Tracking attendance success isn’t as easy as saying the school with the biggest stadium wins.
While on the one hand, Michigan—at 109,901 seats—has the biggest capacity, on the other, it didn’t fill them all in 2015. In fact, the Wolverines—at 95.5%—finished No. 32 in the FBS in fill rate last year.
Compare that to Ole Miss, with only 60,580 seats (No. 41 in the nation), but a fill rate of 101.6%. This means the Rebels sold every seat they had available, and then some.
Take a look at FBS fill rates from around the country, first the top ten and bottom ten nationally, then average by conference, followed by the highest and lowest rates within each league. Finally, check out programs that engineered on-field success, but still couldn’t sell out, versus those who struggled to win games, but still had lots of fans on hand to share in the misery.
Attendance figures and fill rates courtesy of Phil Steele’s 2015 College Football Preview.
The Top 10
- Oregon (106.3%)
- Kansas State (106.2%)
- Nebraska (104.9%)
- Oklahoma (103.7%)
- Baylor (103.5%)
- Ole Miss (101.6%)
- South Carolina (101.4%)
- Utah (101.4%)
- Ohio State (101.3%)
- Clemson (100.3%)
Though Kansas State and Utah’s numbers are equally impressive, both schools have smaller stadiums by Power Five standards. K-State’s Bill Snyder Family Stadium seats 50,000 (tied for No. 60 in the FBS in capacity) while Utah’s Rice-Eccles boasts just 45,807 (No. 68).
By comparison, Stanford Stadium seats 50,000, which the Cardinal filled to 95.7% in 2015 (No. 29 in the FBS), and Northwestern’s Ryan Field holds 47,330, which was only 81.6% full (No. 69).
The Bottom 10
- Florida Atlantic (47.9%)
- USF (46.6%)
- UNLV (42.6%)
- UTSA (42.4%)
- Ball State (41.7%)
- New Mexico State (40.4%)
- Rice (39.5%)
- UMass (37.5%)
- Temple (34.1%)
- Akron (30.6%)
Four of the schools at the bottom of the charts deserve a break, all playing in stadiums that aren’t necessarily the appropriate size. USF plays in 65,857-seat Raymond James Stadium, also the home of the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers. UTSA plays in the Alamodome, weighing in at a hefty 65,000 seats. UMass splits its time between 68,756-seat Gillette Stadium (also home of the NFL New England Patriots) and 17,000-seat McGuirk Alumni. Finally, Temple plays at 68,352-seat Lincoln Financial Field, home of the NFL Philadelphia Eagles.
Average by Conference
- SEC (96.39%)
- Big 12 (94.28%)
- Big Ten (90%)
- Pac-12 (89.14%)
- ACC (84.3%)
- American Athletic (69.5%)
- Sun Belt (68.73%)
- Mountain West (67.18%)
- Conference USA (64.03%)
- MAC (56.57%)
The big takeaway from the average conference fill-rate rankings is the Sun Belt, which comes in ahead of the Mountain West, Conference USA and MAC.
Either the Sun Belt has members with proportionally-sized stadiums, or football truly is a bigger draw in the South, where all its members other than Idaho are located.
Both these same factors—stadium size and geographic location—are likely in play for the SEC and Big 12 as well.
Top and Bottom By Conference
Top: Navy (95.6%)
Bottom: Temple (34.1%)
Navy joins the American this season, and therefore earned the top ranking by virtue of its final season (2014) as an independent. The second-place finisher was East Carolina, which filled 50,000 seat Dowdy-Ficklen to 89.6% capacity last season.
In all, the American had only two members under 50% capacity in 2014—USF and Temple—both of whom play in NFL venues.
Top: Clemson (100.3%)
Bottom: Pitt (63.1%)
The ACC is the only Power conference to have just one member at 100-plus percent — Clemson at 100.3%. That said, Florida State finished just off the mark at 99.9%, followed by Louisville at 96.3%.
Again, the low school, Pitt, has the disadvantage of playing in an NFL venue, in this case Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Top: Kansas State (106.2%)
Bottom: Kansas (68.1%)
The Big 12 touts three member schools over the 100% mark, with Oklahoma (103.7%) and Baylor (103.5%) joining K-State.
Overall, all but two programs—Iowa State (85.6%) and Kansas (68.1%)—finished above 90%.
Top: Nebraska (104.9%)
Bottom: Purdue (61.6%)
Joining Nebraska at 100%-plus in the Big Ten is Ohio State at 101.3%; no small task, since at 104,944, the Horseshoe seats the fourth-most fans of any venue in the FBS.
What hurts the Big Ten is four clubs under 90%: Northwestern (81.6%), Indiana (78.7%), Illinois (68.5) and Purdue (61.6%). The Boilermakers also hold the dubious honor of having the lowest fill rate of any Power club in 2014.
