If You Build It, They Will Come: UC Sets Program Attendance Record

They will most definitely come, Ray.  Well, unless you’re playing a team that’s 0-8 at Noon.  (PS – Still only the 3rd best Kevin Costner baseball movie behind Bull Durham and For Love of the Game).

The Cincinnati Bearcats football program has shattered its previous average attendance records, both at Nippert Stadium and in general.  Even in 2010, when UC drew 58, 000+ for an off-site game versus Oklahoma and saw then-record season ticket sales in the wake of a 12-1 season, the Bearcats still averaged less than 36,000 fans a game.  UC drew over 35,000 fans for its final 2015 home game against Tulsa, marking the fifth home game in which attendance reached the 35,000 figure that was the previous capacity of Nippert.

UC Football Attendance By Game in 2015:

  1. UConn – 40,124 (sell-out)
  2. Miami (FL) – 40,101 (sell-out)
  3. Alabama A&M – 39,095
  4. Temple – 38,112
  5. Tulane – 35,015
  6. Central Florida – 30,131

2015 season average: 37,096

This is in stark contrast to past years, when UC could barely sell out Nippert for the biggest games of the year.  Unless it was a night game against Louisville or Miami (OH), there was no chance.  Selling more than 27,000-28,000 tickets against the likes of UConn, Temple, or especially FCS Alabama A&M was totally out of the question.  UC entered this past Saturday’s game against Tulsa with a 5-4 record and virtually no shot at a league title, but still managed to draw 35,015 – That speaks volumes about just how far this program has come.  Even five years ago, that game would have been a ghost town.

The surge in ticket sales is certainly encouraging for the program.  The renovations of Nippert are already paying dividends.  Alumni and fans are starting to really get behind this program on a consistent basis because the new stadium gives them something to be proud of (for me, the winning football team was enough, but I guess I am an atypical city of Cincinnati sports fan).  In years past, I don’t think you’d have seen anything close to a sell-out for any game this year except for Miami (FL), even in the 35,097-seat configuration of the old Nippert.  Miami might not have even hit 35,097 had it been a Noon kickoff on a Saturday.  The fact that five out of six home games during a rather disappointing season drew 35,000+ is incredible.  The only question that remains is: Once the buzz of the new stadium wears off, what will average attendance look like?  Can the athletic department keep this momentum going into future seasons?  I sure hope the answer is yes.

There’s a night-and-day difference in the gameday experience at 2015 Nippert and 2013 Nippert.  Obviously, fan comfort inside the stadium is worlds better – you don’t have to wait 20 minutes to get food or use a restroom anymore.  But the Grid on Sigma Sigma commons and other tailgate spots around campus seem to be more lively this year, too.  A renovated Nippert has increased the overall level of school pride, and that’s why I believe that this uptick in attendance is sustainable.  Perhaps not to the level of drawing 39,000+ against an FCS team, but exciting nonetheless.  The nay-sayers who questioned a renovation of Nippert “because UC couldn’t even sell out 35,097 seats” can now be silent (I’m looking at you, ex-UC [and now ex-Illinois] AD Mike Thomas).  A strong season next year in which the Bearcats bounce back and contend for an AAC title will cement the foundation for many years of high attendance.  Given the numbers UC is drawing this year, I still wish they would have had this expansion take Nippert up to somewhere around the 42,500 range, but so be it.  Obviously, a packed Nippert only makes UC look more appealing to Power Five leagues.

The American Conference’s TV structure should continue to help strong UC draw strong crowds into the future.  The AAC sold it’s soul to get almost all of it’s games on TV, and the result is that the league has numerous late Saturday slots that nobody else wants because they compete with the biggest games of the week.  This means perhaps not as many eyeballs watching on TV for Saturday games, but the league’s deal to fill numerous Thursday and Friday spots helps attain the visibility that late Saturday games on ESPN2 or CBSSN lack.  It’s a welcome trade-off, as late kickoffs have been proven to do wonders for attendance at UC.  In fact, the Bearcats have only played two Noon Saturday home games in the two years since Louisville and Rutgers bolted and the conference became The American as we know it.  UC is and will continue to be one of the up-and-coming league‘s top teams, and hopefully that means being showcased on ESPN Thursday nights and 3:30 or 7:00/7:30 Saturday home games.  7:00 on ESPN2 isn’t 8:00 on ABC, and 3:30 on CBSSN isn’t 3:30 on CBS, but I’d much rather have that than Noon games that might get a few more TV viewers but lose fans in the seats.  They are still nationally televised.

It seems as if the 3:30 spot on CBSSN has become Navy’s personal TV spot for all Navy home games (due to their huge fan presence on the West Coast that doesn’t want to wake up at 9:00am), but I sure hope UC can sneak into that slot a few times.  It was great for attendance, tailgating, and the gameday atmosphere when UC hosted UConn on October 24.  If the rains hadn’t come, it would have been the perfect football day.  The 40,124 who bought tickets agreed.  The league also has a Saturday 7:00 spot on CBSSN and a 7:00 spot somewhere on the ESPN family.  The best I can gather is that on any given Saturday, there are usually one or two Noon spots (ESPNU/N, CBSSN), one late-afternoon (3:30) spot (CBSSN), and two late spots (ESPN2/U/N, CBSSN).  This obviously fluctuates, but UC generally has a 60% or better chance of getting a late (non-Noon) Saturday home game under the current AAC TV deal, which definitely wasn’t the case in the old Big East.  Some weeks (like Week 10) feature only one Nooner, two 4:00s, and two 7:00s, which is a beautiful thing.  The more late games, the better!