A significant drop in high school football playoff attendance and revenue from the 2018 season has put the TSSAA in “belt-tightening mode.”
High school football playoff gross receipts were down $233,312 or 14.4 percent while playoff attendance prior to the championships was down 29,914 from 2017.
Gross receipts totaled $1,382,426 in 2018, down from $1,615,738 a year earlier. That’s also the lowest amount for the high school football playoffs leading up to the championships since 2008 — when the TSSAA had two fewer classifications.
The high school athletic association had seven classes in 2008 — five in Division I and two in Division II. It added a sixth Division I class in 2009 and a third DII class in 2017.
“With the number of classes that we currently have, when you are having playoff rounds with a No. 1 team playing a (No. 4 team seeding wise), people only have so much money toward entertainment,” TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said. “They are more likely to say, ‘Well, is that game even necessary? We’re not even going to that game because we have the No. 1 team. They aren’t going to be knocked off.'”
Total attendance from the first round to the semifinals was 170,022. That’s down from 199,936 in 2017, according to numbers released to the TSSAA’s Board of Control.
Attendance for the championship games has not been released. The TSSAA will receive $253,000 from the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce via its annual bid.
Childress said Tennessee isn’t immune to the declining postseason attendance. He said during the recent NFHS winter meeting held Jan. 3-6 in New York it was a topic that all associations were going through.
“This is a nationwide issue,” Childress said. “It is a nationwide trend with attendance.”
How do you fix it?
Multiple factors exist when considering game attendance, including price, weather and matchup.
Rain likely affected attendance multiple weeks during the playoffs as teams playing on muddy fields became the norm.
The TSSAA has no control over that.
However, it does have say over the price and the matchups.
It costs $8 to attend a playoff game prior to the state championships.
High school regular-season games typically cost around $6 or $7. But schools typically offer season passes at a discounted rate that aren’t applicable during the TSSAA’s postseason.
“Is it time for us to be creative? Absolutely,” Childress said. “We even thought as a staff maybe we should offer a student rate. Not make all the tickets the same. Would that encourage more kids to come?
“We’ve got to do something. Everyone knows that in order to even make budget you are going to have to depend on football and basketball. Football and basketball not only drive the association, but the schools also. They are losing also.”
The number of playoff games also has had an adverse affect. Early round matchups aren’t appealing. There were 49 schools in Tennessee that reached the football playoffs despite having a losing record.