The numbers speak for themselves:
- 2008: Total Championship Weekend Attendance -- 121,511 (Gillette Stadium)
- 2009: Total Championship Weekend Attendance -- 102,601 (Gillette Stadium)
- 2010: Total Championship Weekend Attendance -- 102,219 (M&T Bank Stadium)
- 2011: Total Championship Weekend Attendance -- 98,786 (M&T Bank Stadium)
- 2012: Total Championship Weekend Attendance -- 79,959 (Gillette Stadium)
- 2013: Total Championship Weekend Attendance -- 79,179 (Lincoln Financial Field)
- 2014: Total Championship Weekend Attendance -- 78,234 (M&T Bank Stadium)
The championship game crowd in Baltimore -- 25,587 souls -- marks the lowest attendance number at a Division I title game since Rutgers pushed only 19,706 through its gates in 2002 when Syracuse beat Princeton for the 'ship. The semifinal crowd at M&T Bank Stadium -- 30,428 -- is the second lowest in the NFL stadium era, eclipsed by only Philadelphia last season. Despite all the effort that organizers put into the event this season, the end result was a continuation of Championship Weekend's rusting. It matters little that Baltimore almost matched Philadelphia's gate in 2013; what matters is that one of lacrosse's major arteries could not reverse the volition of Championship Weekend.
This isn't to imply that Championship Weekend is dead: Almost 80,000 people had tickets for the semifinals, finals, and/or lower division finals. That's not terrible. These marks still far exceed where the weekend was prior to 2003, where the Final Four claimed an attendance of 60,000 people or more only six times from 1992 to 2002. The event still matters on the schedule and its gate is pretty good despite a seven-year decline in attendance numbers. It's disappointing that college lacrosse's marquee event hasn't found any momentum recently, but there is still value -- it's hidden, but it's there -- in Championship Weekend.
There is no silver bullet to "fixing" the weekend. It isn't just ticket prices. It isn't just location. People will make excuses to not do something as long as it fits their personal reconciliatory reasons. (I think it still holds true that if you held Championship Weekend in someone's backyard -- literally -- that there'd be 50-50 odds that the homeowner would actually come outside and watch. Humans are really good at reasoning why they shouldn't do something.) The key, as it has always been, is to make the Final Four a can't-miss event. When the desire to attend exceeds the excuses to pass, the event becomes a necessary part of someone's universe. That means that Championship Weekend needs to provide an exceptional experience: The ticket price needs to meet the experience; the venue and location need to fit the experience that patrons want to have; the product on the field needs to allow for unmatched emotional and physical moments; etc.
This is a difficult concept to create, but it's one that has eluded the NCAA in recent seasons. Once the NCAA can find that sweet spot of providing an experience that renders an excuse useless, the event will grow and meet its potential.