Is There A College Football Student Attendance Problem?

TDECU Stadium before a UH game last season.
TDECU Stadium before a UH game last season.
John Royal

It’s been years since I sat in the stands at a college football game — probably dating back to the days when Art Briles was head coach at UH. And it’s been an even longer time since I sat in the stands as a college student — that was probably a UH game against Rice at Rice Stadium way back in the 1980s. So I’ll be truthful, I have no idea what fans, especially students, want when they attend a game.

Apparently, I’m not the only person who doesn’t have a clue. College administrators can’t seem to figure it out either as student attendance has been dropping at college football games in recent years. Schools have tried to upgrade cell reception with the thought that students want the multimedia experience that comes with free wi-fi and great reception. But amazingly, that’s not the answer.

According to a Wall Street Journal story surveys conducted by the schools have discovered that student desires are far different than what administrators thought. It’s something the schools need to figure out as a Wall Street Journal study found that student attendance has dropped 7.1% since 2009. And that number is important because it is from those students that attend games that future season ticket holders and big money donors are recruited.

Schools have learned that students care more about ticket prices than wi-fi (hint, they want cheaper tickets). They want better seat locations and clearer restrooms. They’re also dissatisfied with the stadium parking situation. The students are focused first and foremost on the nuts-and-bolts of the game experience. Those all top the whole in-stadium wireless situation, but it seems that this just wasn’t foreseen by the people who try to get the students into the stadium. They looked at the esoteric rather than at the basics.

Rice Stadium hours before the gates opened to fans on a wet Friday afternoon.
Rice Stadium hours before the gates opened to fans on a wet Friday afternoon.
John Royal

So what about it, college students? What do you want when you go to a college football game? How important is the wireless situation? Are you more concerned with ticket prices and the restrooms? What about concession costs? What’s it going to take to get you to return to college football games?

The most important thing for my personal college football game experience is whether the press box wireless works, because it can be a miserable experience when it doesn’t. I’m there working. I’m not there to enjoy a game. I’m there to report it. I’ve got to tweet. Most stats we cite are supplied over the internet, so if I can’t get access, I can’t give reliable numbers. But that’s my experience, and it’s got relatively nothing to do with the college student who has come out to TDECU Stadium to cheer on the Cougars.

Now I know what I heard from some Cougar alumni last year. They weren’t happy with the choices or prices at the concession stands, and they despised the whole Aramark involvement at the stadium. There were complaints about the restrooms, especially with the lack of restrooms in the upper deck. I didn’t really hear much about the parking situation, but I’ve never really met UH fans who have ever been thrilled by parking for UH events. (Yet TDECU is a huge upgrade over Robertson Stadium). But I’ve not really heard anything from UH students. And I don’t recall any complaints from Rice fans — the stadium’s old, the toilets and all facilities are outdated, but the views of the Medical Center and downtown Houston are incomparable.

I’ll give my uneducated opinion — since I don’t attend as a fan or a student. The wireless is important, and I do think people want it to work. But it is rather secondary to most fans. I believe the most important thing for any fan, student or otherwise, is that the team actually win games — winning solves lots of problems (witness UH packing Robertson Stadium that year UH went undefeated until the conference title game). Ticket prices have to be affordable for students concessions need to be plentiful and reasonably priced (and hopefully someone other than Aramark needs to be involved). Make sure students have decent seats. And damn it, clean the restrooms.

But that’s just me. What about you? What do you want? What’s your priorities? What’s going to get you to attend UH or Rice games, besides the teams winning games, that is?

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TDECU Stadium
Rice Stadium

6100 Main St.
Houston, TX 77005


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