Two movements collided on a warm November Saturday night in Knoxville.
On one side was the #EmptyNeyland movement, which called on fans to stay away from Saturday’s homecoming game against Southern Miss as a form of protest against head coach Butch Jones — or, perhaps more succinctly, against John Currie’s perceived lack of action towards a coaching change. On the other was the #FillNeyland movement, which sought to counter #EmptyNeyland by urging UT fans to fill up the stadium in a show of support for its players.
In the end, neither movement was very successful. Social media campaigns don’t do much to influence college football attendance, it seems, and Saturday’s attendance was just about what you’d expect for a game against a non-premier opponent in the midst of a disappoint season.
Announced attendance was 95,551. That has prompted a debate on social media about what the official attendance really means, and it has been made clear that many fans don’t know how those figures are tabulated.
Can we just establish that there weren’t 95,000 fans inside Neyland Stadium for Saturday’s game? The stadium’s capacity is 102,455, which means only 7,000 of those 18-inch sections of metal bleacher could have been empty for there to have been 95,000 inside for Saturday’s game. There appeared to be almost 7,000 empty seats in the student section alone. That’s to say nothing for the empty seats in the upper deck.
Announced attendance — the official attendance — is not the so-called “turnstile” attendance. (To be completely accurate, turnstiles are no longer used; instead, tickets are scanned electronically as fans enter the stadium.) The announced attendance is tabulated using the number of tickets that were sold for the game.
The easiest way to verify this method of tabulation is to consider sell-out games. Long gone are the days when sell-out crowds at Neyland Stadium varied in number. (In 1998, for example, there were 107,653 for Tennessee’s game against Florida and 107,289 for the Vols’ game against Alabama.) These days, every game that is sold out has the same attendance: 102,455 — the capacity of the stadium.
But there is never a game in which every single one of those 102,455 seats are filled. Even if all the scalpers along Cumberland Avenue and Phillip Fulmer Way sold or gave away all of their tickets as kickoff approached, what about the tickets that go unsold on ticket-broker websites such as StubHub? There are always going to be unsold, third-party tickets. And, yet, attendance for those games is still listed as 102,455. Why? Because it’s based on tickets sold, not tickets scanned.
So, no, an announced attendance of 95,551 doesn’t mean there were truly that many people inside Neyland Stadium. It just means that many tickets were sold. Third-party sellers were having a difficult time unloading their tickets in advance of the game. On StubHub, tickets could be had for $7, because demand was so low.
What does that mean? With regards to the #EmptyNeyland movement, not much. It was a movement that was not successful. But neither was the #FillNeyland movement. At the end of the night, what you had was a fan base that was neither outraged enough to boycott the game or loyal enough to fill it to capacity. Instead, what you had was a fan base teetering on the edge of apathy, leaving about 20,000 empty seats inside the stadium — which was just about what could have been expected.