As teams struggle to fill college football stadiums across the nation, Penn State has been able to buck the troubling trend.
While attendance for college football is down, per figures released this winter by the NCAA, the attendance at Beaver Stadium is up. With an average home attendance of 106,707 last season — good enough for third in the nation — Penn State trailed only Michigan (111,589/six games) and Ohio State (107,495/seven games).
Beaver Stadium saw an uptick in attendance last season, boosting the Nittany Lions’ season average from 100,257 in the 2016 season.
“I think it’s two things,” athletic director Sandy Barbour said last week during the Coaches Caravan. “As everything at Penn State, it starts with our community and how connected they are to each other. I think that’s the reason that I believe Penn State will always buck that trend, and certainly success and what James [Franklin] and his staff are doing and the student-athletes and how amazing they are, our community wants to come out and see them and come out and support them.
“So I think all those things are very Penn State centric and are reasons why we’re not surprised we’re bucking the trend.”
Top-10 attendance averages/2017 season
- Michigan (111,589)
- Ohio State (107,495)
- Penn State (106,707)
- Alabama (101,722)
- Texas A&M (98,802)
- LSU (98,506)
- Tennessee (95,779)
- Texas (92,778)
- Georgia (92,746)
- Nebraska (89,798)
The in-home viewing experience has been challenging programs across the country as some fans prefer the television view and the luxuries that come with watching a game in the comforts of their homes. Getting in and out of Central Pennsylvania isn’t the easiest trip for people to make, especially with limited airport options. But with a 22-5 record the last two seasons coupled with everything else fans love about the game-day experience at Beaver Stadium, Penn State continues to be unaffected.
Penn State announced May 1 that season tickets for this season were nearly sold out and likely would be within the coming weeks. With more than 6,100 new season tickets in the fold — and this doesn’t account for student season tickets that go on sale in June — Penn State announced last fall that season-ticket prices would increase from $385 to $420 this season. Student season-ticket prices will rise from $218 to $232 — the first price increase since 2009.
With 31 varsity athletic programs and needs to be met for each team, it was only a matter of time until football would have to raise prices to help sustain the rest of the athletic department’s robust budget.
“It had been a good stretch without an increase,” Barbour said. “I think the next thing you look at is where our competition is. Now, that’s not a perfect parallel because there’s different locales, et cetera, but then going back to the other question, we need to have the ability to fund our entire program and fund our student-athletes to be successful.
“Our community is very proud of the academic, the athletic and the community service objectives and achievements of our student-athletes and there certainly is a price to that.”
At some point in the coming years — and it’s still very much down the road — Beaver Stadium will undergo renovations as part of Penn State’s ongoing facilities master plan. That eventually will include a dip in capacity as Penn State works to enhance the in-game experience rather than cramming more people into the already packed stadium bleachers.
The upkeep of Beaver Stadium — specifically winterizing the massive structure at the conclusion of football season and then getting it ready again in the spring and summer — is one of the many reasons for the desired renovation. Barbour said the stadium will continue to function structurally even if it isn’t renovated within a certain time frame, but that maintenance costs will be an issue.
“That will be part of the decision-making process,” she said. “Where does that line cross between the money we put into it from major maintenance and an ongoing maintenance standpoint, and when that’s no longer financially viable to do that?” Barbour said. “Obviously we could continue to do that to keep the structural integrity.”