Nevada's attendance for home football games this season has become a point of focus after fewer than 15,000 showed up for the team's win Saturday over San Diego State, arguably the program's top victory since 2010.
The Wolf Pack ranks 10th out of 12 Mountain West schools in attendance, its average of 17,866 besting only SJSU (14,751) and UNLV (16,434), the two worst programs in the conference. And that total is with what Nevada has called "the best home schedule in school history."
There are many reasons why the Wolf Pack has struggled to draw this season despite putting a better product on the field. One of the most common excuses I hear from fans is the night games are prohibiting them from coming. I decided to research what kind of impact playing at night has on Mackay Stadium attendance. I was surprised to see late kickoffs might not been a limiting factor, after all. Night games might actually boost attendance.
I looked at the last 10 seasons of home games for Nevada, splitting them into days games (anything that kicks off at 4 p.m. or earlier) and night games (anything that kicks off after 4 p.m.; most of those are 7:30 p.m. kickoffs). Nevada has played 60 home games the last 10 seasons (from 2009-18), with 31 being day games and 29 being night games. Basically a 50 percent split. Here is the breakdown.
Day games (31 games): Average attendance of 19,781 fans; median attendance of 19,399
Night games (29 games): Average attendance of 20,542 fans; median attendance of 20,457
So, night games draw, on average, 3.7 percent more fans than day games, with a median attendance increase of 5.2 percent.
I thought, "Maybe there have been more marquee games at night than during the game, which would push up the average attendance." Wrong.
In fact, there have been more marquee games during the day in our 10-season sample size than at night. I labeled any games featuring UNLV, Boise State or a Power 5/BCS opponent as a marquee game since those tend to see the largest single-game bumps. From 2009-18, Nevada has played nine marquee day games (five against UNLV, one against Boise State, three against Power 5 schools). From 2009-18, there have only been six marquee night games (three against Boise State, three against Power 5 schools). Marquee games actually benefit the day attendance numbers, which is seen in larger gap in the median attendance compared to the average attendance.
I thought, "Maybe there are more night games early in the season when the weather is better, which would push up the average attendance." Also wrong.
During our 10-season sample size, Nevada has played 23 night games in August-October (the good weather) and eight in November-December (the bad weather). It has played 20 day games in August-October (the good weather) and 10 in November-December (the bad weather). Those are nearly identical.
So, fans saying they'd go to more games if Nevada had day kickoffs as opposed to night kickoffs isn't backed by the numbers. History shows that's not the case. The time of the kickoff has not had a big impact on attendance, and if it did have one, the later kickoffs actually drew better (perhaps because people have things going on during the day but can get to more games if they're at night). Nevada football does have an attendance problem, but the kickoff time does not seem to be the culprit. Perhaps it's because every game is on TV and people would rather watch it on their screen than in person.