Inside the Numbers: College football doing good business, except at UVA

uva footballCollege football is as healthy as ever. That’s what the people in charge are telling us, anyway. And this in spite of the continued relative lack of interest in the UVA football program that I cover every Saturday.

Numbers released by the National Football Foundation and the College Football Hall of Fame this week had attendance actually slightly down in 2017, with 47.6 million fans turning out for games, a 3.3 percent decrease from 2016, but nearly 30 percent above attendance in 1997, showing the growth of the game over the past two decades.

TV viewership was also strong, with an average of 1.9 million fans tuning in per game, and more than 200 million unique fans watching at least a part of one game in 2017.

“College football will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2019, and our sport has certainly come a long way from several hundred spectators lining a wooden fence to watch the first game in 1869,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “We saw a big shift this year in the metrics and how things are measured with the adaptation of total live audience numbers by several media outlets. The need for the switch highlights that fans truly are reveling in the vision of college football anytime, anywhere and on any screen.”

At the University of Virginia, where the football program qualified for the postseason for the first time in six seasons, the numbers were just meh.

Attendance per game was actually down slightly, by 1.3 percent, at 39,398 per game in 2017, a drop from the 39,929 per game attending home games in 2016.

The season best was the 48,609 in Scott Stadium for the home finale with in-state ACC rival Virginia Tech.

Even that figure is down, and significantly, from the last Virginia Tech home game, in 2015, which drew 53,777.

But, hey, six wins, a bowl game – OK, a 49-7 loss at Navy in the Military Bowl, on what felt like the coldest day of the new millennium.

We have numbers from that one as well. The game was a live-gate success, with 35,921 fans attending at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, which has a listed capacity of 34,000.

The game also drew more than 2 million TV viewers, which you have to say, not bad for a weekday mid-afternoon game pitting two 6-6 teams.

For comparison, the New Year’s Six and the College Football Playoff national-title game averaged more than 17 million TV viewers, and the top 10 postseason games averaged more than 57,000 tickets sold.

The title game, pitting two SEC schools, Alabama and Georgia, drew 29.9 million TV viewers, making it the second-most-watched program in cable-TV history, but still well off the 33.4 million viewer figure that the inaugural CFP championship game matchup, pitting Ohio State and Oregon, drew back in 2015.

Column by Chris Graham

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