If you want to see just how bad football has been in Lawrence, just check out last year’s attendance numbers. The Jayhawks had 24,000 folks show up for their season opening loss to Nicholls State. When Rutgers visited two weeks later, 28,000 watched that one. Something happened between that game and their first Big 12 game however, because only 18,000 went out to watch the Jayhawks lose to Oklahoma State. For the final three home games, they couldn’t get over 16,000 in attendance.
Football is the engine that drives the train in college athletics. Sure, it’s fun to be considered a “basketball” school, but when your football team is successful, the entire athletic department benefits. The Jayhawks averaged just over 19,424 per game last year.
Let’s put this in perspective by looking at some of the other teams in the Big 12. Texas averaged the most at 97,713. That’s close to 80,000 more than Kansas. That’s not quite fair though because Texas was ranked 7th nationally last year in average attendance. As a matter of fact, there were five Big 12 teams that were ranked in the top 30. Oklahoma was 11th, West Virginia 25th, Texas Tech 28th and Iowa State 29th.
Kansas State averaged 49,738 in attendance, good for 7th in the conference. TCU was 8th in the conference with an average of 42,868 and Baylor was 9th, at, get this, 41,336 per game. That’s 21,912 more than Kansas. Do you realize that every school in the Big 12 consistently played in front of crowds over 40,000 until they visited Lawrence? Memorial Stadium has a capacity of 50,071.
They host Oklahoma and Kansas State this year so their numbers might go up a bit, especially when the Wildcats come to town. There will be more purple in the stadium than blue. But I’m not betting on it, especially if they’re not winning. Texas and Iowa State visited the ‘Hawks last year and both schools tend to travel well. Those two games were the lowest attended games in Lawrence last season.
I do expect their attendance numbers to increase a bit this year. The excitement over the Les Miles hire is pretty high and fans are going to want to check out the new product. However, they fall on their faces early on, especially against Indiana State and Coastal Carolina, their first two home games, attendance will sink again and it will be business as usual for the Jayhawks.
Of course, putting a winning product on the field would help solve a lot of these problems. The Big 12 needs KU football to be successful. The state of Kansas needs them to be successful and the city of Lawrence needs them to be successful. For too long I’ve heard the phrase, I just want them to be competitive. Sounds like a true basketball school to me!
– Rob Mooney, Metro Voice sports writer