Football / Sports

Disconnect between reported attendance, NCAA requirements

While Central Michigan University is in compliance with NCAA Division I standards for football game attendance, a dwindling student base and declining attendance continues to plague the program.

A large share of the compliance is due to the 5,500 season tickets bought by International Management Group, a global sports and media company.

The 2013 football paid attendance summary sent to the NCAA states that CMU averaged 15,332.6 people in paid attendance over five home games. Students averaged 3,063.8 in paid attendance this season, accounting for 19.98 percent of the total.

The NCAA Division I manual states that a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision, like CMU, must average at least 15,000 in actual or paid attendance for all home football games on a two-year rolling basis.

According to the statistics guidelines and policies released by the NCAA, “Attendance figures for official box scores and/or NCAA reports can be calculated by turnstile count, tickets sold or estimates. Schools should make every effort to record an attendance figure on each statistical box score it produces.” If these figures are not met, CMU would not be eligible to play any postseason game.

“I’d like to say we want to sell out every game – maybe that’s where we start,” said CMU Director of Athletics Dave Heeke. “Practically, we look at our best games, we try to market them and promote them.”

Heeke said CMU will subscribe to the paid attendance option in the future, which counts tickets sold for at least one-third of the highest established ticket price, regardless of whether they are used for admission. Tickets sold at less than one-third of that price were only counted if admitted.

This means tickets sold count for bodies in the seats, regardless of if the person physically enters the stadium or not.

The numbers submitted to the NCAA by Feb. 15 are a result of an internal audit conducted by the university and signed by University President George Ross. The internal audit observed the process by which tickets are counted per-game and reviewed the final count figures.

The breakdown

Students did not account for more than 30 percent of the total paid attendance in a single game this season, and student attendance plummeted as the year went on. Only 102 students attended the last home game against Eastern Michigan on Nov. 30, accounting for one percent.

Meanwhile, 8,000 season tickets were consistently sold at each home game, in large part due to 5,528 season tickets sold to young alumni, retirees, and Central Michigan college client, IMG. According to Central Michigan Athletics, 5,500 of those tickets were sold to IMG.

“We have two-fold engagement strategies,” said Director of External Operations Craig Willey. “We target certain segments that come in on a promotion, and utilize sponsor tickets through IMG. We align ourselves in a game-by-game basis to try to get as many people into that stadium as we can.”

IMG alone is equal to about one-third of the 15,000 needed per home game.

These tickets were the cheapest season ticket option, sold for $40, but accounted for $220,000 in revenue this season. In comparison, all other season ticket packages combined, including the most expensive club suite tickets valued at $130, brought in $220,880 in revenue.

Because tickets are counted as an attended patron after being sold, it puts into question how many people actually enter the stadium on game day.

According to CMU Athletic Communications, immediately after every game CMU submits a stat package which includes attendance figures for that day. It has nothing to do with the audited report, but is compiled by the NCAA as an announced attendance report early in the year.

Released in early January, these reported attendance numbers are determined differently for each school, and are not an official means of gauging attendance.

Willey said CMU uses a “formula based on a number of variables,” to determine the number they record in their press information. Students, season tickets, complimentary tickets, working staff, band, the media and those on the Friends of Program list and pass list are compiled.

Greg Stiener, assistant athletic director for media relations at Eastern Michigan, said EMU bases its estimates on the tickets that passed through their turnstiles.

With these varying tactics, there can be a drastic difference between the estimates and reality.

What CMU and other schools have subscribed to is a method that counts the tickets that have been sold, regardless if these people actually attend or not.

“We can debate whether it’s an effective or appropriate rule mandated by the NCAA to be a Division I program, but it is one component that many institutions across the country have to wrestle with,” Heeke said. “Our feeling is, let’s make sure we don’t have to worry about that so our focus can be on trying to attract people to come to the game to build our fan base year-to-year, not just game-to-game or over one season.”

While on paper CMU has complied with the regulations of the NCAA, they have reported the lowest-estimated attendance numbers since 2004.

Drawing a crowd

Many different factors affect attendance including the date, weather, and other Division I games in the state.

Heeke said dealing with different generation of fans who aren’t used to going to games as a primary social activity or part of their family activities is a challenge.

