Why College Football Programs Are Studying MLS

By DJ Byrnes on July 17, 2014 at 11:07a

Football programs across the country — except for The Ohio State University, of course — are facing sagging ticket sales. This, and the reasons for it (HDTV, rising ticket prices, cost to attend a game, etc. etc) are not news.

What is news, however, is what some college programs are doing to fix the problem.

Via r/CFB, comes this fascinating article from The Wall Street Journal:

At first glance, Florida doesn't look like the sort of school that would need to solicit tips from a soccer team. The Gators are the most popular college-football team in Florida, according to Public Policy Polling. They won national championships in the 1996, 2006 and 2008 seasons. School records show that 86% of students used tickets they bought as recently as 2009.

But the Gators failed to qualify for a bowl last season, and the rate of students showing up to games fell to 66%. For the stunning Nov. 23 home loss to Georgia Southern, the student section was only 45% full and more Florida students bought tickets and stayed home than bought tickets and actually used them.

So what sort of tricks does are the magicians at MLS using to spur growth in attendance, especially among younger fans?

In exchange for [profiling data]—which they say allows them to understand their fans better—they offer perks. Sporting KC pays for their fans to attend road games and organizes social events for young professionals in Kansas City. They also strive for irreverence and to be transparent in their transactions, Heineman said, which separates Sporting KC from other teams in pro sports.

It is helping them reach the audience that has eluded colleges recently. One supporter group, the Mass St. Mob, formed in Lawrence, Kan., home of the University of Kansas. Many of the Mass St. Mob's members go out of their way to see Sporting KC's home matches, which are more interactive than any other sporting event, said Adam Crifasi, a 26-year-old electrical engineer.

"You feel like you're part of the game," he said.

Florida isn't the only team kicking the tires on MLS marketing tactics. Pac-12 officials have also signed a deal with Sporting Innovations as they too look to boost sales.

Sure, MLS attendance figures probably had nowhere to go but up, but the growth over the last couple years is staggering, and their pull of young people can't be denied.

If teams want the younger generation to be future ticket holders, it goes deeper than offering WiFi firing at a higher rate than a snail's jaunt. 

They'll have to get original and stop taking attendance for granted; it's a lesson MLS executives seem to have learned long ago.


Comments Show All Comments

FLBuckeye's picture

You know the best way to boost attendance, UF? Win games

+8 HS
xrox's picture

As the Atlanta Braves, multiple college football programs, and OSU basketball can tell you, sometimes even that's not enough.

Killer nuts's picture

Why don't they just have fireworks shows at the games?

+12 HS
45OH4IO's picture

I have an idea called a "tackle" where a defender runs into the guy carrying the ball as hard as he can. They should let the players do that instead of giving them penalties for it!

+1 HS
Furious George 27's picture

Florida is a bandwagon state and lacks loyal sports fans. Nobody showed to marlins, rays games until they went to the playoffs. Jax, Mia and TB are usually half empty and facing a possible blackout. Heat fans left before an epic comeback in the playoffs. CFB allegiance has shifted from the U in the 80s, FSU in the 90s and UF in the Meyer years and my guess it's shifting to FSU again. The majority does not care

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

+2 HS
NW Buckeye's picture

OK, so UF is looking at how Sporting KC fills an 18K seat stadium.  And, UF has to fill an 88K seat stadium.  Granted, some of the marketing concepts may enlighten UF, but will it work on a larger scale? 

The real problem is that soccer has some built in advantages for fans that have been destroyed in what we know as American College Football.  The Universities have done everything possible to modify the game for television audiences.  What the hell did they think was going to happen to attendance in the stadiums when they did that?  Soccer plays pretty much non stop from the opening kick.  No TV timeouts, very few team timeouts.  You can sit in the stands and see non stop action.  Meanwhile over at the football stadium rules have been passed to make the maximum amount of commercial time during a game.  It started with just allowing TV timeouts (it has even reached the absurdity of a TV timeout after a score and then another TV timeout after the ensuing KO!), but the game became too long for a 3 hour time slot.  So, they made rules to keep the clock running as much as possible.  Remember when the game clock would stop until the next snap whenever the ball went out of bounds?  That only happens in the last two minutes of each half now.  Many other 'hurry up' rules have been added to appease the TV execs, and as a result many fans in the stands can now see more action watching glue dry for over half the time they sit in the stands.  The fans have actually gotten short changed by these rules.  The average game today may still only occupy a 3 hour TV time slot, but the action within the game has been reduced drastically from the hay days of college football.  Maybe they should concentrate on making the game the enticement for putting fans in seats at their stadiums. 

+6 HS
PittBuckeye's picture

There aren't very few team timeouts there aren't any at all. Unless, I suppose, you count halftime as a team timeout.

And the size of the stadium isn't important, go to a few MLS games if you get a chance. Heck try a couple different MLS stadiums. They really put in a lot of effort to make the whole thing as family friendly, fun, and involved of a thing as possible.

Soccer is growing in popularity in this country, obviously the national obsession that comes with the world cup dies down, but the sport has been growing in popularity. That being said it isn't even in the same stratosphere as the NFL or even CFB, that's why they have smaller stadiums. Now some of those stadiums are starting to fill up, which only makes the experience more fun.

I don't care whether you go by old football rules or new time wasting rules soccer is more fun to watch live if you're into soccer. I am a lifelong Ohio State football fan, and a big soccer fan, and there's just no comparing the two. Football doesn't have groups like the Hudson Street Hooligans (of which I'm a member) who jump around singing and screaming the entire game, and it wouldn't work at a football game.

You can't spell chump without UM's picture

Well why would anyone want to go to a swamp? It's a nasty place.

Brady Hoke ate my comment

Hilliard WB's picture

I appreciate the message 11W continues to push about how schools owe it to college football and to their base of support to keep things fun and user friendly.  If institutions stay out of touch with reality for too long they could really start to damage the beautiful thing that is college football.  

S-Row the Best Row

+1 HS

This is classic overmarketing in my opinion.  Let's face it, when you look at the core of rising ticket prices and big athletic department budgets, there is no idea of 'sustainability' in the sense of allowing your revenue source to continually be a revenue source.  Sustainability may sound like mixing metaphors with the food movement, but let's face it, when it's all about the mighty $ and not about the customers, decisions are made that look to have your cake and eat it, too.  Businessmen are cowards in this way, and CFB is no different.

It's about winning at seemingly all costs, and getting every last penny from us, so it's no surprise that marketers and the media moguls of the world have decided to get as much $$ as possible in the present, and leave the problems of the fall-out to the future generation after they retire.  The idea of building self-sustaining business models with the customer in mind is always based on pleasing shareholders first and not the thought of longevity.  There needs to be a balance that is tipped towards understanding the value that fans bring by filling the live events.  /rant

"I don't apologize for anything.  When I make a mistake, I take the blame and go on from there." - Woody Hayes