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Illinois football attendance up ten percent in 2016

It’s fair to say new head coach Lovie Smith had something to do with this

NCAA Football: Murray State at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

In what might come as a surprise to some, Illinois football’s attendance numbers spiked by 10 percent in 2016. Up from 42,647 to 45,644, the average number of fans per game for the Illini was amongst the top five biggest increases in the nation, according to CBS Sports.

The overall home attendance total, 319,505 fans through the turnstiles, was a 64,000 fan increase (or almost the capacity of Memorial Stadium) from 2015. The stadium was 75% filled on average this year, which only ranked in the middle of the Big Ten schools. That’s not terrible, though, considering that the two schools with the highest attendance averages in the nation both came from the Big Ten: Michigan and Ohio State.

It’s clear the “Lovie Smith effect” was felt in Champaign this season, as only five other teams in the country had a higher attendance spike than Illinois did. This was the Illini’s best overall home attendance total since 2011, when the team started 6-0 and ranked in the top 15. One of the program’s best attendance totals ever came in 2008, the year after the orange and blue made it to the Rose Bowl, when over 370,000 fans made their way to Memorial Stadium. I’m sure Lovie and company will be looking to return to these types of numbers by his third or fourth season in Champaign.

Other interesting attendance statistics from around the conference:

  • Penn State and Nebraska also placed in the top ten nationally in attendance along with Michigan and Ohio State
  • Rutgers, Minnesota, Indiana, Maryland, Northwestern and Purdue all finished behind Illinois in attendance-per-game rankings
  • Illinois had more fans-per-game than 19 bowl teams
  • Illinois had better attendance totals than Baylor, TCU, Stanford, Houston, Pittsburgh and Utah
  • Purdue, Maryland and Minnesota all saw huge drops in attendance totals, the biggest plummet belonging to the Golden Gophers, who saw a 16% decrease in fans-per-game this year.
  • Yes, Northwestern is going to be near the bottom of the conference in attendance because they have one of the smallest stadiums, but Illinois also beat them in capacity of the stadium filled. The Illini filled just over 75% of Memorial Stadium, while the Wildcats filled 71% of Ryan Field on average.
  • The team with the worst attendance drop in the nation? Missouri. Better luck next year, MizNoz.

If Lovie Smith can start to consistently bring wins to the program then the team will bring fans to the stadium. Nevertheless it was an encouraging sign to see the spike in attendance this year despite the 3-9 record. Look for these numbers to continue to climb in 2017.