Mizzou's Stadium Expands as College Football Attendance Drops

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COLUMBIA - Tim Hickman, University of Missouri Executive Associate Athletic Director, said he expects Memorial Stadium's East Side expansion project to be complete in time for the 2014 Missouri football season. Hickman said the project cost roughly $46 million.

"Just to stay with modern trends on what's going on in the industry with what our fan base wants and give a great experience," Hickman said.

"We're in the SEC," Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel said. "You should always see cranes. That's the way it should be. I kid around with alumni and say any alumni if you don't see cranes up in the sports area, then I'm going to give you Mike Alden's cell phone number. You call him."

"That's the league we're in. You have to invest."

But is the investment worth it?

Missouri football sold out just three of its seven home games last year: Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M. Missouri's annual Black & Gold game drew just 23,121 fans, which ranked 9th in the SEC. In comparison, Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee each had over 68,000 in attendance.

And attendance isn't just a problem at MU. Overall attendance in college football last year was the second lowest since 2003, dropping 3% since 2008.

In the meantime, TV and online streaming audiences are rising. College football TV ratings rose at least 3 percent on each of ESPN's networks including an 8 percent increase on ESPN2. 

Missouri had the 8th highest TV ratings among college football teams with 3.9 millon viewers per game. Meantime, the SEC was the No. 1 conference in terms of TV ratings with 3.8 million viewers per game. That may suggest that more fans are choosing to watch games at home rather than buy tickets and attending the stadium.

Every Mizzou football game, except for the home opener against Murray State (which was on pay-per-view), was on cable TV. With the SEC Network also launching this Fall, it could be a challenge for Mizzou to fill its new seats.

"I think it's a trend nationally even before some of those things. That's something all of us in college athletics and all of sports in general are paying attention to and how they continue to improve the experience at the game and the in-game experience and that's part of that for us," Hickman said.

Despite the trends, all the MU fans KOMU spoke to at the Black & Gold Game said they support the stadium expansion project.

"These seats were needed," Cory Ware said. "We're going to fill this place out and keep it all black and gold."

"We're SEC now," Laura Packard said. "We got to be there. We got to pay to play as they say."

"The energy here you can't replace sitting on a couch," John Piazza said. But if you alternatively have to watch it on a couch, it's certainly appealing to look at."

Gary Pinkel said that "winning brings people to the stadium."

However, winning didn't improve attendance last season. The Tigers jumped from 5-7 to 12-2, but average attendance capacity stayed the same for the most part. In 2012, the average stadium capacity filled was 95%. In 2013, it was 94.6%. Note, stadium capacity dropped from 71,004 to 67,124 last season due to construction.

Hickman said MU is hitting its ticket sale projections and he's "pleased with how it's going." He also said he's looking into new ways for the at-stadium experience to compete with the at-home experience.

"We're always looking for opportunities and watching the trends nationally so we can look at what we can do here and we can improve the ways fans experience the game," Hickman said.