Penn State bucked a college football trend in 2017, delivering its biggest attendance jump since Beaver Stadium’s most recent expansion while crowds around the country continued to fall.
Penn State’s home attendance rose 6.5 percent last season to an average of 106,707, the fifth-largest increase among Football Bowl Subdivision teams. The Lions also ranked third nationally in attendance behind Michigan (111,589) and Ohio State (107,495).
Meanwhile, according to recently released NCAA figures, attendance among Football Bowl Subdivision teams fell 3.3 percent, marking the fourth consecutive annual drop. The average attendance among FBS teams (including neutral-site and bowl games) was 42,203 in 2017, the lowest mark since 1997, according to CBS Sports.
NCAA figures also showed that four of the Power 5 conferences reported lower attendance numbers, with the SEC’s per-game average falling by 3 percent.
The Big Ten showed a modest increase of 76 fans per game, with an average attendance of 66,277. Purdue was the Big Ten’s biggest contributor, growing its attendance by 13,433 per game.
Boosted by 2016’s Big Ten championship, a home schedule that included Pitt and Michigan and a Heisman Trophy candidate in Saquon Barkley, Penn State boosted its per-game attendance by 6,450 fans in 2017. It was the largest single-season increase since Beaver Stadium was expanded in 2001 and the second consecutive annual increase.
Penn State last season also hosted two of the eight largest crowds ever at Beaver Stadium: a record-setting 110,823 for the Oct. 21 game against Michigan and 109,898 against Pitt.
Last season’s attendance rise reversed a downward trend that hit hardest at Penn State during the NCAA sanctions. Prior to 2017, Penn State’s home attendance had fallen seven times since reaching its peak of 108,917 in 2007. Penn State’s worst season in that stretch was 2013, when the program averaged 96,587.
Penn State says it has sold more than 3,500 new season-ticket plans for 2018, a signal that the upcoming season could see another increase. Despite the surge, Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said that a planned capacity reduction for Beaver Stadium is unlikely to be revisited.
As part of its 20-year Facilities Master Plan, announced last year, Penn State said it intended to reduce Beaver Stadium’s capacity from its current 106,572 seats to approximately 103,000.
At the time, Barbour said that the “capacity race” in college football was over and that athletic departments sought to enhance the stadium experience with roomier seats and better amenities. At the Fiesta Bowl in December, Barbour said she did not expect that model to change.
“The plans around Beaver Stadium are around fan experience, and so we think those are needed regardless of what the economics are around capacity,” Barbour said.
Barbour added that the planned Beaver Stadium renovations will not begin in the Master Plan’s first five years.
Penn State was among the top-5 teams in college football last season in increased attendance.
TEAM, 2017 AVERAGE, 2016 AVERAGE, INCREASE
1. Purdue, 47,884, 34,451, 13,433
2. Akron, 19,569, 10,337, 9,232
3. Florida Atlantic, 18,948, 10,073, 8,875
4. New Mexico State, 18,239, 9,545, 8,694
5. Penn State, 106,707, 100,257, 6,450