College football has been riding a wave of increasing television money and eyeballs on television sets, but there has been one major problem for the juggernaut—attendance at the actual games.
It’s no secret that attendance at college football games has been decreasing in recent years, even in the hot bed that is the SEC. It has led college football teams to seek out an unlikely source—Sporting Kansas City and MLS—to remedy the situation.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, the Florida Gators and many other schools spent time in May at Sporting Kansas City and learning from the ownership’s spin-off company, Sporting Innovations.
That may seem laughable and crazy on its face, except the one thing most in the sports business world know: MLS fans are some of the most loyal and dedicated in all of American sports culture.
The Gators recognized a major problem when it began losing games last season and losing its most important fan section—the students.
Per the WSJ report:
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.
That’s where MLS can help college football, its fans are some of the most passionate and dedicated in the country. It leads to them taking in games at the stadium more than watching on television, the exact opposite of what is happening in college football these days.
MLS faced major hurdles in its early days and Kansas City was a great example of that, regularly failing to draw even 10,000 fans as late as 2009. Yet this season they are averaging over 19,000 fans and have created a youthful culture around the fan base. That, more than anything else is what is attracting college football teams to study what is going on in MLS and at Sporting Kansas City specifically.
It may seem crazy that the juggernaut of college football is taking lessons from the little MLS, when it comes to attendance and fan engagement it makes perfect sense. The only question is if college football can find a way to tap in to what it took in and make it work for college sports.