“It’s very challenging when you can sit at home and watch multiple games in the comfort of a climate-controlled area,” Heeke said. “It’s a far different experience now, we have a generation that was raised on that; it’s a national problem. How do we change the experience in the stadium to meet the demands of the consumer?”

In October, Central Michigan Life reported that season ticket sales have been at their lowest since 2006.

Down significantly from the record 4,880 season tickets purchased in 2012, 3,453 tickets were sold for the 2013 five-game home football schedule, according to figures released to CM Life by the CMU athletics department. That’s an 11-percent decrease from the average over the last eight seasons.

Willey declined to blame falling numbers strictly on the football team’s performance in October, pointing to economic conditions, an aging season-ticket base that might not be in the region all season and an unfavorable five-game home schedule as possible reasons for the decline.

He said, while new season ticket holders are being added each season, retention is a problem.

Willey said attracting students is another top priority – evidenced by the 15,359 total student attendance this season.

“I just went to the two games this year for the experience,” said Ludington freshman Jessamyn Wolff. “I didn’t really know what was happening in the game to be honest. Being in band in high school, I can understand the importance of supporting the football team, but after going to the games here, I was dissatisfied.”

CMU students can attend all sporting events for free, and Heeke has said there have been no talks of charging students.

“We view it as a benefit to our student body,” Heeke said. “Unlike Michigan, MSU and other schools around the country, we hope that they benefit (from) that perk of coming here.”

In reviewing Central Michigan’s numbers since 2004, a winning record has had no direct correlation to attendance. The 3-9 Chippewas of 2010 saw the highest attendance numbers per game since 2006.

This season, CMU estimated its per game attendance to be 13,224 – the worst-reported attendance figure since 2004 – where CMU had a 4-7 record, but managed to pull in 15,043 per game.

Another factor for students is the return of tailgating at games.

“I care about the games to a point because I love football, but when (the team) is down at halftime, there’s no reason to stay,” said Manchester junior Nathan Jackson. “I’ll go to tailgate and have a good time, but when they shut it down, I go to the game and only stay until halftime.”

While this is one of many factors, its reintroduction in the 2012 season increased non-audited total attendance estimates from 76,456 to 112,249.

“The student body creates the atmosphere, it’s disappointing when they don’t come and support their team and their classmates in the stands,” Heeke said. “Tailgating at all levels is part of the game day experience … we provide a real safe, friendly, quality experience for tailgating to happen.”

According to announced numbers released by the NCAA in January, CMU sits in the upper third of MAC teams in per-game attendance. The average home game attendance in the last five years is 16,940, compared to 18,360 at WMU and 6,628 at EMU.

“Does it matter if you have no one at your game, or 15,000, or 110,000?” Heeke asked. “Does that somehow deem that you shouldn’t play football at this school because you can’t reach 15,000? If the school makes the decision to play football, why should it matter? It’s their decision how they want to manage the game and what they think their expectation is and what makes it a viable program.”


  1. Are you kidding? No one would shop at Tommy Bahama’s if the merchandise was horrible.

    Apparently the nation’s best AD doesn’t understand the marketing concept of the “promise-performance gap.”

    CMU Football tickets are directly correlated to the decline in the experience; something George and Dave are oblivious to. Many like me haven’t been to a game since Dan Enos took a once burgeoning program and turned it into a joke.

    We can talk about NCAA compliance and nib-gnaw about this and that. It’s just lick-spittle. As far as “declining enrollment” that’s also a smoke screen since the school’s total enrollment is 27,000 and I’m told enrollment is now pacing up. 20,000 students on campus is equal to Oregon, Washington State, Northwestern, and many others. How about shooting straight Mister President and your AD?

  2. “Many different factors affect attendance including the date, weather, and other Division I games in the state.”
    How about fielding a winning program. How about a Defense that does not give up NCAA record in qb rushing? How about going back to the spread which yielded championships.

    Stop blaming dwindling attendance on other factors. I stopped my season tickets because it is not fun watching CMU get blown out by the likes of NIU, Toledo, Ball St. season in and out.

