lines to the bathroom is too long.

  30. This is the first year where I have seen a lot of tickets on sale on ticketmaster. When Tressel was coaching, I was a season ticket holder for ten years. For those of you who don’t know, you have to donate a minimum of $1500 to the buckeye club to be a season ticket holder and then you have to pay for the tickets at face value too. After ten years, I dropped out of the buckeye club and went on ticketmaster to get my tickets. This is the first year that I was able to get tickets to 2 games sitting in section 17A. I was never able to do that before. This is the first year in quite a while that I will be able to attend all 7 home games without having to take out a loan.

  31. Ticket prices are getting a little rediculous. That probably has more to do with attendance drop than anything.

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