Many reasons for attendance woes, future uncertain

Many reasons for attendance woes, future uncertain

On Halloween, as the then BCS No. 6-ranked Horned Frogs took on University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Versus cameramen panned to rows upon rows of unoccupied seats, exposing a huge flaw for TCU’s nationally prominent football team, now ranked fourth in the nation.

The average home attendance for the 2009 season currently stands at 34,247 fans, about 77 percent of the stadium’s total capacity of 44,358 people. While Saturday’s game against the University of Utah is sold out, the Horned Frogs’ last home sellout was in 2006 against Texas Tech, more than three years ago.

According to sources close to the university and college football, TCU’s recent attendance woes are not a result of one concrete factor, but rather a number of problems that keep entire rows of seats empty at game time.

Chancellor Victor Boschini said one aspect working against the Frogs in terms of attendance is their conference affiliation. As a member of the Southwest Conference from 1923-1996, TCU regularly took on regional foes such as the University of Texas and Texas A&M University. Attendance received a boost during those years because of the large traveling numbers and alumni bases that geographically close schools like Texas have, he said.

“Since the end of the Southwest Conference era our attendance has really been based on TCU fans and not fans from the other team,” Boschini said.

However, Boschini said that season ticket sales to see the Frogs are at an all-time high.

“Nine of the top 10 years of season ticket totals have come since 2000,” he said.

Boschini also cited TCU’s relatively small alumni base as a reason for subpar attendance. He said the university has about 60,000 living alumni, whereas some larger universities can have close to 400,000.

“To fill our entire stadium we’d need (almost) every graduate of TCU to come to the stadium every Saturday,” Boschini said.

Although he said he appreciated all of the dedicated fans that do show up every Saturday to cheer on the Frogs, Boschini said the lack of sellout crowds frustrates him.

“The bottom line that’s the truth in any sport is the only way to get fans in the seats is to win consistently,” he said. “That’s where the frustration comes in because we are winning and winning consistently.”

Boschini said during an interview before the Homecoming game against UNLV that he saw no reason that the game shouldn’t sell out. The game’s final attendance tally was 33,451 – only 75 percent of the stadium’s total capacity.

Mac Engel, a former Fort Worth Star-Telegram sportswriter and current feature writer who received a master’s degree from TCU, said the university’s current conference affiliation not only causes a lack of attendance on the part of opposing fans, but also features teams that do not excite the local non-Horned Frog community, like San Diego State University and the University of Wyoming.

“A small private school in Fort Worth playing against teams you don’t necessarily know that much about . it’s just a harder sell,” he said. “It’s hard to get people to care when you’re playing San Diego State.”

Engel said the university’s small number of students, with a total fall 2009 enrollment of 8,853, hurts the football attendance bottom line.

“My personal theory is that it’s not a very big school,” Engel said. “You’re hurt in numbers. And then you have the (small) alumni base, and not all of them are football fans.”

In fact, if every single one of TCU’s current graduate and undergraduate students showed up to a football game, they would only fill up about 20 percent of the stadium.

Engel also said the Frogs’ strong home record discourages successful non-conference opponents such as Texas and Oklahoma, who are big attendance draws in the local community, from playing in Fort Worth because of the possibility of a loss.

“The problem is that TCU is so good that nobody wants to touch them if they don’t have to,” Engel said.

The lack of attendance has made TCU a persona non grata in the eyes of those who run the BCS bowls, so that none of the bowls want the Frogs, Engel said.

“The networks don’t want them, and the bowl games don’t want them because the numbers just aren’t there . what the Fiesta and Orange Bowls don’t want are a bunch of empty seats,” he said.

However, TCU’s attendance will not matter if the Frogs receive an automatic bowl bid said John Sudsbury, director of media relations and communications for the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Any team in the top 12 in the standings at the end of the season not from a major conference such as the Southeastern Conference or the Big 12 receives an automatic bid, Sudsbury said.

However, if TCU somehow wins the conference while falling out of the top 12, Sudsbury said that is where issues like national TV ratings and fan attendance at the Sugar Bowl would come into play.

He said fan attendance does play a role in the final decision for teams without an automatic bid, but the bowl’s primary goal above all else was to have the best football matchup possible on the field.

Andy Points, a sophomore finance and marketing major, said the university’s lack of a home crowd confuses him.

“The free admission for students is great,” Points said.

As for students who don’t attend games, Points said, they were missing out on an integral college experience.

“I think they’re missing out on an opportunity to support their school and interact with their peers,” Points said. “TCU football doesn’t just represent TCU athletics, it represents TCU as a whole.”

TCU vs. Utah

When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Amon Carter Stadium

TV: CBS College Sports

Radio: KTCU FM 88.7