July 30, 2014

Browns attendance is actually below average

Tickets and attendance have obviously been big news in Cleveland all year because the Indians have had difficulties drawing fans into the stadium. This has been amplified by Chris Perez’ statements wondering how Browns fans can justify supporting that team when he feels like the Indians are legitimately competing for the playoffs. This always goes down a few predictable roads. One fan will use the ad hominem phrase “FOOTBALL TOWN” rendering baseball and its fans lesser and just leave it right there. Another fan will look at intricacies of the schedule and the weather for baseball while claiming the magic will happen when school’s out. All of these things are true, and yet none of them describes the situation completely. There are a ton of variables. So let’s add another variable to the list. Everyone always assumes the Browns’ attendance is great, but is it really?

The short answer is no. Obviously the Browns have been bad and yet the Browns continue to sell out games and have managed to avoid blackouts 100% of the time since 1999. Occasionally tickets have been picked up by corporations and given away for free, but considering the Browns’ record since 1999 that’s some serious dedication. Does that speak to Browns fans or does that speak to the NFL as America’s favorite sport? I took some information from a Wall Street Journal infographic1 describing attendance across the NFL for last season.

According to their stats, NFL stadiums were 95.2% full. The top team was the New Orleans Saints with 107.4% capacity and the worst was the Bengals at 75.2%. 107.4% seems like a silly number to me. Seven teams in the list claim to have percentages over 100% for attendance. If you reject the notion that attendance can ever truly be over 100%2 and you adjust everyone to a top number of 100% the league average only drops 0.6% to 94.6%. So league-wide attendance is basically 95% on average, regardless. The Cleveland Browns on the other hand, in a city steeped in football tradition, where generations of fans pass it along like religion, were 89.8% full last season.

That’s below average from a percentage standpoint. It’s the seventh worst trailing teams like the Cardinals, Raiders, Chargers, Jags and Chiefs, while narrowly edging the Bucs, Rams, Bills and Redskins.

At the same time, I don’t want to be deceptive. That’s a percentage standpoint and the Browns have a pretty large stadium with the tenth largest capacity in the league. Considering the market size that’s in the middle of the pack for the NFL, the Browns have a pretty big stadium. The Bears have the league’s smallest with 61,500 seats. The league average is 70,815 and the Browns are listed at 73,300. The Browns drew the 18th most fans for the entire year with the 10th largest stadium. Honestly you could take those numbers and probably fit them to either argument that Browns attendance is high or low depending on your talking points.

The bottom line for me is this. In a year where the NFL was coming off of an ugly labor relations battle with the players, they still sold 95% of their tickets. So, when Chris Perez can’t understand why Browns fans continue to go to see that team, he’s missing the bigger picture about the NFL in America. Browns fans are below average in terms of NFL attendance. Yes the stadium is large relative to market size, but considering how rabid a football town this is, I think it’s fair to say that attendance could be much better if the team was better.3 The fact that they aren’t the worst in the NFL speaks to this being a Browns town and a football town, but it isn’t like they’re leading the league in terms of attendance.4

The conclusion here for me is that NFL attendance is great overall because the NFL is the healthiest of all the professional sports “brands” in the United States. Browns attendance is below average and could be at least 10% better if the team found a way to perform on the field. As for the Indians, there are a lot of factors at play here, but the biggest of all for me is one that baseball needs5 to wrestle with in terms of competitive balance and making their game more competitive in the overall sports landscape.

Average Stadium Avg as % of
Team
Attendance
Capacity
Capacity
New Orleans Saints
73,041
68,000
        107.4
Dallas Cowboys
85,512
80,000
        106.9
Philadelphia Eagles
69,144
67,594
        102.3
Indianapolis Colts
64,828
63,500
        102.1
Chicago Bears
62,145
61,500
        101.0
Houston Texans
71,496
71,054
        100.6
Baltimore Ravens
71,224
71,008
        100.3
San Francisco 49ers
69,732
69,732
        100.0
Tennessee Titans
69,143
69,134
        100.0
New England Patriots
68,756
68,756
        100.0
Seattle Seahawks
66,413
67,000
          99.1
Denver Broncos
75,327
76,125
          99.0
Detroit Lions
63,742
64,500
          98.8
Carolina Panthers
72,292
73,504
          98.4
Minnesota Vikings
62,816
64,121
          98.0
Atlanta Falcons
68,986
71,228
          96.9
Pittsburgh Steelers
63,034
65,050
          96.9
Green Bay Packers
70,512
72,928
          96.7
New York Giants
79,475
82,500
          96.3
New York Jets
78,986
82,500
          95.7
Arizona Cardinals
61,181
65,000
          94.1
Oakland Raiders
59,242
63,132
          93.8
San Diego Chargers
65,392
70,000
          93.4
Jacksonville Jaguars
62,331
67,164
          92.8
Kansas City Chiefs
72,082
79,451
          90.7
Cleveland Browns
65,859
73,300
          89.8
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
56,614
65,908
          85.9
St. Louis Rams
56,394
66,000
          85.4
Buffalo Bills
62,694
73,967
          84.8
Washington Redskins
76,921
91,704
          83.9
Miami Dolphins
60,886
75,192
          81.0
Cincinnati Bengals
49,251
65,515
          75.2

