USC football attendance numbers hit a 12-year low in 2016. Why were crowd sizes down despite the run to the Rose Bowl?
CBS Sports took a look at college football attendance across the country on Friday, noting that numbers are down across the board. And USC football was one of the big losers.
Attendance at the Coliseum fell from 75,358 per game in 2015 to 68,459 in 2016.
Why were numbers down so drastically, despite a run to the Rose Bowl?
There are half a dozen factors to point to simply by looking through USC’s home slate.
It started with Utah State, an out of conference match up that would not have inspired too much enthusiasm even if the Trojans hadn’t been smashed by Alabama on opening weekend.
Scheduled for 11:00 a.m. at the Coliseum, USC enticed fans to attend by handing out Marcus Allen bobbleheads to the first 50,000 people in the gate. Those gates certainly didn’t help matters either, with new NFL security policies promising extra hassle getting into the stadium.
Two weeks later, the Trojans drew a crowd of 71,214 for a 5:30 p.m. kickoff with ASU. Very little about that match up could create hype, even with a more favorable hour.
2016 Attendance Numbers:
vs. Utah State: 62,487vs. ASU: 71,214vs. Colorado: 68,302vs. Cal: 61,725vs. Oregon: 74,625vs. Notre Dame: 72,402
The following week, USC hosted Colorado at 1:00 p.m. By the end of the season, that game was a critical contest between two top ten teams — and decided the Rose Bowl berth. However, at the time Colorado seemed improved, but not elite. And the Trojans had just two wins in five games.
It’s no wonder then, that attendance was below 70,000.
The next home game came on a Thursday night against Cal. The Bears had a strong record, but USC had only just hit .500. The weekday contest was unsurprisingly the lowest attended of the season.
When the men of Troy took the field against Oregon in November, the favorable 4:00 p.m. start time for the homecoming game helped mark the highest attendance of the season despite the Ducks floundering and continued skepticism over USC’s growing momentum.
The Trojans legitimacy was proven on the road at Washington, and then maintained at the Rose Bowl against UCLA. When they got back to the Coliseum facing Notre Dame, attendance was the second-highest for the year at 72,402.
However, the Irish’s struggles made for a poor match up on paper.
In fact, looking across USC’s home games there weren’t any marquee match ups to draw people to the Coliseum.
Of the six opponents, Colorado was the only team the Trojans played with a winning record on the year.
Considering the combination of odd kickoff times, midweek scheduling, and weak opposition, it’s easy to see why attendance never recovered in the latter half of the year despite USC’s resurgence.
Resurgence is an important term to note when thinking about attendance numbers for the Trojans because USC’s crowd numbers were the smallest since 2002 — a season with plenty of parallels to the 2016 season in terms of on the field success.
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The 2002 Trojans had a Heisman Trophy winner in Carson Palmer, went to the Orange Bowl and finished ranked No. 5 in the nation. Yet they drew an average of just 66,852 per game.
That number improved drastically the following year, rising to an average of 77,804 per game. And by the height of the Pete Carroll era in 2005, USC filled the Coliseum with an average of more than 90,000.
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So the simple fact is, USC’s attendance numbers are certainly impacted by scheduling factors, but the most important factor is optimism, fueled by winning.
Fans in 2016 were not optimistic about USC’s chances to succeed — they had no reason to be after a 1-3 start with a head coach many were concerned about from the beginning. It was the same coming into 2002 having lost two of the first five games.
Carroll turned it around and if Helton’s Trojans continue on their current trajectory the Coliseum will show it.
The Trojans’ nine percent decrease this year was sixth-worse among Power 5 teams this year, but a successful 2017 season will almost certainly have USC among the biggest gainers in attendance margin next year.
Winning has that affect in Los Angeles.