Winless Georgia State also falling behind in turnstiles

Georgia State’s football program has fallen behind other recent start-up programs in more than wins and losses. The Panthers trail in average home attendance, season-ticket sales and student attendance.

Playing its third season of football, Georgia State has averaged 13,298 fans this season through three home dates, punctuated by the program-worst 9,476 who showed up to watch Saturday’s loss to Richmond at the Georgia Dome. That average trails:

  • Texas-San Antonio, in its second season, by almost 15,000 per game;
  • Old Dominion, in its fourth season, by almost 7,000; and
  • South Alabama, in its fourth season, by almost 3,000.

Not coincidentally, Georgia State’s attendance has declined as losses have mounted. The Panthers have lost their four games this season and 12 of their past 15, underlining the issues that a school with an enrollment of 32,000 can have trying to attract interest in a team that’s not winning.

“Our athletics department is working hard to engage fans and provide a compelling game-day experience,” Georgia State President Mark Becker said in an email. “There’s more work to be done, and it is going to take time to get it done.

“College football is not a ‘build it and they will come’ proposition; winning matters.”

The images of a mostly-empty Dome may not be as troubling an issue as what the empty seats could mean for Georgia State’s FBS membership if attendance doesn’t increase.

The NCAA mandates that FBS teams have an average home attendance of at least 15,000 once in a sliding two-year window. Georgia State is playing an FCS schedule as it continues the first year of its two-year transition to FBS, but its two-year window began this year. Failure to meet that minimum this season or the next could result in a 10-year probation for the school. Failure to meet the attendance minimum within that probationary period could result in a bowl ban.

The NCAA doesn’t disclose if it has punished a university for failing to meet the minimum. Idaho has failed to meet the minimum each of the past three years, but an official said the school hasn’t been banned from participating in bowls. Ball State was placed on a bowl restriction after it failed to meet the minimum in 2009 and ’10. It met the minimum in 2011.

Attendance isn’t a new issue for Georgia State, though it wasn’t as worrisome the previous two years because the Panthers weren’t playing on the FBS level.

In 2011, Georgia State averaged 14,286, including 26,273 at the opener. In the remaining five home games, average attendance was 11,888.

In 2010, its inaugural year, Georgia State averaged 16,750, including 30,237 at the opener. In the remaining six home games, average attendance was 14,502.

Athletic director Cheryl Levick said last week that patience will be needed as the program continues to grow.

“We are building a base, that base keeps coming back,” Levick said after the game against UTSA. “It won’t be long before this place is full. I believe that. We’ve got to produce on the field to make sure the audience increases. I’m not giving up. We’re never giving up.”

The on-field results and attendance are galling to some Georgia State fans, whose team has an overall record of 9-17. Old Dominion is 31-8 and made the FCS playoffs last season. It will join Conference USA next year. UTSA is 8-6 and also will join Conference USA. South Alabama is 24-7.

Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson said Georgia State’s fans shouldn’t give up hope as they prepare to enter that conference, offering an anecdote during a visit two weeks ago.

Previously commissioner of the Western Athletic Conference, Benson said he estimated 15,000 fans may have attended the first conference game he attended, at Boise State in 2001. He said there was no pregame atmosphere. The Broncos now are one of college football’s more popular teams and had an average attendance of more than 34,000 last season.

“They win; next year they win … it doesn’t happen in one year,” he said. “When you start from Ground Zero, it makes it even harder. Your fan base started at zero.”

There are reasons other than losing to explain the declining attendance at Georgia State.

One is geography, which affects the number of visiting fans who attend. For seven more games, Georgia State plays in the Colonial Athletic Association, whose next-closest football-playing member is more than eight hours away by car. By comparison, four Sun Belt schools, including South Alabama, are within a five-hour drive of Atlanta. Becker said school officials expect attendance to increase when teams play in the Sun Belt.

Another issue is heritage. Georgia State’s athletic programs don’t have a tradition of consistent success, as Benson noted. Therefore, the school has yet to fully develop an on-campus atmosphere for athletics.