    Winning will bring the fans back, we used to have 8-10k students during kelly-jones era.
    Also, 5 home games with 1 being an fcs and 2 vs the armpit of the MAC in UMASS and EMU is not going to bring in the fans. Scheduling has improved, have to keep that aspect moving forward!

  3. Look no further than the two buffoons running this show (Ross/Heeke), as well as the third-rate marketing department.

  4. CMU Student says:

    When you have a bad football team, whether you have lifted tailgating policies or not, expect low turnout. Central settles for mediocrity and it shows.

    Save the Chips! Sack Dan! Fire Enos!

  5. “drastic difference between the estimates and reality” Actually it’s FANTASY.

    “Our feeling is, let’s make sure we don’t have to worry about that so our focus can be on trying to attract people to come to the game to build our fan base year-to-year, not just game-to-game or over one season.” Actually you accomplish this by creating the GAME DAY EXPERIENCE unlike what you have done over the past years by scheduling games mid-week. Football games need to be on Saturday. Also enough of this Friday after Thanksgiving game. Totally stupid idea.

    “Tailgating at all levels is part of the game day experience …” Yes, but YOU had the idea to create a cage for a few years to put the students in. Totally stupid idea.

    Let’s face it, no MAC school really complies with the attendance. They either need to be moved down to FBS or eliminate the rule.

  6. I had the privilege of attending CMU when the football team had a couple good years, but since then Central has been an average, low-level NCAA football program.

    That’s probably how it will be most years. While it’s unfortunate, it’s the reality of the matter. As such, you can’t be expecting MSU or even U-M attendance.

    I actually feel bad for the players, who are essentially treated as prostitutes by the college. The college sells the team to bigger programs as an easy win and, in return, makes a lot of money. Of course, the players don’t seem a dime of it–just like the prostitutes at houses of ill repute.

  7. florence Schneider says:

    The attendance from 2010 is a direct result of the 2009 championship season and bowl victory. The momentum and interest in Chippewa football had been gradually building throughout the Kelly/Jones era. Fans rightfully expected the winning – although not necessary championships – to continue despite the loss of several key players from 2009.

    Unfortunately, Dave Heeke threw away ALL that momentum when he hired a coach with nothing but contempt for Kelly & Jones, the players they recruited, and the systems they used. The program needed continuity, not a wrecking ball! Fans, and particularly former players and their families, deeply resent it. Do not underestimate how much, Dave.

    The 2012 upturn is a direct result of the MSU game at Kelly Shorts that year. Unfortunately, however, despite MSU being a v-e-r-y average Big Ten team that year, CMU was utterly humiliated by the Spartans. It was a back breaking, long-term, loss for the program in terms of fan interest. It was not the loss, it was HOW the Chippewas lost. When other MAC programs were competing with and beating teams better than MSU that year, there was no excuse for CMU to have been manhandled by the Spartans.

    Many of the fans who attended that game will never return to Kelly Shorts. It was an opportunity blown due to Dan Enos having his team poorly prepared for a ho-hum BCS opponent.

    Yes, there are multiple factors to CMU’s outrageously bad attendance issues. However, 90 percent of the problem is the head coach on the sidelines.

    Don’t complain about the color of the wallpaper, when you have an elephant stinking-up the room, Dave.

    • See here’s the thing, where the football team is now isn’t unusual, the Kelly/Jones era is the anomaly. So, in a way, Kelly and Jones can also be blamed. This is a group effort here, both past and present.
      As for the most recent State vs Central game, State learned not to take MAC schools lightly early on, something the other Big10 teams hadn’t learned yet, so those other teams were ‘going easy’ on them, as it were. I watched those games, and that’s what I saw, and I’m not the only one who saw it.

      • HOGWASH, CMU holds a top 25 win percentage in all of college football, winning was the norm get your facts straight

      • Alumni2008 says:

        I completely disagree. The Kelly/Jones Era is not an anomaly in the history of CMU football. Since CMU joined the MAC in 75, they have traditionally been one of, if not, the best and consistent teams in the MAC. So besides the last few seasons with coach Flynn and the Debord era, CMU has had a great team and program.

        As for the game versus MSU, personally I think MSU was a little underrated that year, but there’s no getting around that CMU did not show up for that game. The game should of been much closer, not such a blowout.

