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Sunday, April 14, 2024
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No More Empty Stadiums?

Photo: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY/Design: Alex Brooks

Last year, teams often limited capacity to 25% or lower. The Big Ten didn’t have any fans at all. And schools in California had to play some home games out of the state due to restrictions.

But this year, teams have eased COVID attendance restrictions. Fans returned in droves for Week 1 matchups, packing stadiums.

It’s not just the booming cheers and in-game traditions that fans brought back. In 2019, FBS teams earned $1.5 billion in ticket sales across sports, according to Knight Commission data — with football as a main contributor. That’s about 17% of all revenue.  

Last year, that number was slashed and schools missed out on millions. 

Now that fans are back, they’ve begun to return lost athletic department revenue from pandemic restrictions.

Just look at these staggering numbers: At least seven games with SEC teams drew at least 70,000 fans, according to a Saturday Down South compilation. 

Ohio State-Minnesota and UNC-Virginia Tech both played in front of sold-out crowds, the schools announced. Georgia-Clemson also sold out, according to the Charlotte Observer. And while it was controversial, a group of donors bought up enough tickets for the Fordham-Nebraska game to keep the Cornhuskers’ sellout streak going.

Wisconsin didn’t announce whether its matchup against Penn State sold out completely, but if you watched the game, it sure looked like they did. Videos of game-day tradition “Jump Around,” for example, showed the stadium shaking as a wall-to-wall sea of red jumped in unison.

“Win or lose, there’s nothing like being back home together again at Camp Randall Stadium,” the team tweeted after falling to the Nittany Lions, 16-10.

This is all happening, of course, despite public health officials’ trepidation over the Delta variant. Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN on Tuesday, “I don’t think it’s smart,” though he did concede that “outdoors is always better than indoors.” 

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