Top: Old Dominion (100%)
Bottom: Rice (39.5%)
The big shocker in Conference USA is tiny Old Dominion, which despite an enrollment of under 20,000 students, filled 20,118 seat Foreman Field to 100% capacity in 2014.
At the bottom end is Rice, who does play in a stadium that hosted Super Bowl VIII in 1974, but has since shrunk to 47,000 seats on college game day. This means that, on average, the Owls played in front of 28,200 empty seats in 2014, an 8-5 campaign.
Top: Ohio (85.5%)
Bottom: Akron (30.6%)
Other than Ohio, which plays at tiny Peden Stadium (24,000 seats), every other MAC club finished under the 80% mark in fill rate last season.
Akron (5-7) only managed a paltry 9,180 fans in 30,000-seat Infocision Stadium. Compare that to Miami of Ohio, which drew 15,907 to Fred C. Yager (24,286), despite winning only two games.
Top: Boise State (89.3%)
Bottom: UNLV (42.6%)
Though no Mountain West team finished above the 90% mark in 2014, only two finished below 50%, San Jose State (49.5%) and UNLV (42.6%).
Of note is San Diego State, which managed to fill a whopping 60% of Qualcomm, also home of the NFL San Diego Chargers. Then there is Colorado State, which despite going 10-3, its best finish since 2002, only filled 81.8% of 32,500-seat Hughes Stadium.
Top: Oregon (106.3%)
Bottom: Colorado (74.8%)
Though you could argue that Oregon has the advantage of playing in smallish Autzen (54,000), consider Arizona, which only managed a 90.5% fill rate in similarly-sized Arizona Stadium (56,037). Both teams finished with double-digit wins.
What hurt the Pac-12 were its five member school that finished under 90%: Arizona State (84.5%), UCLA (84.1%), USC (78.3%), Cal (76.3%) and Colorado (74.8%). Though both the Bruins and Trojans play in gigantic 90,000-seat venues, their fill rates lag behind Georgia (100%) and Texas (94%), who play in similarly-sized stadiums.
Top: Ole Miss (101.6%)
Bottom: Vanderbilt (84.9%)
The SEC has four member schools at 100-plus percent and four more at 99%-plus: Ole Miss (101.6%), South Carolina (101.4%), Auburn (100%), Georgia (100%), Mississippi State (99.7%), Alabama (99.7%), LSU (99.4%) and Texas A&M (99.2%).
The leagues low finishers—Kentucky at 85.2% and Vanderbilt 84.9%—are both higher than the ACC’s group average of 84.43%.
Top: Appalachian State (96.3%)
Bottom: New Mexico State (40.4%)
It’s impressive that the Sun Belt’s top member (Appalachian State at 96.3%) beats out the first place school in the Mountain West (Boise State at 89.3%), the MAC (Ohio at 85.5%) and the American (Navy at 95.6%).
It puts the Mountaineers—who play in 24,050 seat Kidd Brewer Stadium—on par with Rutgers (96.5%) and Louisville (96.3%).
Northern Illinois (57.5%)
Despite posting an 11-3 record in 2014, its fifth consecutive double-digit season, Northern Illinois finished a dismal No. 105 in the FBS and No. 6 in the MAC in fill rate.
Huskie Stadium seats a very reasonable 23,595, meaning that an average of only 14,039 were on hand for NIU’s 4-1 home record.
Marshall’s 13-1 finish marked its best finish since 1999. Even that couldn’t get their fill rate above a No. 80 rank in the FBS and a No. 4 mark in Conference USA.
Joan C. Edwards holds 38,227, but welcomed only an average of 27,446.
Air Force (60.3%)
Air Force finished No. 67 in the FBS and No. 7 in the Mountain West in fill rate in 2014, despite hitting double digits (10-3) for the first time since 1998.
The low ranking can at least be somewhat explained by Falcon Stadium’s 46,692 seats, versus the Academy’s enrollment of 4,413.
Washington State (93.5%)
Washington State went 3-9 in 2014, its eleventh-consecutive losing season, but that didn’t stop it from filling 93.5% of its available seats, No. 4 in the Pac-12 and No. 37 in the nation.
What helps the Cougars is tiny Martin Stadium, at 32,952 the smallest venue in the conference and No. 88 in the FBS.
Texas Tech (97.5%)
Texas Tech drew an average of 58,942 to its six home games in 2014, earning it the No. 23 rank in the FBS and No. 5 in a stacked Big 12. Not bad for a team that suffered a 4-8 mark, its worst performance since 1990.
Jones Stadium holds 60,454, No. 42 in the nation and No. 4 in the conference.
Another school that deserves tons of credit, Army finished No. 47 in the FBS in fill rate despite finishing 4-8. That means an average of 34,276 filed into 38,000-seat Michie Stadium on game day.
This explains why the Black Knights went 3-2 at home, and it’s even more impressive when you throw in West Point’s meager enrollment of 4,591.
Amy Daughters is a contributor to FBSchedules.com.