      • florence schneider says:

        Kat –

        Central Michigan has won seven MAC championships since joining the MAC in 1975. With the exception of the late ’90s/early 2000s and the Enos years, winning has been common and expected.

        Kelly/Jones rebuilt a dead program. They inherited a program in FAR worse shape than the young, experienced, defending champions Enos inherited. And, gee, they won three championships in four years between them! Enos struggles for a 500 record..despite inheriting two recruiting classes ranked as the MAC’s finest in 2008 and 2009.

        In December, 2009, this very newspaper quoted Dave Heeke as saying Butch Jones had built the CMU football program for “sustained success.”

        Clearly, we have not “sustained success” with Enos outdated offense, timid coaching, and disdain for all things CMU football accomplished between 2004 and 2009.

        And if you think the only reason CMU and other MAC teams have beaten Big Ten teams is because they were taken us “lightly,” then you need to do some homework on college football.

        Continue the BOYCOTT! Fire Dan Enos!

  8. marchingchip0306 says:

    “In reviewing Central Michigan’s numbers since 2004, a winning record has had no direct correlation to attendance.”

    Sorry, incorrect statement. Winning really does mean butts in the seats and people sticking around. It also takes time for a perennially losing team to generate interest again once they start winning. Unfortunately Kelly/Shorts is not the kind of place where people will flock once the team is incrementally better (much as though we wish it would). It takes a couple years of improvement (like the 2004-2005 seasons where the team consistently improved its record) before the place is packed again.

    “The 3-9 Chippewas of 2010 saw the highest attendance numbers per game since 2006.”

    Of course they did. They were coming off a 10-2 season with a national ranking. No one had any idea the team would completely crash, and most still stuck it out through the season to either see if they turned the corner, or was giving Enos the benefit of the doubt and waiting through the year. After the turnaround didn’t happen THEN they quit buying tickets.

    Winning will solve a lot of problems. Consistent winning will pack the place again. How we do it is another discussion. But don’t tell me winning doesn’t correlate to attendance.

    • Alumni2008 says:

      This hits the nail on the head.

      Winning program over time = money and attendance.

      Crappy program over time = less money and dwindling fanbase.

  9. michmediaperson says:

    How could CMU have a football attendance problem when George Ross said that Dave Heeke is “the best athletic director in the country.”

    Better than Dave Brandon at U-M who fills 107,000 in the stadium.

    Better than Mark Hollis at Michigan State.

    You students should wake up on his last paragraph in this story. The CMU athletic department is running about an 18 million dollar deficit (which CM LIFE fails to report for reasons I don’t get) which has to be paid for by Michigan taxpayers or students.

    At U-M and MSU, they make enough money from ticket sales and TV revenues so taxpayers and students don’t have to subsidize the athletic department.

    We pay Heeke a lot of money to fill the stadium and he can’t even come close. 4,000….5,000 in the stadium.

    Ross and Heeke have a problem.

    They may luck out in 2014. CMU has a lot of players back but Danny Boy from MSU will probably find some way to wreck the season.

    People aren’t showing up because the coaching is bad. And, Heeke and his staff do a poor job marketing the games.

  10. Based on a Pay For Performance formula, Ross/Heeke owe US $1.5+ million!

  11. First, nice piece of writing by Malachi. Heeke and all of those quoted in the article can put whatever spin they want on it, but sports is a bottom line business. Put a product on the field worth the price of admission and folks will attend. Put a poor product and team it with awful visiting teams and you have the attendance issues we are seeing. I had season tickets for a 6 year stretch (last 3 seasons of LeFevour and first 3 seasons of Enos). I sat in those stands and watched as Enos got his on the job training as a head coach. I saw how he dismantled a once proud program and listened to him say how the prior coach left the cupboard bare. Enos seemed to be out-coached and unprepared each week. If we played a good 1st half the fans knew that we would not make any adjustments after half and get beaten. I, and many other consumers, refuse to spend money on this inferior product. I did not renew my tickets last season and will not be doing so again this year. Attendance is directly related to a winning team and a game day atmosphere….period.

