IMLCA to Evaluate Declining NCAA Championships Attendance

Final Four Teams

Lore would have you believe that only a handful of teams matter and that their presence or absence is key to attendance. From 2003-2013, only six teams have participated in the championship weekend more than twice, though all of them have done so at least four times. Here are average attendance figures for the semifinals plus finals in which they participated along with their number of appearances:

Cornell79,2904
Duke80,9808
Johns Hopkins90,8855
Maryland81,1755
Syracuse82,6016
Virginia85,7897

Apart from Johns Hopkins, the differences are rather small. JHU has not appeared since 2008, the years when attendance has declined. But would their presence (or that of another Maryland team) have made a difference in 2013? That's impossible to say, of course. But even if a Blue Jay appearance had added 15,000 more fans this year — which seems extremely optimistic — attendance would still have been the second lowest in the last 11 years.

Economic Factors

Some have blamed economic factors in part for the attendance slide. Whether that's gas or airline prices, jobs/income etc., it doesn't seem to us that such factors can tell anywhere close to the full story. That they had an effect post-peak seems likely, but the economy has recovered appreciably in the last couple of years, when final four attendance has been its worst since 2002.

Quarterfinals

Another idea we've heard is that the quarterfinals (or even some in-season events) have become such big attractions in themselves that they compete with the final four. Judging from attendance figures, that's a hard argument to buy. From 2007-2012, combined attendance for the two quarterfinal dates bounced around between 18,300 and 27,500. And 2013? There were 3,939 watching at Maryland and 7,749 at Indianapolis. You'd have to go back to before 2003, the first year for which we have records at hand, to find a lower figure.

Lacrosse on TV

Does the lacrosse exposure on television have an effect? We can't say. But the contention that regular season broadcasts, which appear to have increased since 2009, have an effect strikes us an argument with weak legs. The semifinals have been on the "Deuce" (ESPN2) and the final on ESPN for years. Yes, the technical quality of the broadcasts has improved, but it is difficult to see how that relatively modest change would induce tens of thousands of people to stay home.

Ticket Prices

Here's where we would love to have more hard data but do not. The cost for tickets (and parking) is the most commonly cited reason for not attending that we heard this spring. To be sure, what we hear is far from the results of a scientific survey, yet we suspect there is an issue here, perhaps a big one. Large NFL stadiums are being used, and their operators, tournament organizers, and the NCAA are looking for a healthy return. We don't know what the arrangements are, but it's quite possible that the elasticity of ticket prices has been misjudged. As one colleague put it, "they've killed the goose that laid the golden egg." Merely injured, we hope.

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2013-06-10



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