By: Derek Gonzales
Now that the 2016-17 academic school year is well into its groove and the Aggies are in the middle of their season, it is time to look at the football budget and see just how much money and resources are being put into head coach Doug Martin’s program.
In a June 2016 article written by Jason Groves of the Las Cruces Sun-News, it was pointed out that the New Mexico State football had the school’s largest budget at $4.3 million, but was responsible for 34 percent of the ticket revenue shortfall (roughly $85,000). Though the lack of on-the-field success is most likely to blame, it doesn’t do the program favors when AggieVision carries more live home games than ever. It is much more convenient for the average fan to sit at home and watch NMSU play, rather than actually go to the game, and it being felt at the box office.
New Mexico State averaged 17,486 fans into Aggie Memorial Stadium, which has a capacity of 30,343. The program was actually ranked ninth in largest attendance increase from the previous year, with an increase in average attendance of 5,217. This is a bit of a misnomer because the first home game of the season against Georgia State was the “Stuff the Stadium” promotion. That game’s attendance was 27,201, which is second all-time for a New Mexico State home game not played against New Mexico or UTEP. Tickets for this event were sold at a discounted price. NMSU lost the game 34-32.
The following week against rival UTEP, attendance began its downward trend. It could be argued that if the team had beaten Georgia State in front of the large crowd, the paying fan would’ve loved to have seen the Aggies go for two straight, but they didn’t win. Attendance for that game was 17,210, with about 6,000 of those in attendance being UTEP fans. NMSU blew a 14-point lead with four minutes left in regulation en route to a 50-47 overtime loss.
“Football Bowl Subdivision teams have to meet minimum attendance requirements (average 15,000 people in actual or paid attendance per home game), which must be met once in a rolling two-year period. NCAA Football Championship Subdivision teams do not need to meet minimum attendance requirements.”
This is a rule that applies to New Mexico State football, and the program has been walking a fine line with it since after 2002 when the average attendance for Tony Samuel’s 7-5 Aggies was 22,162 that year. So when the average attendance going into the final home game of 2015 was 15,569, NMSU needed help to create breathing room with the 15,000 per game threshold. Learfield Sports stepped in and due to a contractual agreement with the University, bought enough tickets to make the paid attendance for the last Aggie home football game 25,147. It is estimated that there were not more than 8,000 in actual attendance inside the stadium to watch the Aggies face Arkansas State that afternoon.
Attendance problems are being seen at schools all across the nation. With people being able to stream games to their phones and watch them on television, the need to go to a game has decreased. New Mexico State’s football program has the potential to solve its attendance program better and faster than other universities. Other schools are seeing a drop in attendance, though the team continues to win games. UCLA (13 percent), Florida State (11 percent), LSU (8 percent), and Iowa (6 percent) all saw declines in attendance from 2014 to 2015.
Iowa started their season 12-0, UCLA had freshman phenom Josh Rosen starting under center, Florida State brought in another top-five recruiting class, and LSU had Leonard Fournette. The point is, these are winning programs that are seeing this decline. Fan bases can start to take winning for granted. If New Mexico State football can begin to win games, the attendance problem will solve itself. The community just wants to see a winner. As referenced earlier, when the program went 7-5 (5-0 at home), the attendance shot up. It appears that the program is trending up, but nothing will solve an athletic budget problem like winning.