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How to Increase Attendance at College Sporting Events

How to Increase Attendance at College Sporting Events

College sports are always looking to emulate professional sports leagues, but in terms of attendance and fan enthusiasm, they are definitely setting the pace. In Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Texas, the top NCAA football teams are all managing six-figure attendance averages that are well above their state’s NFL franchises. 

While filling a stadium with tens of thousands of screaming fans makes for a sensational live experience, it presents logistical challenges that are equally unparalleled. Ohio State, for instance, has just over 66,000 students, but a home opener against Notre Dame in 2022 drew over 106,594 in total attendance. That’s everyone at the university plus nearly the entire suburb of Dublin, OH funneling into a single building at one time, and it filled the monstrous 102,720-seat colosseum to 104% capacity. 

Numbers like these are why college sports of all kinds are some of the biggest money makers in the entire industry, and there’s never a shortage of enthusiastic students eager to show up and wave their banners. But with extreme attendance figures continuing to rise each year, colleges will need technologies and solutions that support the influx at college sporting events to grow the game and capitalize on the revenue opportunity those fans represent. 

Attendance Issues 101

Whether it’s on a stadium, arena, or JV field, college sports are about one thing: generating money to support university activities. There are plenty of economics professors at the University of Alabama who can easily explain why an academic institution’s highest-paid employee was 7-time NEC championship winner Nick Saban in 2023.

The Crimson Tide hardly took a loss on that—the athletic program netted $45 million, which is the equivalent spending power of a $900 million endowment. The big difference is that a sports program has to deliver a home game experience across every single activity that is exciting and fun to attend. 

That’s not as easy as it seems, especially when most teams aren’t winning championships every year. That requires making a ticket purchase as value-added as possible, and the last thing fans want is intimidating crushes of people and lines backed up to the student union just to get in the door. Colleges and universities have to find ways to make these massive crowds feel manageable, keep them moving quickly and smoothly, and ensure their vendors have rapid turnover to maximize the value of their athletics investment. 

How Can a Team Find Ways to Increase Attendance?

Unfortunately, with stadiums already being filled beyond capacity, there’s not much more traditional solutions can provide. The only way to speed up lines using existing processes is to add more staff, and that can quickly deliver diminishing returns. 

As it turns out, software engineers found the answer. Facial authentication technology is breaking new ground for how professional sports leagues like the NFL, MLB, NHL, MLS, and NBA are revolutionizing ticketing, concessions, and merchandise sales to streamline every aspect of the live game experience for fans. It’s also helping them cut costs, optimize logistics, and deliver huge returns on the investment. 

How Facial Authentication Works

After fans get their tickets, teams provide the option to upload a selfie that is linked to their purchase. Upon arrival, they can use Express Access lanes that are equipped with a simple tablet that takes a quick pic and confirms their ticket information. 

These systems are extremely fast—the top software processes biometric data in about a third of a second, which makes these lanes move up much faster than the normal ticket lines. And by allowing for the redeployment of staff and space-saving benefits, each express lane saves $8000 per season on average. 

That’s right: each lane is the equivalent of selling 13 season tickets without taking up a single additional seat at Ohio Stadium. With so many fans coming in at once, the easy scalability of these systems, and high technology buy-in rates from today’s fans, it’s an all-around solution that just adds to the electricity of the home game atmosphere. 

Other Game-Changing Plays with FA

The tremendous value facial authentication technology presents may start at entry, but it doesn’t end there. When thinking about how to increase attendance at college sporting events, it’s a much bigger equation than just people in seats. 

Once inside, the first thing most fans want to do is get food and drinks before they settle in. With so many people, the beer sales alone routinely top a third of a million dollars per game at the biggest stadiums. However, the revenue concession stands can generate depends heavily on throughput. Long lines deter business and reduce the number of transactions it’s possible to complete. When a single beer can be $8 or more, if it’s not convenient and fast it will quickly become a point of resentment. 

This is where facial authentication systems can really make an impact off the field. The identical technology that saves thousands per game at the gate can be integrated with existing payment systems to create facial payment services. That means a fan’s face becomes an authentication token for their preferred payment option throughout the stadium, delivering the same benefits of speed and security to their food and beverage purchase. 

As a result, concession stands equipped with facial authentication can produce incredible turnover, and that translates to more smiling fans and bigger profits for the university at season’s end. Plus, FA can be easily integrated with existing investments like self-serve kiosks to maximize the experience these systems provide. That extends to every point of sale, including all the spirit flair and team gear fans buy at the game. 

Embracing the Future of Game Day

Whether it’s a hockey arena, football stadium, or your national championship bowling team’s home alley, facial authentication has the potential to revolutionize how your student body interacts with campus life. These systems are the best answer for how to increase attendance at college sporting events, and because they’re highly portable and easy to onboard they can be transported to any location on or off campus where games are played. 

Learn more about how facial authentication technology can transform your college from the ground up, and give your students a campus experience that is second to none. 


About Wicket

Wicket Software is a privacy-first facial authentication platform provider with patented computer vision AI technology that enables sensational event experiences for fans, guests, and employees with frictionless touchpoints that delight users and strengthen security.

Wicket has been in use since 2020 and deployed for facial ticketing, credentialing, access control, and payments in numerous sports stadiums, at major conferences, and in corporate office environments.

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