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2017 attendance for Cal Football was among the worst in the Pac-12—and in recent school history

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Because these days, crowd size is paramount.

Stanford Cardinals v California Golden Bears Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Unless we’re talking about the football blue bloods like the Alabama Crimson Tide or the Ohio State Buckeyes, most fans of college football understand that it’s mostly mercurial. Trash talking other schools is part of the game, but we understand that no team will forever be better than another (I say in the midst of a historic win streak for the Stanfurd Cardinal in the Big Game). And yet, despite the cyclic nature of on-field quality, there are a few things we can always count on as fans of the California Golden Bears regarding our most-hated of rivals. There’s still no Stanfurdium. They barely have a fanbase and they can’t draw a crowd. Stanfurd students get As handed to them—much like they’ve had everything handed to them their entire lives. Except... one of these things isn’t really true anymore. (And I’m not sure why I’m trying to build suspense when the post title clues you in.)

Attendance figures for the 2017 NCAA Football season have been released and California Memorial Stadium was among the lowest-attended in the Pac-12. In fact, the only schools with lower attendance were the Oregon State Beavers and the Washington State Cougars—not exactly rarefied air to be among. But those two schools actually did better than Cal when taking into consideration stadium size—they both sold over 80% of their seats. Cal couldn’t even sell 60% of Memorial Stadium’s seats this past year.

Cal was just a tad below the FBS average, which makes us feel better... until we realize how much those numbers are skewed by smaller schools and Group of Five teams. The only Pac-12 teams to beat the actual Power Five average were the USC Trojans and the Washington Huskies.

But the worst news of all is that Stanfurd roughly outsold Cal by 11,000 seats per game. Worse yet, Stanfurd sold nearly 95% of the seats in their sad little dilapidated stadium. It took the (sigh) emergence of the school as a football powerhouse, multiple conference championships and seasons with 10+ wins, and a handful of Heisman hopefuls, but Stanfurd has outdrawn Cal (as we are mired in a streak of mediocrity—at best—and coming out of a 5-win season).

2017 Pac-12 Football attendance

ABCish Team Games Total attendance Avg. attendance per game Stadium capacity Stadium fullness
ABCish Team Games Total attendance Avg. attendance per game Stadium capacity Stadium fullness
1 Arizona 6 255,791 42,632 55,675 76.57%
2 ASU 7 359,660 51,380 56,232 91.37%
3 Cal 6 219,290 36,548 62,467 58.51%
4 Colorado 6 282,335 47,056 50,183 93.77%
5 Oregon 7 388,381 55,483 54,000 102.75%
6 OSU 6 208,524 34,754 43,363 80.15%
7 Stanfurd 6 284,388 47,398 50,424 94.00%
8 UC L.A. 6 336,262 56,044 92,542 60.56%
9 USC 7 508,781 72,683 93,607 77.65%
10 Utah 7 321,390 45,913 45,807 100.23%
11 Washington 7 481,755 68,822 70,083 98.20%
12 WSU 7 223,875 31,982 33,522 95.41%
13 Pac-12* 79 3,918,563 49,601 . .
14 FBS 810 34,107,211 42,108 . .
15 Power Five 430 25,767,841 59,925 . .
*Only includes in-conference games and the Pac-12 Championship Game. NCAA and (gulp) Wikipedia for stadium capacity

2017 was really bad for Cal. Not only were we arguably the worst team for attendance in the Pac-12, but it was possibly our worst year for ticket sales in the past 15 years.

Gold bars denote average attendance per game and the scale is on the left. Blue dots represent the percent that the stadium was filled for each average game, with the scale on the right.
* The 2011 season was played in AT&T Park.

We’ve known that ticket sales for Cal have been dropping, but 2017 was a starkly bad year—the worst that I could find in NCAA records—with figures similar to Tedford’s second year, when the fanbase was recovering from the Holmoecaust. Our 2017 raw attendance per game was lower than that year (2002), but the percent of stadium fullness was a tad higher. Cal’s best attendance per game on record was in 2006, when Cal was co–Pac-10 champions and ended up winning 10 games. Since that point, Cal basically declined annually (omitting a big bump the year we returned to Memorial after our one-year excursion to AT&T Park)—with a minor bump in 2015 when we thought Jared Goff might be our savior. In 2017, our ticket sales dropped by over 20% compared to 2016; again, this is the largest drop we’ve seen in this timeframe (with the exception of the precipitous drop to squeeze into the smaller AT&T Park). The only other year that had a double-digit percent decrease over the previous year was 2013; the sample size is small, but these two years with double-digit attendance drops came in the first years of our past two head coaches. Perhaps this is some protest by the fans for the poor performance of the outgoing head coach (presumably performing poorly enough to get fired) or apprehension about the new head coach.

Attendance for Cal Football

Team Games Total attendance Avg. attendance per game Stadium fullness FBS rank Percent increase
Team Games Total attendance Avg. attendance per game Stadium fullness FBS rank Percent increase
2003 6 229,831 38,305 56.72% 59 .
2004 . . . . . .
2005 6 362,263 60,377 89.40% 30 .
2006 7 450,223 64,318 88.69% 25 6.53%
2007 6 378,816 63,136 87.06% 28 -1.84%
2008 7 431,437 61,634 85.84% 31 -2.38%
2009 6 356,830 59,472 82.83% 30 -3.51%
2010 7 405,112 57,873 80.60% . -2.69%
2011* 5 188,285 37,657 83.68% . -34.93%
2012** 7 391,130 55,876 88.43% . 48.38%
2013 7 345,303 49,329 78.97% . -11.72%
2014 6 286,051 47,675 76.32% . -3.35%
2015 6 292,797 48,800 78.12% . 2.36%
2016 6 279,769 46,628 74.64% . -4.45%
2017 6 219,290 36,548 58.51% . -21.62%
* AT&T Park. ** Biggest improvement in FBS and the last year I felt happiness.

The stadium debt has been discussed at length here, so I think we all know that Cal cannot afford (literally or figuratively) more years with this level of ticket sales. With Cal fans generally feeling optimistic about Justin Wilcox’s future, I expect to see sales improve again, but we’ll see if we can ever break into the top 30 nationally again.