Dorms are another element that affects attendance. Though Georgia State has an enrollment of 32,000, it has 4,000 dorm beds. A few hundred students showed up for Saturday’s game, lowering the season average to 1,861, which has decreased from two years ago when an average of almost 3,500 attended the games. By comparison, South Alabama had averaged 2,200 students before last weekend’s games, UTSA 3,400 and ODU 3,150.

Lastly, entertainment alternatives are an issue. On Saturday, Georgia State competed against not only the long-established and more popular football teams at Georgia and Georgia Tech, who played at home, but also against the Tour Championship at nearby East Lake, and Music Midtown at Piedmont Park.

“We’re not foolish enough to think that, in this market, if we don’t play well, everyone is going to keep coming,” coach Bill Curry said.

The entertainment alternatives could be considered one of the reasons Georgia State has sold 4,025 season tickets this year. By comparison, South Alabama has sold more than 8,300, UTSA slightly more than 13,000 and ODU more than 14,000.

Ticket prices may partially explain why Georgia State trails its peers. The average cost of a single-game ticket is more expensive than the other three program’s. However, Georgia State says that price is cheaper than its in-state competitors. The markets are also different.

The players are aware of the rows of empty seats during the games. But they say they just try to focus on their jobs.

“We definitely notice,” running back Donald Russell said. “We could use support, but we have to win to get the fans back into it.”


Four of a kind

Attendance and ticket prices for four programs that recently started football:

2012/Georgia State/ODU/UTSA/So. Alabama

Average home attendance/13,298/20,068/28,079/16,190

Season tickets sold/4,025/14,200/13,000/8,319

Avg. student attendance/1,861/3,150/3,427/2,200

Cheapest single-game ticket*/$20/$26/$12/$10

Average single-game ticket/$37/$26/$28.50/$15

Most expensive single-game ticket/$60/$27/$45/$20

Cheapest season ticket/$75/$127/$50/$60

Average season ticket/$88/$157/$235/$77.50

Most expensive season ticket**/$150/$157/$350/$100

*doesn’t include discounts for military, faculty, etc. Students get in free.

** doesn’t include the donation to the athletic fund.

Note: Information provided by the schools’ sports information departments.

– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu

88 comments Add your comment

Panther Droppings

September 25th, 2012
5:31 pm

Ticket prices don’t really look similar.

Jee S. You

September 25th, 2012
5:34 pm

:Ticket prices aren’t the reason that Georgia State trails its peers. From the cheapest single-game ticket to the most expensive season tickets, prices are similar.”
You are kidding, right? Do you see the numbers you just posted? ODU has a small stadium and sells out every game, so they can charge accordingly. We are more expensive than the other two in every category (by significant percentages) other than season tickets – and that numbers do not appear to include the required donations for GSU.


September 25th, 2012
5:46 pm

Get a great replacement for Curry, start winning games and they will come. Who cares about the other startups? None of them are in cities that even come close to the activities Atlanta has to offer…. Mobile, Alabama, Norfolk Virginia PLEASE. Those podunks would show up to see an ant farm.

Atlanta Mafia

September 25th, 2012
5:51 pm

I want GSU to withdraw from the FBS and join the Lingerie Football League (LFL).
I think that we will be able to win a “few” games and I think that I might be able to “get up” for those opponents! Maybe I can forget the $20k that I have given to GSU program so far in three years.

Doug Roberson

September 25th, 2012
5:56 pm

you are right about the single-game ticket as it compares to the other schools in this study. I would point out the markets are very different. I’ve changed the story to reflect that.

Go Panthers!!

September 25th, 2012
6:18 pm

Season ticket holder here, and I feel like the prices are extremely reasonable. I expect to pay more to see football at the Dome.

However, none of it matters if the team is stinking up the joint.

Rather than us worry about prices, student attendance or entertainment options, let’s discuss how our team is ranks on the field. Does Sagarin even look at us?

I would bet that we rank near the absolute bottom in FCS. Let’s not even talk about where we stand in FBS.

The 9-10K that are coming out are the core group that will support this team win or lose. We’ve already lost the bandwagoners and fence-sitters.

And for every single loss we pile up, it becomes that much harder to bring them back.

Getting the right hire for 2013 is beyond critical.


