In Tom Herman’s first season as head coach of the University of Texas football team, fewer of the burnt orange faithful turned out for home games than they did during Charlie Strong’s final season.
New figures from the NCAA show attendance at the six games played in 2017 at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium dipped by a little over 5 percent versus the six home games in 2016. In light of that drop-off, UT’s new athletics director promises a “much more dynamic and energetic environment” in and around DKR next year.
In 2016, Strong’s last season as UT’s head coach, the Longhorns notched a losing record of 5-7 and didn’t entertain the possibility of heading to a bowl game. Despite a losing record, Longhorn football games in Austin games hooked 587,283 fans, with average attendance of 97,881 per game. That season, UT sat in eighth place among NCAA Division I Football Subdivision (FBS) teams for attendance at home games.
A year later in 2017, Herman’s first season leading the Horns, the team ended with a 6-6 record and beat the University of Missouri in the Texas Bowl. During the season, Longhorn home games drew a total of 556,667 fans, or an average of 92,778 per game. That once again put UT in eighth place for home game attendance among NCAA Division I FBS teams, suggesting the university isn't the only one tackling a decline in attendance.
Chris Del Conte, the new athletics director at UT, says he and his colleagues are “actively addressing” the attendance slump. “We’ve been looking at the numbers, and we recognize the dip in attendance figures in recent years here. It’s an issue that so many schools across the country are dealing with and one that is a top priority for us,” Del Conte tells CultureMap in a statement.
Del Conte says he and his team are evaluating every aspect of the game-day experience at DKR.
“We have a lot of talented people in the room and are reaching out to all of our constituents — coaches, student-athletes, students, fans, and supporters — to come up with ways to improve,” he says. “I’m excited about the plans we are discussing and really looking forward to the [next] season. We are going to have a much more dynamic and energetic environment in and around our stadium in 2018.”
As noted by Del Conte, the Longhorns are hardly alone in seeing home-game attendance slide in 2017. For example, home-game attendance for Texas A&M football games decreased by 3 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the NCAA. The Aggies ranked third last year for home-game attendance among major universities. At the University of Oklahoma, home-game attendance inched downward by less than 1 percent. For 2017, the Sooners stood at No. 12 for home-game attendance among top-tier schools.
In UT’s football conference, the Big 12, per-game attendance wilted by a little over 1 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to CBSSports.com. Overall, the fall-off in per-game attendance in 2017 among the 129 NCAA Division I FBS teams was the largest in 34 years and the second largest ever, the website notes.
“This is not surprising to me,” Bill Lutzen, a veteran sports TV programmer, told CBSSports.com. “This issue is with lack of involvement of the college students. They no longer view attending sporting events as part of the university experience.”