Ohio State set the national home average attendance record during its 2014 season — one that eventually ended in the program's eighth national championship — and less than 7 percent of those announced attendees were given free admission.
Complimentary tickets aren't uncommon in college football, especially now with the luxury of high-definition TVs often keeping fans in the comfort of their own homes to watch their favorite teams. The sport is facing an uphill battle trying to fill seats, as average attendance across the country dropped 4 percent to 43,483, the sixth consecutive season crowds were below a 46,000 average since peaking at 46,456 in 2008.
Ohio State is no stranger to dishing out free entrance to fans, but only 6.6 percent of its record-setting 106,296 average attendance mark saw the Buckeyes win six of their seven home games in 2014 with comped tickets.
The figures are a result of an open records request submitted by Eleven Warriors Friday morning and filled by Ohio State Wednesday evening.
The total announced attendance for 2014 Ohio State home affairs was 744,075, while 49,568 who attended got in free. Both numbers increased as compared to 2013, when the total mark for attendance was 734,528 and only 34,340 were complimentary tickets (4.6 percent).
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To compare, Michigan — which was unseated by Ohio State atop the national attendance throne in 2014 — dished out 62,879 free tickets of its 734,364 total attendance number (8.6 percent) according to the Detroit News. The Wolverines even handed out nearly 17,000 free tickets for their final home game, a 23-16 loss to new Big Ten foe Maryland on Nov. 22.
The biggest outlier in Ohio State's complimentary tickets distribution numbers is easily the team's 66-0 thrashing of lowly Kent State Sept. 13, when 18,582 of the 104,404 announced attendance got in free of charge. The Buckeyes lost their lone game of the season the week before, a 35-21 setback to Virginia Tech.
The only other contest for which the school handed out more than 5,000 in complimentary tickets took place on Sept. 27, when 9,947 of the 108,362 who saw Ohio State down Cincinnati 50-28 received free admission.
Outside of the Kent State and Cincinnati affairs, Ohio State gave out no more than 4,550 free tickets for its remaining five home games.
Ohio State sold just over 69,000 tickets as part of season packages— those sold to the public, faculty, staff and students — for each of its three non-conference home games. That number rose to a touch about 81,000 in Big Ten season.
Eleven Warriors requested the early numbers for season ticket packages for the 2015 season this week, but Ohio State did not grant them prior to this story being published.
For the third straight season, student attendance at Ohio State football games suffered a decrease from a percentage standpoint, albeit a slight one.
Of the 166,736 total student tickets sold in 2014, 137,882 attended, or 82.7 percent. In 2013, 122,366 of 146,599 student tickets sold were used, or 83.5 percent.
Student ticket sales, to no surprise, witnessed a huge spike in sales between the 2011 and 2012 seasons, presumably due to the hiring of head coach Urban Meyer. The 120,741 sold in 2011 pale in comparison to the 160,898 in 2012.
The 2014 season was the first played with the additional 2,522 student seats in the south end zone, a number that raised Ohio Stadium's capacity to 104,944 as part of the $9 million project.
Student attendance also dropped for the Wolverines from 2013 to 2014, though quite more drastically than at Ohio State. Students accounted for about 19,580 seats in 2013, but just 11,550 last season according to the Detroit News.
Total Tickets Distributed
Announced attendance numbers do not equate ticket-paying fans, evident by the numbers in the documents received by Eleven Warriors.
For example, though 108,610 people attended Ohio State's 42-28 victory against Michigan the Saturday after Thanksgiving, only 103,238 were admitted because they had a ticket — whether they paid for it or received it for free.
The inflated announced attendance total includes staff, security, catering employees, spirit squads, band members, media and, of course, the teams and their staff.
Ohio State did not immediately respond to request for comment on whether the program has an attendance number it tries to hit for each home game.