September 25th, 2012
6:59 pm

This program is in its infancy, not sure what people expect, but must be truly nauseating to see what is happening. I don’t get why Ga Southern football doesn’t get more coverage by the AJC, we have tons of alumni in Atlanta, have big gatherings at sports bars here to watch games, won 6 NC and are looking to MOVE UP!!

September 25th, 2012
8:09 pm

Obviously wins are a tremendous help, but the Athletic Dept has to look at the factors they can directly control (they don’t directly control wins as the opponent has something to say about it). Accordingly, looking at pricing, promotions, brand perception, etc. is important. In this instance, given the comparisons of other programs, and considering what we are competing with in our own city, it seems clear that the pricing is too high – 25-50% too high.

Doug Roberson

September 25th, 2012
8:21 pm

I put the chart together not as an example of what Georgia State should do, but simply a list of what the four examples are doing based upon what their market allows. While the schools have all recently started football programs there is no cookie-cutter financial approach to success on or off the field.


September 25th, 2012
8:39 pm

Do those other teams rent a stadium to play in?

EKY Panther

September 25th, 2012
8:42 pm

I can remember going to basketball games when the crowds were so sparse (and the wins so scarce) that the coaches recognized my face when I saw them away from the gym. All that is changing, and it’s because we hired the right coach. We have the location and academics. We have to hire the right coach.

If Georgia State could win 4 games and be competitive in most of the other games, I think that you will see a big hike in attendance. At least while the program is maturing. No one wants to see their team slaughtered week after week.


September 25th, 2012
9:02 pm

Doug, get serious. Attendance lags for one reason and that is GSU football stinks. Who wants to see their team get stomped on week end and week out. New teams are suppose to improved each years for several years but GSU has gone the opposite direction. Look around and you will see that lack of attendance, or at least a decline, relates to that one things that we track week in and week out: losing.

By the way, I have season tickets and plan to attend at least part of the first half unless they do the unthinkable and win. Losing is part of the game, not the whole game.

Win and they will come. Otherwise, we well moving games to the practice field.

Mick Dee

September 25th, 2012
9:31 pm

Gee there’s a surprise. How soon before student fees go up again to support the money-losing football program. Remind me again, how many FBS football teams turn a profit? That’s right, only half.

Sick & Tired Of Being Sick & Tired

September 25th, 2012
10:23 pm

I don’t have a vested interested in GA State’s football program but I did attend their game at the Dome against SC State. Like many football sports fans living in the ATL I wanted to see them play in the Dome to see what kind of team they had this year.

From my perspective, they really do need a starting quarterback if they want to be competitive. Don’t know the starting QB’s name, but he was really bad.

The game experience was fine except that it was a loss. The ticket price was just fine. I agree that if they can put a winning product on the field it will improve the attendance.

More Pounce for the ounce

September 25th, 2012
10:50 pm

Just Win, it isn’t rocket science. Trying to wrap your head around anything else is a waste of time.


September 26th, 2012
5:28 am

Honestly, I wouldn’t be upset if we were losing but still being competitive. I think that is the worst part of this whole ordeal. Most fans just want to see their team play a good game (of course you ultimately want to win but you get what I’m saying). The team looks totally unprepared every week and the coaching staff looks completely inept. Who wants to pay to see that?! Not I!!

Mary McElroy

September 26th, 2012
8:10 am

Big announcement next week…

Moobs Johnson

September 26th, 2012
8:58 am

My son’s 11u team would like to challenge the GSU team. While they may lack in size, they definitely have the edge in coaching.


September 26th, 2012
9:41 am

GSU fans are pathetic. My alma mater savannah state university lost 139-0 in the first 2 games vs. ok state and FSU. Yet we still sold out our first home game vs. North Carolina Central. Did GSU even ask the students or alumni if they were interested in bringing football to GSU? Obviously not because nobody is showing up.

Who Cares?

September 26th, 2012
10:02 am

hahahahhhahahahahaha each new article pointing out the issues faced at gag state makes trolling so much more fun. I must say, it’s almost a little too easy at this point.


September 26th, 2012
10:39 am

Urm, MEAK fan II;
Your stadium holds 7,500. If you didn’t sell that thing out it means nobody turned up.

