Tennessee had about as disastrous of a start to a season as you could imagine earlier this year. Despite that beginning and a less-than-stellar slate of home games, UT still managed to finish in the top 10 in national attendance across college football.
Per data from 247Sports, Tennessee averaged 87,864 fans per game at Neyland Stadium this season, which is actually the lowest average attendance inside Neyland for a season since 1979 when the Vols averaged 85,357 fans a game.
Despite that, Tennessee still finished 10th in all of college football in average attendance for the 2019 season, coming in just behind Nebraska (89,348) and Georgia (92,746).
Tennessee’s average fan attendance per home game is a big dip from last year’s total of 92,984 fans per game, and it continues a trend of declining attendance over the last three seasons. After the Vols averaged just under 101,00 fans per game in 2016, that number fell to 95,779 in 2017 before dropping to just under 93,000 last season.
This season marks only the second time since that 1979 season that Tennessee has averaged under 90,000 fans in attendance per game. The only other time came in 2012, Derek Dooley’s last season as head coach. The Vols averaged 89,965 fans per game in seven home games that year.
Just over 85,500 fans showed up to watch Tennessee get upset 38-30 by Georgia State to start the season, but despite that monumental loss to begin the year, over 92,000 fans attended Tennessee’s next home game against BYU the following weekend. That game also resulted in a loss, and Tennessee’s match-up with FCS foe UT-Chattanooga saw just over 86,000 fans show up.
Tennessee only had two games top the 90,000 mark all season. The BYU game and Tennessee’s match-up with Georgia (92,709) were the only games to eclipse 90,000 fans inside Neyland this year.
Oddly enough, the 92,709 fans in attendance for the Georgia game would’ve been a near sellout in Georgia’s Sanford Stadium, which holds 92,746 fans.
The Vols’ attendance numbers placed fifth in the SEC, finishing behind Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, and Georgia. The top three most-attended stadiums in the 2019 season were all Big Ten schools: Michigan (111,459), Penn State (105,678), and Ohio State (103,382). Alabama, Texas A&M, and LSU were the only SEC schools to average over 100,000 fans per game.
Not only did Tennessee’s abysmal start to the season factor in to the lower attendance numbers, but so did weather. The Vols’ regular season finale against Vanderbilt looked to potentially be one of the more attended games of the season, but a deluge kept fans away, and a couple weather delays emptied out the stadium. Only 87,367 fans were reported in attendance for that game, and many were gone by halftime because of the weather.
Even with Tennessee’s numbers being down and with three Big Ten schools taking the top three spots, the SEC as a whole was still had the best average attendance in college football. Even at its lowest average attendance in 18 years, the SEC still averaged 72,735 fans per game according to the Montgomery Advertiser. That’s more than the 65,408 in the Big Ten, the 55,954 fans in the Big 12, the 48,381 fans in the ACC, and the 47,082 fans in the Pac-12.
Fans may not have come to Neyland Stadium as often as they normally do this season, but Tennessee still managed to sneak in to the top 10 in national attendance average despite the major downturn.
But thanks to UT’s strong finish to this season and their first bowl berth in three seasons, plus the return of Florida and Alabama as home games next season, expect to see Tennessee’s attendance numbers rise in 2020.