Fans / Marketing


Cracking the college student attendance code

Author Christian Tovar-Vargas, University of San Francisco

Posted: October 13, 2015

Understanding what motivates a consumer to attend a sporting event has been a principal area of research in the field of sport marketing (Pons, Giroux, & Mourali, 2014). Understanding these consumer motives allow a marketer to establish long-term relationships with consumers, which could possibly lead to consumers rebuying their sport product (Pons, et al., 2014) This consumer repatronage is certainly important since it is associated with things such as a boost in profit and an increase in positive word-of-mouth, just to name a few (Pritchard, 2014, p. 123)

These topics of customer loyalty and consumer motives are certainly highlighted when looking at the recent attendance trends in college basketball. Of the top 70 schools in average college basketball attendance, 29 have experienced attendance gains, while 38 have experienced declines in attendance (Smith, 2015). This drop in attendance has been associated for reasons such as continued attention on college football and the accessibility of college basketball games on television (Smith, 2015). However, those schools that have experienced increases in average attendance have done so for contrasting reasons.

North Carolina State experienced an increase in attendance due to external influencers that may have motivated consumers to attend their basketball games. By having the marquee matchups of Duke and North Carolina on their schedule (Smith, 2015), the attractiveness of these games increased (Pons, Giroux, & Mourali, 2014, p. 24). North Carolina State also experienced an increase in attendance by having most of their conference home games on days that historically drew more of a crowd (Smith, 2015). This scheduling of these games might have benefitted consumers since they would have had more free time available. This increase in time availability should have increased the accessibility of the event, which is an environmental factor that influences a sport consumer decision-making process to attend an event (Pons et al., 2014, p. 24). These factors could have certainly affected a consumer within the evaluation of alternatives step of the decision making process (Pons et al., 2014, p. 25).

Nebraska on the other hand, experienced an increase in attendance due to an internal influencer that may have motivated consumers to attend their basketball games. Nebraska administrators were able to raise their attendance by focusing on consumers that were making basketball-specific donations to their athletic department (Smith, 2015). For these consumers, a Nebraska basketball game was able to fulfill a need they may have had of attending a live basketball game in the area. This need fulfillment should have raised their level of motivation to attend a game. Like for those consumers in North Carolina State, this raised level of motivation should have impacted Nebraska sport consumers in the evaluation of alternatives process of the decision to attend a Nebraska basketball game (Pons, Giroux, & Mourali, 2014, p. 25).

Some of the tactics employed by Nebraska’s athletic administration to increase their average attendance could also be attributed to the creation of customer loyalty. They have made improvements to their overall fan experience by purchasing buying a new scoreboard that allowed them to employ videos and entertain their audience (Smith, 2015). The administration also assured that consumers who were actual fans of basketball were able to get great seats (Smith, 2015). In taking these steps, Nebraska was trying to raise commitment, which “is supported by positive direct experience with the product” (Pritchard, 2014, p. 124). In addition to trying to raise the revenue that they had from overall attendance, these investments can be seen as a way to get the added profit that comes with loyal consumers.



Pons, F., Giroux, M., & Mourali, M. (2014). Consumer behavior and motivation: Why     are sport event consumers so special? In M. P. Pritchard, & J. L. Stinson (Eds.), Leveraging brands in sport business (pp. 21-36). New York, NY: Routledge.

Pritchard, M. P. (2014). Building loyal customers in sport business. In M. P. Pritchard, & J. L. Stinson (Eds.), Leveraging brands in sport business (pp. 122-141). New    York, NY: Routledge.

Smith, M. (2015, March 2). Some hoops programs buck the attendance trend. SportsBusiness Journal, 17(44). Retrieved from:   

About Christian Tovar-Vargas, University of San Francisco

Christian is a first-year student in the University of San Francisco sport management master’s program. His current sport management involvement includes a fan experience internship at UC Berkeley and Marketing/Social Media internship with the San Francisco State University athletic department. His current areas of interest include marketing and fan experience in the areas of intercollegiate athletics, professional basketball and the Olympic movement. Christian is a native of San Antonio, TX where he received his Bachelor’s degree in psychology and sport management from Trinity University (TX). Within his time at Trinity, Christian worked with sport organizations such as the Valero Alamo Bowl and San Antonio Spurs. Christian can be reached at This article is an edited version of a paper Christian prepared for Dr. Michael M. Goldman’s Sport Marketing class at the University of San Francisco.

IImage of Shannon Evans Pass, UB defeats Western Michigan 84-63, by Chad Cooper, Accessed via Creative Commons license.