Highly Respected Southern Troll

September 26th, 2012
10:46 am

@MEAC Fan II – Your school’s stadium (or I should say the place where SSU plays) only holds around 7,500 or 8,000. Seriously, Statesboro High School would beat Savannah State’s pitiful team.

urinal and constipation reader

September 26th, 2012
10:53 am

Bowl ban for less than 15k average…is that the only consequence of following below? If so it doesn’t appear there is much to worry about in the near future.

urinal and constipation reader

September 26th, 2012
10:54 am

Not much to worry about along the lines of NCAA mandated attendance…

A person SMART enough to know.....

September 26th, 2012
11:46 am

If NOBODY is at the game did GaState really lose?


September 26th, 2012
12:00 pm

Ga. State should heed the example of its cousin to the south…Ga. Southern. Erk Russell and that school took their time building a winning tradition before the football team made the jump to a higher level. You need to learn to walk before you run…in Ga. State’s 1st season, Curry was smart and played a competitive schedule and had a fine 8-4 record…then what did the school’s wizards of smart do? Let’s do the George Jefferson thing and “move on up.” Well, it’s obvious Ga. State isn’t ready for the big boys yet. Heck, it Ga. Southern a good while to make the jump. But no, Ga. State admin types want the big bucks that come with FBS membership and such…regradless of how bad the record is. Convincing fans to come watch and kids to come play at GSU won’t happen when they see 0-11 or 2-9 records and the team getting beaten 59-0 or 65-0. You can primp and preen and say “Look at us…we play with the big boys now!” That won’t cut the mustard if your team is getting killed by the “big boys.”


September 26th, 2012
12:03 pm

Person that made me giggle.


September 26th, 2012
12:04 pm

Just have to win and people will come. We will always have the issues we have now, but winning will put butts in seats. The same thing happens down the road on yellow jacket alley.


September 26th, 2012
12:19 pm

President Becker, with all due respect, if your Ath Dept is telling you that they are putting great emphasis on ‘Game Day Experience’, they are wasting valuable time and resources. Game day experiences are fine once you have fans to enjoy it. In starting a new program there are two questions an AD should ask before she makes a decision. #1 Will it help the team win. #2 Will what I do help sell tickets. Good music, good cheerleaders and bobblehead night does not ans the above 2 questions. Thanks!


September 26th, 2012
12:21 pm

Schedule more Thursday night games. Attendance jumps when students are on campus. That also makes a case for having many more downtown dorms.

Drastically cut ticket prices and any price increases should be based on demand.

But none of that will work unless the team is competitive and wins. Just ask Georgia Tech.

dick whiskey

September 26th, 2012
12:25 pm

no one gives a damn about GSU football.are you listening kennesaw state

Stank Wren

September 26th, 2012
12:43 pm

Maybe Ga State can hire the thousands of homeless that hang around downtown to fill the seats. Seems to be a win-win for both parties

Busted and Disgusted

September 26th, 2012
12:47 pm

Give all the homeless free tickets and all you can eat hotdogs, sellout for sure. Might stink a little, but sellout every home game.

JCB in Dunwoody

September 26th, 2012
12:49 pm

It wouldn’t hurt to add a few “winnable” games to the schedule next year…actually winning a few never hurts attendance. Also, it would be great to see more kids at the games…maybe a push to sell more bulk rate ticket packages to schools and youth leagues.

Busted and Disgusted

September 26th, 2012
12:53 pm

MEAC, you talking apples and oranges, your program also has a rich tradition and been around a longtime. Comparing HBCU’s and State is crazy. Along with having a traditional campus, you guys don’t have to beg for attendance. This is obvious that States problems won’t be fixed overnight. Hell, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will this program. Growing pains were expected, no matter who the coach is coming in. Actually, I think State needs to look at a HCBU coach, someone young.


September 26th, 2012
12:55 pm

Sadly, some of GSU’s guarantee win games backfired on them in previous years. Although, GSU should be able to be Savannah State.

Stank Wren

September 26th, 2012
12:58 pm

Ga State is a commuter school. I don’t understand the shock that they can’t sell tickets or fill up a student section. Kennesaw State will be in the same situation in a few years

Passion of the Panther

September 26th, 2012
12:59 pm

@paddy … what else can the athletic do in mid-season? They can’t change the personnel (imagine – the nutcase kicker and McClane to South Alabama for their back-up quarterback)…. you can’t fire the staff, no one wants the job midseason.

