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86 Days Until Kansas Football: Does Good Attendance Lead to Winning?

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We investigate the dubious claim that being a “true fan” and attending games will make you part of the solution for Kansas Football.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

“We have to show that we care about football,” Matt Baty stated on a podcast that examines the insider details of making an athletic department work earlier this year. Many of the statements that he made during this podcast caused a small uproar among Kansas fans. While it’s true that a lot of what he said is true, especially as it pertains to how to raise money from donors, he still made some dubious claims about how people can be part of the solution.

Tom Keegan of the Lawrence Journal World already offered a blistering critique of his comments, and I wholeheartedly agree with basically everything that he said (a statement that I didn’t think I’d say ever again). But instead of continuing to rehash those thoughts, I thought it would be informative to look at one particular claim. That would be this one:

...if you want to be part of the solution, buy season tickets. As challenging as that is right now, buy season tickets. Go buy a single-game ticket. Bring your kids out to the hill and have a birthday party, if you want to be part of the solution.”

The implication of this statement is that fans showing up to the games can lead directly to more winning. While I’m sure that fan buy-in to a program can help make the job of a coaching staff a bit easier to manage, it seemed unlikely that this implication could actually be true, especially when we are talking about the level of incompetence that we have seen from Kansas Football in the last decade.

Thus, it makes sense to look at the actual attendance data and compare it to the records of various teams. I wanted to get a feel for whether there is any clear link between these two numbers, and if the data of prior seasons could give us any indication whether the link could be a causal one. So I grabbed attendance data (from 2005) and winning percentages for various schools to test out this theory.

So first, before we look at the data, a few notes. For attendance data, instead of raw attendance figures, I plotted the percentage of the capacity of the stadium that was filled. There were a couple reasons for this, but mainly I wanted to keep everyone on a consistent baseline, and also avoid giving credit for a large spike in attendance when a stadium got expanded (or penalizing them if renovations took away seats).

Similarly, I plotted winning percentage, due to the differences in the number of games from season to season.

Given that coaching changes can account for both large changes in winning percentages and attendance figures, I thought it was relevant to include an indication of when coaching changes happened. It’s hard to factor that into the analysis, but I preferred to visually make this information available.

One final note as well: I didn’t account for things like bowl appearances or other factors that may influence either attendance or win percentage. For example, teams that qualified for a bowl at 6-6 but then lost will show an overall losing percentage for that year. I don’t think this causes any problems with my conclusions, but I also didn’t have the ability to reflect this information in any meaningful way.

So on to the analysis:

I started by compiling a list of teams where there was a large turnaround that someone on our staff could remember. This list is in no way comprehensive nor a random sampling of the schools, and given more time it would be possible to look at all the schools.

Before we get into individual examples, I calculated the coorelation value of the attendance percentage vs the winning percentage offset by X number of years. Essentially, that means for the -3 column below, I found the correlation between the attendance value with the winning percentage value from 3 years prior. Logically, if the correlations of the negative X values are higher, than a prior year’s record does more to explain the attendance in the current year than vice versa. Similarly, if a positive X value gives higher coorelations, then attendance in this year would seem to have the ability to influence the record in future years.

These results seem to indicate that, on average, the prior year’s record has a larger impact on the current year’s attendance than any other possibility.

Now on to the examples. It obviously makes the most sense to check into the Jayhawks’ numbers first:

Kansas Attendance vs Record

The graph here makes a trend pretty clear from the beginning: it’s pretty clear that there is some coorelation between attendance and winning percentage. But looking closer at the timing of the changes, the attendance peaks after the Orange Bowl season, and only starts to dive after the results have dropped off. Also, the attendance in 2017 slightly rebounded, which seemed to reflect the overall level of optimism surrounding the program to start the season and the win against Texas the prior year.

Rather than belabor you with a ton of graphs, I’ll simply look at one more example in Baylor. They are a school that was just as bad at football in the past as we are now, and looking at the attendance there might be informative to our situation, especially as to whether their turnaround was sparked by season ticket holders buying into the program.

Again, we see that the attendance trend follows the winning percentage trend, with the lowest attendance numbers coming the year after the awful 2007 season.

I think that’s enough for today, with both anecdotal and (semi)statistical evidence debunking the claim that people coming out to games has a big impact on turning a program around. Instead, the opposite is true. While attendance is important, even in the bad times, it won’t truly turn around until we get the right coach in here to give that fan base a reason to hope that the game they are going to will be competitive and entertaining.

So Matt Baty, it’s time to follow your own advice. You need to “shut up and listen” to the fans who have been telling the entire athletic administration how poor of a job they have been doing. The people who are currently criticizing the program may not donate the most money, but they do keep that Jayhawk spirit alive and well, and giving them something to cheer about in the form of a better performance on the field is the only way to get the attendance back up.

Until then, we’ll continue to support the team the best way we know how: By holding people accountable for the jobs that they were hired to do.