A deep dive into Queen's athletics attendance rates

A look at whether home attendance has been declining at Queen’s sporting events — and why they aren’t alone

Queen`s had 8,011 people attend their homecoming game in 2016.


If you’ve attended a Queen’s sporting event within the last decade, often times you’ve probably found yourself in a similar predicament: ‘There’s so many seats I don’t even know which one to take.’ 

Up until the mid-2000s, drawing crowds into a campus stadium was never a problem. 

Mervin Daub, a former Gaels football player and author of Gael Force: A Century of Football at Queen’s, remembers Richardson Stadium in the early 1960s as a place that pulsated with energy. 

The heaps of people that filed into the stadium made it seem like there wasn’t room to move.

“It was jammed,” he said of the crowds that filled the venue. “It was literally jammed to capacity for virtually every game.”

With kids trying to sneak in and fans watching the game from the upper floors of the then-neighbouring Victoria Hall because the stadium was so full, coming to Richardson Stadium for a game was an event for all. 

The same was true for some away games. 

“My first collegiate game [in 1962] we played away at Varsity Stadium in Toronto,” Daub recalled, “and there must’ve been 22,000 people there.” 

“I couldn’t believe it.” 

Since its move to West Campus in 1971 and its subsequent revitalization in 2016, Richardson Stadium hovers around a capacity of 8,500, per the venue’s website. 

During the 2016-17 football season — the first year since the revitalization — the average attendance was 4,612. 

If you exclude their home opener and homecoming game — where the recorded attendance was listed at 5,786 and 8,011 respectively — the average plummets down to 2,839. The total attendance for the year was 18,448. 

By contrast, in 2013 Queen’s had a total attendance number of 27,482.

Football crowd numbers have lowered significantly not only at Queen’s, but across the nation as well. 

According to the OUA’s website, the average attendance at a conference football home game dating back to 2010 is roughly 3,200, including home openers and homecomings. 

At last year’s Yates Cup — the OUA’s conference championship — the attendance was  reported at 4,134. In 2010, it was listed at 7,194. 

Hockey and basketball at Queen’s aren’t immune to the declining attendance rates either. 

Men’s and women’s hockey games at the Memorial Center — a 20 minute walk from campus — collectively drew in crowds that hovered close to 116 people per game last season. Both basketball teams had a slightly larger crowd, with an average of 168 fans per game in 2016. 

Even the NCAA — which in 2015 signed a 12 year, $5.64 billion television deal with ESPN for rights to air their yearly college football playoff — has experienced a decline in game attendance rates.  

A 2016 NCAA report tracking attendance data for all 127 Division-I programs in the United States found that the average home football game typically hosts 42,631 fans, their sixth consecutive year suffering a reduction in attendance. 

“It’s just a trend across the board,” OUA president Jennifer Myers told The Journal. “In fact, [some] Division-I schools are shrinking their student sections for big TV games because they’re struggling to get students to their games.”

The declining attendance rates across the NCAA could also be accounted for by its sale of tickets. 

“They fill their stands with paying customers,” Myers said.

The reasons for the decline in Canada, however, aren’t as obvious.

Ticket prices for students at Queen’s, for example, are free — even for its biggest games, such as homecomings and home openers. Some Canadian schools do charge for tickets, like the Panda Game in Ottawa, but prices are relatively inexpensive (Carleton and UOttawa list their cheapest tickets at $20 per seat). Parking at Richardson Stadium is also free on weekends.

If the tickets and parking are free at Queen’s sporting events — and at most Canadian universities — it begs the question: why don’t fans show up?

Neate Sager, an editor at The Canadian Press and former writer-at-large extensively covering the CIS, said one factor to explain the declining attendance rates in Canada is likely a lack of media and market exposure.  

“[Schools] can’t be a marketing operation the way, say, a junior hockey franchise or a minor league baseball team can, and sometimes that leads to them being lost in the shuffle,” he said. The way university athletic departments are structured in Canada limits the ways in which they can market games and draw fans, he added. 

In 2013, the CIS and Sportsnet announced a six-year broadcasting agreement that would effectively end their weekly airing of nationally televised regular season games. 

The partnership instead limited its broadcast coverage to U Sports’ national championship game — the Vanier Cup — and its two semi-final matchups, the Mitchell and Uteck Bowls. The semi-final and final games of basketball and hockey for both men’s and women’s also fell under the mandate of the new agreement. 

But even without nationally televised regular season games, students can still keep up with teams through other, more accessible means such as social media. 

 “I think students want that [live game] experience, I just don’t know if they want it four to six Saturdays out of the fall,” Sager said. 

The way people have consumed media products has changed aplenty since the turn of the millennium and sports everywhere have struggled to adapt. 

“It’s just become so much easier to watch a game on your phone or on a screen than to go and sit in a stadium,” Sager said. The OUA does livestream its conference’s regular season games, though it doesn’t garner the same viewership as a game nationally televised by TSN would. 

“[People] have access to more digital media than they ever have … they’re [also] busy and their interest in sports isn’t what it used to be,” Myers said of how the university sporting landscape, in both the US and Canada, has shifted. “They tend to focus on more of the big games.”

So, the next time you attend a sanctioned sporting event at Queen’s and find yourself looking for a seat that is occupied, just remember: almost every student across Canada and the US has experienced a similar feeling. 


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