March 27, 2008

College Football Game Attendance

Stupid Question ™
Nov. 26, 1998
By John Ruch
© 1998

Q: How do they come up with an attendance number for Ohio State University football games?
—George Bizer

A: Well, imagine you’re in a playground penis-measuring contest—and stretching is allowed.

Consider two numbers.

Ohio Stadium seating capacity: 89,841.

Lowest attendance at an Ohio State University (OSU) football game this season: 93,149.

Yes, on its slowest day this year, Ohio Stadium somehow held 3,308 more people than it has seats for.

But the ’Shoe can do better than that. Its highest attendance this year was 94,339 at Saturday’s Michigan game. Record attendance is 95,537 during the 1995 Notre Dame game.

In fact, since at least 1989, an average of 4,000 extra people have somehow materialized at OSU games.

What’s the Pythagorean secret to these numbers? D.C. Koehl, an assistant sports information director at OSU, admitted to Suburban News Publications in 1990 that the ticket office simply counts everybody who’s “still breathing.”

First, all tickets sold are counted, whether they’re actually used or not (and thus, whether the buyers are “still breathing” or not). Nobody counts stubs. Since OSU regularly has sold-out games, that means the attendance figure often starts at 89,841.

Then they add in the rosters of everybody else in the stadium. That includes ushers, security guards, hot-dog sellers, media, band members, coaches and even the players themselves. Brutus Buckeye, too, apparently.

It’s a sneakily broad interpretation of “attendance” that turns even quarterback Joe Germaine into an attendance stat.

Nobody would go to such ridiculous lengths to inflate attendance numbers if it wasn’t part of a national bigger-is-better contest, which, of course, it is.

The University of Michigan’s “Big House” has the largest seating capacity of any US college stadium at 107,501. This September, it also hosted the largest crowd ever at a college football game: 111,012. The second-biggest college football crowd was 107,608 at a 1996 Tennessee game—in a stadium that seats 102,654.

Surprisingly, pro teams don’t play this sort of game.

“We just go by the total tickets distributed—that’s the total number sold or given away,” said a spokesperson for the Cincinnati Bengals ticket office. “It’s basically the way the league does it.”

While nobody counts stubs at NFL games, either, they also don’t count anyone but the fans. In fact, the Bengals guy was amazed by my description of OSU’s process: “How do they do it again?”

OSU will score even better bragging rights in 2001, when stadium renovations give the ’Shoe another 8,000 seats. That’ll boost capacity to 97,841.

Or should I say to 101,841?

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