Cost of Low Attendance for Ohio State Football

Tyler Stephen

With all the uncertainty surrounding college football in 2020, at this point most can come to terms with a similar conclusion. If the adopted national pastime somehow gets the green light this fall, it will most certainly look different than before.

In late May, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in pandemic times, Ohio Stadium could hold anywhere between 22-50 thousand fans depending on the nature of physical distancing guidelines (embed his tweet). 

Based on this information, the best-case scenario would allow the Buckeyes to take the field in front of a stadium at just 48 percent capacity. With crowd limitations most certainly looming, BuckeyesNow takes a look at the lower end of the attendance spectrum in Ohio Stadium history.

While every Buckeye remembers the 2016 thrilling double overtime win over the arch-rival in front of a stadium record 110,045 raucous fans, only true historians will recall Ohio State’s 52-3 drubbing of visiting Rutgers in September of 2018. 

In front of just 93,057, the program's 900th victory ironically earned the smallest home crowd in 21 years, when the capacity of "The Shoe" was less than 90K. The Silver Bullets put up 579 yards of total offense and Johnnie Dixon had two touchdown grabs in the historical win over the Scarlet Knights.

Five weeks later, the Buckeyes nearly saw five-figure fans again as the Ohio Stadium faithful was just 100,042 in their 30-14 win over Minnesota. Dwayne Haskins threw for three touchdowns and over 400 yards as the soon to be Big Ten champions shut out the Golden Gophers in the second half.


Even before the CoVid-19 pandemic, attendance has become an issue for Ohio State, the Big Ten, and college football in general. With the increase in ticket prices and more desirable in-home viewing experiences due to technological advances, overall FBS attendance has declined in seven of the past eight seasons. 

In addition, the Big Ten had its lowest output in 2018 (63,365 average) in 25 years and almost half of the Buckeyes' home games in 2018 were not sellouts.

The recent trend in attendance, coupled with the global pandemic, will most likely have a large impact on football Saturday at Ohio Stadium for the near future. But we should not forget that at inception in 1922, capacity for the Horseshoe was just 66,210. The facility did not increase until 1944 when it jumped to 72,764.

A sellout on the banks of the Olentangy only reached six figures in 2001, and currently sits at 102,780. The Buckeyes won six national titles and 25 Big Ten crowns in front of a modest crowds that never reached the now common six-figure total.

While it is probably true that nothing compared to the 2016 decibel levels of Scarlet and Gray faithful after the Curtis Samuel walk off touchdown versus TTUN, Ohio State has proven they can win in front of less than gaudy numbers. 

From a 1954 rivalry win in front of 82,438 for a Rose Bowl berth to a sleeper of an early September game against the cellar dweller Rutgers, the Buckeyes have succeeded in a variety of environments. If, and when, they're able to commence a Big Ten title defense, Ohio State will probably have a Horseshoe environment we haven't seen before.

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