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Football attendance continues to set records for conferences and schools

By Gary K. Johnson

Almost 49 million fans attended college football games at all 644 NCAA football-playing schools during the 2012-13 season, and one conference that topped 7 million fans for the first time ever.

The attendance of 48,958,547 marks the third-highest total in history and includes home games, neutral-site games and postseason contests.

With an average of 45,440 per game, the Football Bowl Subdivision drew 37,170,235 fans. The Football Championship Subdivision totaled 5,967,272, while Division II had 3,006,297 spectators, its third-highest ever. Division III’s total attendance was 2,361,687.

The Southeastern Conference, which has topped all FBS conferences in average attendance for the past 15 seasons, enjoyed a record-setting year. With the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M, the SEC set an all-time, all-conference record of 7,478,304 fans.

Michigan’s 112,252 fans per game over six home contests (two less than the eight home games in 2011) set an all-time mark for individual schools. The Wolverines broke their own record of 112,179 set in 2011. It was the Wolverines’ 15th consecutive attendance title.

Three other programs also topped the 100,000 mark – Ohio State at 105,330, Alabama at 101,722 and Texas at 100,884.

The all-time record was set in 2011 when 49,699,419 fans attended college football games.

Other highlights

  • The SEC averaged 75,538 per game to lead all conferences. The Big Ten (70,040), Big 12 (59,004), Pac-12 (53,679) and Atlantic Coast (49,910) rounded out the top five in conference attendance.
  • Three FBS and FCS conferences each set record highs for total attendance. The FBS conferences were the SEC, Pac-12 and Sun Belt. The FCS conferences were the Northeast, Missouri Valley Football and Big South.
  • The Sun Belt was the only Division I conference to set a record for the average number of fans per game with 19,766, an increase of 574 from 2011.
  • The FBS postseason featured 35 bowl games that totaled 1,722,833 spectators for an average of 49,224 fans per contest.
  • As for NCAA championship tournaments, total attendance for the FCS tournament was 227,415 for an 11,969 average over 19 playoff games. The Division II tournament totaled 98,231 fans for a 4,271 average in 23 games. The Division III tournament had 56,309 total fans for a 1,816 average over 31 games.
  • Michigan was the first school to average more than 100,000 a game (in 1976) and has captured the attendance title 43 times since 1949, including 37 since 1974.
  • For all-game attendance – including home, road and neutral-site games – Alabama was tops as 1,299,659 fans watched the Crimson Tide over 14 games. Nine teams played in front of more than one million fans this season.
  • Four FBS teams enjoyed increased crowds of more than 10,000 fans per game from last year. Leading the way was California, which reopened California Memorial Stadium after a 21-month renovation project. With the renovated stadium opening in September, Cal enjoyed an 18,219-person increase per game from 2011 to 2012. The Golden Bears were followed by Southern California (13,139), TCU (12,361) and UCLA (11,838).
  • Appalachian State led FCS attendance for the fifth time in six years with an average of 26,358 fans. Other FCS schools to average more than 20,000 fans were Montana (25,236), James Madison (22,783) and Old Dominion (20,037).
  • Among FCS conferences, the Southwestern Athletic Conference enjoyed its 34th attendance title in 35 years. The 10 SWAC teams averaged 13,097 fans per game and totaled 654,847 spectators. The Southern (652,927 fans for an average of 12,802), the Colonial Athletic (753,589 fans for an average of 12,155) and the Missouri Valley Football (652,770 fans for an average of 11,064) were all close behind.
  • In Division II, Grand Valley State captured its second-straight attendance title by averaging 12,034 fans. The five other schools that averaged more than 10,000 were Miles (11,117), Tuskegee (10,869), Kentucky State (10,534), West Texas A&M (10,379) and Pittsburg State (10,055).
  • The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference posted its 20th Division II attendance title in 21 years. SIAC teams averaged 7,429 fans. Next were the Lone Star with 6,077 and the Gulf South at 5,029 fans per game.
  • In Division III, Saint John’s (Minn.) returned to the top spot with an average of 7,948 fans per game. In 2011, Hampden-Sydney stopped a run of 10 consecutive attendance titles by Saint John’s. In 2012, the rest of the top five were Wisconsin-Whitewater (7,552), Hampden-Sydney (6,723), Wabash (4,873) and Concordia-Morehead (4,839).
  • Also in Division III, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Conference won its seventh title in eight years with 3,372 fans per game. The Old Dominion Athletic Conference finished second by averaging 2,966 fans. Close behind the ODAC in 2012 was the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Conference at 2,943 fans.


2012 Football Attendance leaders

Division I FBS
School Attendance Average
Michigan 673,511 112,252
Ohio St. 842,637 105,330
Alabama 712,052 101,722
Texas 605,304 100,884
Penn St. 677,108 96,730
Division I FBS Conference
Conference Attendance Average
Southeastern 7,478,304 75,538
Big Ten 5,883,372 70,040
Big 12 3,894,266 59,004
Pac 12 4,240,632 53,679
Atlantic Coast 3,992,779 49,910
Division I FCS
School Attendance Average
Appalachian St. 184,505 26,358
Montana 151,417 25,236
James Madison 136,699 22,783
Old Dominion 160,294 20,037
Delaware 129,792 18,542
Division II
School Attendance Average
Grand Valley St. 60,169 12,034
Miles 66,702 11,117
Tuskegee 43,477 10,869
Kentucky St. 52,670 10,534
West Tex. A&M 41,514 10,379
Division III
School Attendance Average
Saint John's (MN) 39,741 7,948
Wis.-Whitewater 37,760 7,552
Hampden-Sydney 33,617 6,723
Wabash 24,363 4,873
Concordia-M'head 24,197 4,839

Gary K. Johnson is an associate director of statistics for the NCAA.