  12. finally these comments are comming out after 4 yrs of watching the program slowly fade into oblivion. Apathy has been set in far too long, lets again wake the sleeping giant. Students voice your concerns to heeke, alumni write letters to the administration. Lets GO!

  13. I think it goes way back. Students take up….roughly 8,000 of the stadium right? Correct me if I’m wrong. But one student hit it right on the head. If they’re losing at halftime, I’ll leave and go tailgate. Really? Losing at halftime means nothing. I’ve seen teams comeback from a 35 point deficit in the 3rd quarter and win. I don’t think CMU should have allowed students to come into the game for free. You just gave the game a no value. They can come and go as they please. Put a price on their ticket and they probably would stay. I’ve seen other programs be just as bad as CMU over the years and they still get a great turnout with students. I’m also writing a speech on this type of topic and would love opinions on this.

    • Alumni2008 says:

      I think it is an interesting concept and maybe the Athletic Department should give it some thought. It would definitely be something different. Perhaps they could offer season tickets to students at some large discounted price before every school year. You could maybe provide free season tickets for all incoming freshman so they could attend the games and enjoy the experience. However, there is a great amount of risk in charging students for events. That obvious risk is that nobody buys any tickets and you have less students attending the game. I think that is more likely to happen when you currently have a program that has been mediocre, at best, for the last few years.

      I think a better solution, and one person mentioned this before already, is to bring back all Saturday games. Get rid of the week day games so more people, including students, can attend the games. The football team also needs to create some type of presence on campus to generate a fanbase. Maybe promoting different nondrinking tailgating events on campus is an idea. One thing that will always put people in seats, even though it is not always going to happen, is consistently winning.

      Also, let’s be honest, how often do you see a team come back from 35 down at halftime? Very few and far between so it doesn’t exactly mean nothing.

      • Even if the tickets were $25 for the whole season, $5 per game (they pretty much average 5 home games now) that still isn’t bad. I know part of it is a bad team but look at Buffalo: 8-5. We went 6-6, if they would’ve lost their bowl game and we went to one and won we’d be tied with the same record and yet Buffalo averaged the most fans this year in the MAC. I think the students expect too much from Central. To be honest, I think LaFevour partially ruined CMU. Students expect those type of seasons every year and it just won’t happen. But my question is, how can Michigan have terrible seasons and still pack their students section while we have average seasons and average absolutely nobody? Different level of football yes, but football is football.

        • Alumni2008 says:

          I think $25 is a reasonable price, but there still is the risk that it could lead to less people attending. It would be interesting to see if Buffalo charged students to attend their games. If they do, then maybe CMU needs to look at how Buffalo is attracting students to the stadium.

          I’m not sure how LaFevour ruined CMU. For the most part since joining the MAC, CMU has been one of the best teams. I believe they hold the most MAC titles since joining the MAC. My point is that they’ve had much success in the past before LaFevour. Bringing back Saturday games and having a presence on campus would lead to more student attendance. In my opinion, the AD does a terrible job of promoting the games to students on campus at least when I attended. I was already a fan because I really like football, but as far as things going on around campus for football there wasn’t much. The tailgating rules changed back in 09 or 10 may also have influenced attendance.

          Michigan can fill its stadium every year because there is a definitive football tradition in the student body there. Also, it helps when you can win national titles and hold the most win total for a D1 school.

          • Well, there’s no way they can charge now. They gave the game a now value. Nobody would show up, but my point was they should’ve charged from the beginning, when they joined the MAC. You’re right about CMU having the most titles since joining the MAC, however Marshall has the most for their time being in the MAC. Marshall had 5 MAC titles (1996-2005). Central’s got 7 (1979-present) But what I mean about LeFevour is CMU was terrible in the early 2000′s under Debord. Then LeFevor shows up and wins right off the bat. Now fans (similar to Michigan fans) want 11 win seasons every year. Not going to happen with CMU. So even a 7-6 year, which is pretty decent, doesn’t bring the fans in. I doubt even a 9 win season will bring the fans in. I’m thinking if CMU charges students, revenue will go up and that could lead to them spending money for a better fan experience at the game.

  14. Disgruntled Alum says:

    Dave Heeke has all of the qualifications to be an excellent AD — at the middle school level.

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