Clearly, there is demand in the other markets … in the case of Ga State, it’s the weather, Pearl Jam, sorority rush, etc, etc, etc … Ga State is trying to create demand for a program where it doesn’t exist.

Ted Striker

September 26th, 2012
1:17 pm

Good article, Doug.

Panther Product

September 26th, 2012
1:53 pm

Enter your comments here

Panther Product

September 26th, 2012
1:57 pm

Winning at the FCS level will cure all the immediate attendance problems. Winning at the FBS level will cure all long term attendance problems. I have started to copy and paste all the Southern Troll comments to use when things get turned around at State. Let the haters hate all they want. No one said this was going to be easy jumping ship tells me all I need to know about your character. Go State beat William & Mary this weekend.


September 26th, 2012
1:59 pm

Passion of the Panther……you are right about mid -season corrections or other options. My basic premise about what an AD should do starts when the program is still in the planning stages. It is basic Sports Management 101. For an Athletic Dept. to not know how to proceed in the fundementals of building a new program should be disturbing for the college administration and its fan base. This is not trying to find a cure for cancer. Going to Div 1 football when you have a shakey foundation to begin with is lunacy.

Stank Wren @12:58……..ODU is a commuter school!!!! It is in a community (Hampton Roads) with no football history or tradition. They made it work, GSU could have also!!!

eagle 1

September 26th, 2012
2:23 pm

GSU vs. GSU; — attendance as percentage of seating capacity – 135% vs. 19%; National tiltes 6 vs. 0; Current Sagarin Rating out of 246 teams – 90th vs 225th; Tradition – 30 yrs vs. 2 years. Which GSU is really ready for D-1? Not the one one in Atlanta! Heck, it looks like they were no where close to being ready for the Colonial Conference!!!!!!

Astonishing Werepanther

September 26th, 2012
2:24 pm

This whole university is in the middle of a transformation. We are still changing from Georgia Evening College into the urban research university that is clearly our destiny. A culture change like that takes time. It’s not just a matter of what the school is right now; it’s also a matter of what students have experienced for the past several years and what they, as alumni, expect from their alma mater.

I don’t necessarily think we’ve handled everything as well as we could, but I’m definitely not ready to throw in the towel. There are great things to come, and FBS was the right step to take, even if many feel it was premature. I have a really hard time imagining FCS finding a successful niche at such a large urban school, in the heart of college football country.


September 26th, 2012
2:34 pm

You’re telling me Georgia State started playing football? Huh. I didn’t know that. From the looks of things, looks like you guys are playing the wrong schools. Just one sports fan opinion. You should play NAIA schools while you are moving up. Easy wins, you know? No division one school ever loses to those NAIA programs.


September 26th, 2012
2:41 pm

JCB in Dunwoody…….you make an excellent point. Group sales is one key to good attendance. Those folks working on game day experience should be out humping group sales. Game day experience is a non issue if nobody is in the stands to enjoy it.


September 26th, 2012
2:53 pm

They are going too fast. Get out of the Ga. Dome into a more appropriate size stadium and stay in FCS while you build a program. Being a doormat from the start is a sure path to failure. Remember, Ga. State has always struggled to draw even its own students to athletics (witness the world’s smallest Division 1 basketball gym). Football can help, but slow down and build it.


September 26th, 2012
3:02 pm

I wish my fellow Eagles, i.e. eagle1 would put a sock in it. We’re not competing with these folks. Wish them well instead of acting like we’re some sort of classless rival rubbing our success in their noses. Ga. State is not our rival.

Doug Roberson

September 26th, 2012
3:04 pm

They do offer lots of group sales, actually. I didn’t go into that in the story because there are so many combinations offered by each university.


September 26th, 2012
3:14 pm

Doug, I assumed that groups sales was working hard at GSU. My question is are they working smart? Who knows and it is not my position to critique their efforts. Most big group sales sales are done w/ boots on the ground, not minding phone banks. I hope that is the case here.