Big Ten football title game crowd disappoints organizers

December 4, 2012

Organizers of the Big Ten football championship played in Indianapolis say they’ll consider making changes for next year’s game in an attempt to boost attendance.

Saturday’s game between the University of Wisconsin Badgers and the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers drew only 41,260 spectators, a steep drop from the near-sellout crowd of 64,152 that watched last year’s game. Local ticket brokers complained before the game of soft demand for tickets.

By comparison, the Southeastern Conference reported attendance of 75,624 for its championship game between the No. 2-ranked University of Alabama Crimson Tide and No. 3 University of Georgia Bulldogs.

The upper bowl of Lucas Oil Stadium was mostly empty Saturday night as the Badgers dismantled the Cornhuskers 70-31 to earn a repeat trip to the Rose Bowl.

Organizers point to various factors for the decline in attendance, but mostly attribute it to the absence of a team vying for a national title or a powerhouse team with a huge fan base like The Ohio State University or the University of Michigan.

Undefeated Ohio State was ineligible to play in the game due to NCAA sanctions. The Buckeye faithful likely would have made the short trek west to Indianapolis had their team been eligible to play.

“It didn’t have national championship implications, and that always seems to add local and national excitement,” Big Ten Deputy Commissioner Brad Traviolia told IBJ on Tuesday. “It was just a combination of circumstances this year.”

The Badgers were 7-5 this season and finished third in The Leaders Division of the Big Ten, but earned their berth in the title game because Ohio State and surprising Penn State University (8-4) both were ineligible to participate due to NCAA sanctions.

Nebraska (10-2) won The Legends Division and was ranked No. 14 in a national poll.

Organizers weren’t specific on what changes they’ll consider for next year’s game, but plan to look into whether it can be marketed better.

“We’ll go back and look at what we did this year and see if there’s some adjustments we can make going forward,” Traviolia said.

The championship game is in just its second year and scheduled to be played in Indianapolis through 2015. It’s an event the city undoubtedly will want to keep.

Leading up to the game, the Fan Fest at the Indiana Convention Center and festivities on Georgia Street helped draw tens of thousands of visitors downtown, said John Dedman, spokesman for the Indiana Sports Corp., which helps host the game.

“We have a great relationship with the Big Ten that spans back decades with other events we host,” Dedman said. “I don’t think there should be a knee-jerk reaction to this.”
 

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