Now The Dang Millennials Are Killing College Football Attendance; Here's Why


It’s tough being a Millennial these days. Once the hip darlings of our popular culture, my generation has moved into full-blown adulthood now, and dangit we’re supposed to be spending more money.

To read the press coverage is to come away with the notion it is the responsibility of our generation to sustain, among other things:

  • Casual dining restaurants
  • Golf
  • Napkins
  • Bar Soap
  • Home Depot
  • The Housing Market
  • The Hang-Out Sitcom
  • Canadian Tourism
  • Answering the phone by saying, “Yello.”
  • Pudding

I only made up two of those. The rest were things Millennials have been accused in the media of killing. The usual complaint is that we just won’t spend our money on the things our parents spent their money on, like personal watercraft and subprime mortgages, and it’s causing lots of problems. 

This extends, even, to college football, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"Mr. Bukowski, 21, calls himself a big-time Pitt fan, but his attitude toward live sporting events are shared among younger generations. Many feel it can be just as enjoyable to watch at home or in a sports bar with friends, and often it’s less expensive and more convenient. This reality is creating a problem for athletic departments across the country as NCAA average home football attendance has fallen five of the last six years."

This sentiment does seem to be broadly shared among my peer group, but I don’t think it has as much to do with our age as it does two simple factors: (1) Everywhere you go has giant HD televisions now, and (2) live events are extremely expensive.

Going to a football game at just about any big school is a whole ordeal. Traffic is heavy, parking is hard to find and/or expensive, and tickets are $80 or $100 for seats that aren’t even good. I feel taken advantage of at every turn. Whereas at home I can follow the game three times as well, the beer costs a quarter of the price, and I can pee twice as often in my own back yard.

There are certain games and certain stadiums that make it all worth it. A night game at LSU, an October afternoon at Nebraska, your school’s rivalry game — these are all sometimes worth attending in person, despite the cost and inconvenience.

But even then … not every time.

Not when you can sit on your own couch and spot a booger in Jim Harbaugh’s nose.

Here’s what football looked like on TV when I started watching it.

That’s not altogether terrible, but they didn’t even put the score on the screen the whole time back then. Now I get news and stats updating across the bottom of the screen, all the relevant game information somewhere else on the screen, and I can pause, rewind, fast forward, screen grab, tweet and get famous all with no guarantee I’m even clothed.

"While Power Five conferences boasted record revenue in 2016 — more than double the totals in 2012, thanks in large part to huge television contracts — filling stadiums remains important because ticket sales are still a significant source of revenue. And attending football games, experts say, is critical in maintaining another lifeblood of athletic departments: donations. Ticket sales and donations account for 41 percent of total revenue at Football Bowl Subdivision schools in 2014, according to a 2015 NCAA report. Factor in a predicted decline in future television revenue, and the downward attendance trend is even more problematic."

Naturally there’s an effort afoot to engage with the youths, which is a matter of convincing them their expendable income is better expended on attending college football games than “Instagraming through Madagascar” or whatever it is we’re supposedly spending our money on instead. Pitt is offering discounted tickets to recent graduates, for example. What that plan lacks in ingenuity it makes up for in pragmatism. You already owe your college way more money than you’ll ever make in your lifetime. You shouldn’t leave an event there feeling like they wrung you out once again for good measure. You’re an alumnus, not a sucker.

(Or are you?)

Yet there’s only so much a school can do. People have more options now, and if there is something distinct about Millennials in all this, it’s that we came up not having to pay much for entertainment products, if we paid anything at all. We pirated our first JAY-Z albums. There is no admission charge on Reddit.

It’s not a particular generation of people that’s killing college football attendance. It’s technology, and there’s no going back.