Does Pro Sports Popularity Translate to Full Stands for College Athletics?

Does Pro Sports Popularity Translate to Full Stands for College Athletics?

The PLL kicked off their fourth season this past weekend in Albany. While the far stands were full on Saturday, the larger home side stands were sparse.

On our Saturday PLL Narrative pod, I discussed not being too concerned with attendance at PLL games. If one of the four games per weekend is well attended that is going to good enough for me.

Have you ever gone to a music festival? Have you ever gone to all three days of a music festival? The chances that a family of four attends a multi day musical festival are slim to none. Those are for college kids.

It is the same for a four game lacrosse weekend. If you're a family that is already giving up three summer weekends for club lacrosse travel, you're probably not spending another weekend watching pro lacrosse.

The crowds in Albany made me wonder, if the PLL catches on, will that impact attendance on the college lacrosse? When I say catches on, I mean, a sustained run on ESPN or Fox Sports, and the weekends are selling out at small/medium sized venues.

If we really start to care about the PLL on a national level, is there a trickle down to college lacrosse?

The NFL is arguably the strongest league in the world. The college football playoff semifinals and title game are sell outs on primetime television.

The NBA has some of the most recognizable stars in the world. March Madness is a signature event on the sports calendar.

You may be one of those lacrosse folks who thinks baseball is boring but the World Series sells out and even the Orioles are were averaging 20,000 for home games in April. The College World Series held in Omaha, Nebraska had an economic impact of $88 million in 2019.

Here's where things start to get a little strange.

While the NFL might be the strongest league on Earth, soccer is the most popular sport. The Premier League, La Liga, and even the MLS in America draw massive crowds for more games than a college lacrosse or PLL season.

However, no seems to be bothered with going to college soccer games.

Take these with a grain of salt as they are pulled from Wikipedia:

The highest recorded attendance for championship games are listed below:

  • 22,512 – Saint Louis (5) vs. SIU Edwardsville (1), Busch Stadium, St. Louis Oct. 30 1980
  • 21,319 – Wisconsin (1) vs. Portland (0) / Duke (3) vs. Virginia (2), Richmond, Virginia (NCAA semifinals) Dec. 8, 1995
  • 20,874 – St. John's (NY) (4) vs. FIU (1), Richmond, Virginia (NCAA final) Dec. 15, 1996
  • 20,703 – Wisconsin (2) vs. Duke (0), Richmond, Virginia (NCAA final) Dec. 10, 1995
  • 20,269 – St. John's (NY) (2) vs. Creighton (1) / FIU (4) vs. Charlotte (0), Richmond, Virginia (NCAA semifinals) Dec. 13, 1996
  • 20,143 – UCLA (2) vs. Virginia (0), Richmond, Virginia (NCAA final) Dec. 14, 1997
  • 20,112 – Saint Louis (1) vs. SIU Edwardsville (0), Busch Stadium, St. Louis Nov. 9, 1973

Similarly to college lacrosse, college soccer attendance has gone down over time. Again according to Wikipedia, the 2021 title game only had 7,238 fans in attendance.

Is this because the best soccer players go pro sooner? You could say the same thing about college basketball but March Madness is still a huge draw both on television and in person.

Consider these numbers for recent college lacrosse title games via NCAA:

This year's figure was somewhere in the 20,000 range.

The MLS was founded in 1993. After a slow start, the sport is exceptionally supported but no one seems to care about the college game. Rutgers lacrosse had 5000 in attendance for their first round tournament game. The men's soccer final only drew 7200.

The NBA bubble playoffs had zero fans but the basketball was excellent because the role players weren't being rattled by home fans.

But don't you love the sound of a crowd after a big moment?

The answer to our question is, we don't know.

Maybe the PLL leadership team does and we'll trust that they are doing everything they can to further the growth of not just their league but the sport.

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