Gophers buck national trend, fill football stadium

The Twin Cities is home to about 3 million people and almost every kind of professional sports team.

by Andrew Krammer

New York City notwithstanding, the people of the Twin Cities fill their college football stadium better than any other city in the nation that has to compete with all the âÄúBig FourâÄù professional sports for attendance.

Of the 12 metropolitan areas that host at least one professional team from each of the âÄúBig FourâÄù sports âÄî football, baseball, basketball and hockey âÄî the Twin Cities ranked second by filling the GophersâÄô football stadium to an average of 92.5 percent capacity through the 2008-10 seasons.

Only Rutgers University of Newark, N.J., filled its seats better over the three-year span.

Rutgers is located within New York CityâÄôs media market âÄî the countryâÄôs largest. The university had an average of 94.7 percent of its stadium filled on game days, according to a study by Winthrop Intelligence.

 Over the past three seasons, Gophers football has averaged 49,759 fans per game.

Including one season at the Metrodome and the first two at TCF Bank Stadium, the possible average capacity of those three years is 54,556.

 âÄúWe have a new coach that has energized the fan base and a beautiful new stadium,âÄù athletics director Joel Maturi said. âÄúWe play in the Big Ten conference which [gives Minnesota] a very attractive home schedule as well.âÄù

TCF Bank Stadium is only constructed to hold 50,805, but is designed for future expansion to make room for up to 80,000 people.

The study found multiple factors that play into college football attendance including undergraduate population, sustained winning and Bowl Championship Series automatic qualifying status.

Less obvious is the size of the city and the professional teams surrounding it.

Generally, college football teams that are located in larger cities fared worse when it came to attendance, according to the study.

Just three of last yearâÄôs top 30 programs in attendance âÄî Washington, Southern California, UCLA âÄî are located in any of the nationâÄôs top-30 Metropolitan Statistical Areas.

Medium-to-large-sized college towns (100,000-1 million) filled their stadiums to 83.7 percent capacity, while larger cities (1 million-4 million) could only attract 75 percent of their possible attendance, according to the study.

Take the state of Pennsylvania âÄî the Pittsburgh metropolitan area is home to a little more than two million people. But the University of Pittsburgh averages 46,433 fans per game this year out of 65,000 seats at the famed Heinz Field, home of the Steelers.

âÄúOne challenge being in a metropolitan area is that going to a home football game isnâÄôt a destination like it is with other Big Ten schools,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúThatâÄôs why I think those places tend to be a little more energized with pre and postgame activities.âÄù

University Park, home of the Penn State Nittany Lions, is located in a county of only 150,000 people.

Yet Penn StateâÄôs Beaver Stadium is the nationâÄôs second largest with a capacity (and usually attendance) of more than 106,000 fans. In fact, over the past three seasons, Penn State has filled its stadium to 99.3 percent capacity.

The survey noted the presence of other outlets for sports fans, such as professional teams, as factors for low attendance.

Universities who did not have to compete with any of the big four professional sports filled their stadiums to 83 percent capacity as opposed to 74 percent for those that did, according to the survey.

The Twin Cities is home to all of the big four professional sports. Colleges in the other metropolitan areas like Dallas, Philadelphia and San Francisco with professional sports teams could not fill their college football stadiums nearly as much.

The 12 metropolitan areas with all four professional sports could only fill their stadiums to an average of 71 percent with a median of 75 percent.