Various media outlets are reporting on today's release by the Wichita St. Athletics Dept. (who keeps track of this for some reason) of the final attendance figures for D-1 baseball in 2011. While the numbers again prove the outstanding popularity of the sport at both LSU and the SEC at-large, a closer inspection reveals that there has been a bit of a dip at LSU.
Before we get to the bad news, lets celebrate the powerhouse this conference has become. All 12 members of the SEC rank in the Top 40 in national attendance, combining for just over 2,000,000 in paid attendance league wide (or not, more on that in a minute.) The SEC West alone had 4 of the top 10 teams. The highest attended single game in the conference was an UGA vs GT matchup at Turner Field in Atlanta that drew just over 18,000.
LSU's reported paid attendance in both the national chart and the SEC article linked above is 400,295 over 38 home games for an average home crowd of 10,534. Both figures are head and shoulders above 2nd place Ole Miss, who came in at 261,006 over 32 home games for an average of 8,156. This marks the 3rd straight year LSU surpassed the 400K mark, the only program in D-1 baseball to ever get any where close to that number.
Or at least it would have. Any season ticket holder will tell you that LSU only played 37 home games this year. A closer look at the numbers reveals that the reported paid attendance is incorrect due to a small counting mistake that has a small, but very important symbolic effect on both LSU and the SEC's numbers.
LSU's own statistics list a final paid attendance figure of 390,595 and a quick recount of the paid attendance reported for each game verifies that this is the correct number. The extra 9700 people come from LSU's lone neutral site game of the year, The Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic at Zephyr Field in Metairie against Southern Miss. The extra people are hardly a difference maker in the standings (in fact, when correctly calculated, LSU's average home paid attendance actually rises slightly to 10,556) but it does break the streak of years over 400K and marks the lowest total in the very brief history of New Alex Box Stadium (though still far surpassing the attendance in the Old Box).
The other and far more important effect is on the league attendance figure. The SEC was proud to tout passing the 2 Mil mark for the 1st time ever with a total of 2,002,459 paid, but again this is using incorrect figures. League attendance with the correct LSU figures comes to 1,992,759, just shy of the hallowed mark. Assuming, of course, that there are no other miscounts.
This also gives us another opportunity to discuss the real elephant in the room: These figures are not even close to what's actually happening in these stadiums. LSU's actual home attendance (which is reported on every home radio broadcast and compiled on every game's stat sheet) comes to a total of just 224,228 for an average of 6060 a game and 166,367 in unused tickets on the year. As discussed earlier in the year, at a minimum of $10 dollars a ticket, the $1.66 million dollars made more than covers the last reported figures for the salaries of Mainieri and his two lead assistants* which are the highest in the business.
It makes you wonder if LSU is alone in having such a large amount of non-turnout, but due due a lack of available statistics, this matter can't progress any farther than idle speculation. A quick check of the rest of the top five reveals that 3 of them don't keep notes of any kind on actual attendance. Arkansas keeps an estimate of attendance but can't give an accurate number due to a large amount of outfield berm seating (a problem that also makes getting an accurate attendance count at places like Miss. St. and Ole Miss almost impossible)
There is another, much more unpleasant, thought that comes from these revelations. Could LSU's attendance streak, arguably the most dominant streak in all of the revenue sports, be in danger of ending? Not likely. LSU once again set a new home actual attendance single game record this year with 10,220 in the Friday game of the Florida series and had actual crowds over 9,000 five times this season. With all of the streaks from the Bertman Era that have come and gone recently, it is comforting to note that the only stat that is nearly as important as winning, fan support remains strong for LSU baseball.
*Note that Mainieri also earns performance incentives, appearance fees, camp earnings, and other income that brings his take home pay closer to one million dollars. Also, with the hiring of Alan Dunn, the last reported total of $865,000 becomes even less accurate.