___________________________________________________

Footnotes:

  1. compiled from data by Stats LLC []
  2. I do, by the way. It seems like a silly way to falsify your numbers. []
  3. Especially if you consider that the stadium could stand to be filled with a larger percentage of actual Browns fans rather than visiting away fans who were able to score seats on the secondary market. []
  4. They are out-drawing the Pittsburgh Steelers 527k to 504k. Yay! We beat Pittsburgh! []
  5. needed? []
  • BenRM

    Dear Chris Perez,

    Suck it!

    Love,
    Facts

  • http://www.facebook.com/pauljmarsh Paul Marsh

    In that vein, I was pretty surprised when I got a call from the Browns ticket office asking if I wanted to upgrade within my current section(539) to the 2nd row. I’ve usually filled out the seat relocation form when renewing my tickets but have never made a jump like this upcoming season. I guess the above data explains some of that availability. That said, I’m pretty pscyhed to be that low in the section. I just hope there are still some people sitting behind me.

  • rpinfla

    Do “they” count all ticket sales as attendance regardless if the ticket holder actually puts his butt in the seat on game day? By my non-scientific eye scan I thought the stadium was less than half full for a lot of games in the last 2-3 years. Certainly there was no way that stadium was 90% full unless it was all the disgusting yellow and black seen during the Pittsburgh games. By the second half most games looked like only about 25% of the seats actually had bodies in them (if that). You could hear a pin drop. Not exactly the raucous stadium I recall from the 80′s teams.

    You are absolutely correct also that if the Browns put out even a mediocre product that stadium would be packed to beyond capacity. If/when they make the playoffs? I can’t wait to see and especially hear that stadium. .

  • lehooper

    After the holidys when th Browns are out of it and the weather gets colder the crowd really thins out. They need to make it smaler. Make the seats wider. If Cub Level can have new wide seats the rest of us shoud. The seats arn’t made for people with 4 layers of clothes on.

  • lehooper

    After the holidys when th Browns are out of it and the weather gets colder the crowd really thins out. They need to make it smaler. Make the seats wider. If Cub Level can have new wide seats the rest of us shoud. The seats arn’t made for people with 4 layers of clothes on.

  • realrepublic

    Do you live in Cleveland? If so, as some of us do, you could attend a game or two and see that the stadium is rarely if ever full. Your post could have read: Browns say they are sold out but by going to games I can tell you they are not. Thanks Lerner family for buying those seats so it is not blacked out for those not lucky enough to attend. Good marks though for a) trying to use some new form of footnote and b) somehow tying Indians attendance into this post.

  • Corey

    realrepublic, the seats are empty not because Lerner is buying seats, but because most of the tickets are owned by season ticket holders, season ticket holders who appear to be hanging on to the seats so they still have them when (if) things ever turn around, but are tired of wasting their time going to every single game just to be depressed. Empty seats doesn’t mean the tickets weren’t sold.

  • Corey

    Smaller? If this team ever turns it around, good luck getting a seat.

    The size of the stadium isn’t the issue – the play on the field for the past decade is.

  • realrepublic

    I understand that a good majority of the stadium is season ticket holders. Actually, you go right along with my point that if the blogger actually went to a game he would have a much better understanding of what is going on. The Section 500 seats, especially from the 10 to the goal line, are empty pretty much every game with the exception of opening day. I have no love lost for the Lerner family but we aren’t meeting the blackout requirements if not for them.

  • Steve

    It’s not really Lerner. The few big companies left in town buy big blocks of tickets. The Clinic has been one of the biggest reasons why the Browns are haven’t been taken off TV yet. Not the Lerners.

  • realrepublic

    Agreed, the big companies help a lot as they do for all the sports teams. I was speaking more about the games that are headed for blackout and the team buys large blocks of tickets. Last year was the first year I saw whole sections empty. Again, if the blogger had bothered to see a game this would have been covered.

  • Dan-O

    Plus there’s 81 Tribe home games to pick from. If there were only eight, I’d bet we’d fill up those stands and make ol’ Perez grin from ear to ear.

  • LL

    Baseball puts me to sleep, football doesnt my attendance is as simple as that. In addition baseball plays sooooo many games each one seems hard to get excited about.

  • floydrubino

    Lerner is making so much money off the tv contracts that it almost doesn’t matter how many people go to the stadium. It was just a matter of time when you run a franchise so leaderless that this will happen. All it takes is to have some competent people in ownership no matter what cleveland team to show direction and a desire to compete to change it around. The owners need to step up and start producing.