Clemson football ran through the 2018 season unscathed, capturing a second national title in three seasons under Dabo Swinney. Most would assume that there weren’t many empty seats for Tiger home games in Death Valley during the run.
Clemson finished 12th in national attendance, and filled 98.7-percent of the seats per game, with an average attendance of 80,400.
Somewhat shockingly though, the Tigers did not record a single sell-out. That was the first time since 2009, Swinney’s first year as full-time head coach of the team.
Clemson assistant athletic director for ticket operations Owen Godfrey explained how a national title winner with a die-hard fan base could go a full year without a sell-out.
Teams in college football have struggled with attendance a bit, at least compared to years past, across the board in recent decades. There are myriad reasons why fans would prefer to watch their favorite teams from the comfort of their living rooms, that aren’t unique to Clemson or any team.
The Tigers’ failure to sell out a game, however, has more to do with its ticket allotment agreements with visiting schools, per Godfrey.
From the Greenville News:
“Our biggest factor tends to be the opponent and how many folks they bring,” said Clemson assistant athletic director for ticket operations Owen Godfrey, alluding to the tickets Clemson allots to opponents.
The highest allotment figure is for South Carolina, biennially Clemson’s most attractive ticket. Last season, Clemson allotted 8,000 tickets to South Carolina. In accordance with a league-wide agreement, visiting Atlantic Coast Conference schools can request a maximum of 4,300 tickets.
The allotment for all other visitors was stipulated in their respective contracts. However, outside of Carolina, few of Clemson’s opponents guaranteed more than 1,000 tickets. Clemson recouped the unused tickets in late April, but it could not package them into a full season-ticket deal without the marquee Carolina game.
“We sold as many season tickets down to that guaranteed number at 8,000,” Godfrey said. “When we do that, we turn away some folks that want to buy full season tickets, because, when the schedule doesn’t include South Carolina, or if we did it this year and it didn’t include Texas A&M, it’s a challenge.”
While tickets may open up in the summer, after the allotment situation is sorted out, Godfrey says that many fans look to secondary markets for their single game seats first. That means unsold tickets through Clemson itself.
A down year for the ACC, which came off of some strong years for the league, probably hurt as well. Louisville, which would typically be one of the better teams in the division, was horrid in 2018, and Clemson’s home attendance for that game suffered.
The demand for smaller packages and single-game tickets was low last season. The season opener against Furman attracted more fans (80,048) than the matchup with ACC foe Louisville (78,741).
With a title under their belt, we’re sure Clemson fans will turn out en masse for home games this season, especially with marquee games against Texas A&M and a potentially resurgent Florida State. Don’t be surprised if it becomes harder and harder for teams like Clemson to sell-out every date though. Only five of the 130 FBS teams accomplished that last year.