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Northwestern football attendance rose 4 percent in 2016, finished 13th in Big Ten

The Wildcats’ biggest crowds came for Wisconsin and primetime against Nebraska.

Penn State v Northwestern Photo by JonathanDaniel/Getty Images

Northwestern’s average attendance rose 4 percent in 2016 when compared to 2015 but still finished 13th in the Big Ten, a report from CBS Sports shows.

The Wildcats averaged 34,798 fans per home game in 2016, filling 74 percent of Ryan Field’s capacity. Only Purdue (34,451 fans per home game) had a smaller attendance among Big Ten schools.

Here’s how every Big Ten school ranked:

Big Ten attendance 2016

School 2016 Average Change from 2015 Stadium Capacity Filled (2016)
School 2016 Average Change from 2015 Stadium Capacity Filled (2016)
Michigan 110,468 Less than +1% 103%
Ohio State 107,278 Less than +1% 105%
Penn State 100,257 Less than +1% 94%
Nebraska 90,200 Less than +1% 104%
Wisconsin 79,357 2% 99%
Michigan State 74,667 Less than +1% 100%
Iowa 69,656 10% 99%
Illinois 45,644 10% 75%
Rutgers 44,804 -6% 85%
Minnesota 43,814 -16% 83%
Indiana 43,027 -3% 82%
Maryland 39,615 -11% 76%
Northwestern 34,798 4% 74%
Purdue 34,451 -8% 60%

Here are a couple interesting notes:

  • Northwestern’s most well-attended home game was against Wisconsin (attendance: 42,016), which not only was on family weekend but also came on the heels of Northwestern’s close loss to Ohio State. The Wildcats would have been in a good spot to win the Big Ten West had they won (they lost 21-7).
  • The Wildcats benefitted by having two night games: The win over Duke (34,464) and loss to Nebraska (40,284) were the fourth- and second-most attended home games, respectively. Of course, it also helps attendance-wise to host a team whose fanbase that travels as well as the Huskers’ do. The same can be said for Wisconsin.
  • The least-attended game was the Illinois game (30,022) over Thanksgiving weekend.
  • Among programs that weren’t filling their entire stadium, Northwestern was one of only two schools to post an increase over last year’s attendance totals. Interestingly, the only other school was Illinois, which had Lovie Smith at the helm for the first year. This reflects a trend across college football: Attendance totals fell for yet another year after peaking in 2008.