Mississippi State gets most improved award

Even though national figures are down some, it’s obvious that the SEC continues to thrive when it comes to football attendance.

In terms of average attendance, the SEC claimed five of the top 10 spots nationally in 2009. Tennessee (5th), Georgia (6th), LSU (7th), Alabama (8th) and Florida (9th) all averaged more than 90,000 fans for home games.

Granted, there are all sorts of factors that affect attendance -- how attractive the home schedule is that particular year, how the team is doing, stadium renovation, a change in coaches and the time of day the games are played.

There’s also the sagging economy, which has hurt some schools more than others.

Mississippi State was the runaway winner for most improved last season when it came to getting fans in the stands. Only three teams nationally enjoyed an increase of more than 10,000 fans, and Mississippi State led the way with a 10,339-fan increase. Yale and Indiana also had increases of more than 10,000 fans.

The Bulldogs went from an average of 43,453 in 2008 to an average of 53,792 last season.

There was clearly a renewed optimism among the fans with Dan Mullen taking over as coach, but Mississippi State athletic director Greg Byrne and his staff deserve a lot of credit for the way they’ve marketed that program.

Kentucky has also posted record attendance numbers each of the past three seasons. The Wildcats averaged 69,594 last season after bringing in an average of 69,434 in 2008 and an average of 68,824 in 2007.

On the not-so-positive side, Tennessee is the only school in the league that has had declining attendance figures in each of the past three seasons. They averaged 99,220 last season in Lane Kiffin’s first and only season, which marked the first time since the last major Neyland Stadium expansion in 1996 that the Vols had not averaged 100,000 or more fans for their home games.

Tennessee averaged 101,448 in 2008 and 103,918 in 2007. Because of stadium renovations, Tennessee has lost some seats the past few years. For instance, the capacity was listed at more than 104,000 in 2005, but dropped to 102,038 in 2006.

The largest attendance decrease in the league last season belonged to South Carolina, which went from an average of 80,529 in 2008 to an average of 75,369 in 2009. The Gamecocks also had three attractive home games in 2009 – Ole Miss, Florida and Clemson.

The Ole Miss game was on a Thursday night the fourth week of the season, and the Rebels were a top 5 team at the time. Still, the upper deck on the East side that night at Williams-Brice Stadium wasn't much more than half full.

Alabama will see its attendance increase next season and could go to the top of the league. Bryant-Denny Stadium is expanding to right around 101,000.