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.