How heat and TV deals affect USC football attendance

Low USC football turnout rates raise questions about student appeal and national attention.

Photos of "Conquest!" 2021

If you’ve been to a USC football game since the start of the 2021 season, you’ve probably looked around the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and seen a sea of empty cardinal chairs. The Coliseum has a stadium capacity of 77,500, making it the 19th largest college football stadium in the U.S. and has hosted marquee events such as Olympic Games, Super Bowls, World Series championships and iconic speakers including Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

With the talented USC football team, the legacy of the Coliseum and the location of the stadium in the second most populous city in the country, one would expect the Trojans to sell out most home games.

However, this is far from the case. USC’s home opener against Rice University drew an attendance of 60,113, meaning more than 17,000 seats were unfilled on September 3. Despite the low attendance, the Coliseum housed a larger crowd for the 2022 opener than in 2021, when the September 4 game against San Jose State saw just 54,394 attendees.

In fact, USC only cracked more than 60,000 attendees once in 2021, during a rivalry game against UCLA. Part of this can be attributed to poor on-field performance, as USC finished with a record of 4-8.

The hype surrounding the USC football squad entering the 2022 season was much higher than the year prior. USC fired Clay Helton and brought in former Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, who is nationally regarded as one of the best coaches in college football.

Even with the newfound excitement for the team, students expressed unwillingness to attend the home opener because of the heatwave.

“I did bring water ahead of time, so it was tolerable,” said Brandon Loo, sophomore business administration major. “But overall, after I ran out of [water] it was pretty bad.”

Loo added that he prefers night games to day games and plans on attending USC’s matchup against Fresno State on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Many USC students did not make the trip to the Coliseum at all.

“It was going to be a blowout either way,” said freshman economics and mathematics major Mikey McCarthy. “I’d rather go to a night game.”

Miki Turner, associate professor of professional practice of journalism, shared her experience during hot games at the Coliseum.

“The only reason I went was because I had out of town guests coming in and they wanted to go to the game. I would have never tried to go to that game in that heat,” Turner said. “Three years ago, I remember it was a day game, a Saturday opening game, and they were carrying people out on stretchers, particularly older people. I was like, ‘Yeah, this is not even close to being worth it.’”

Whether the trend of few fans will continue remains to be seen, beginning with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff for the #7 team against Fresno State on September 17.

Correction: In the previous version of this story, Professor Miki Turner was misquoted about national media attention on USC. The story has been changed to reflect this correction on Sept. 15 at 11:55pm. We regret the error.