2007 was the high watermark for Championship Weekend attendance: 123,225 knuckleheads passed through the gates at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore to watch top-seeded Duke, third-seeded Johns Hopkins, fourth-seeded Cornell, and an upstart, unseeded Delaware team battle for the national championship (the Blue Jays would end Memorial Monday with a victory lap after sending Duke to the showers). Since then, though, attendance at the Final Four has been anathema, slowly degrading to the point of embarrassment:
- 2008: Total attendance -- 121,511 (Gillette Stadium)
- 2009: Total attendance -- 102,601 (Gillette Stadium)
- 2010: Total attendance -- 102,219 (M&T Bank Stadium)
- 2011: Total attendance -- 98,786 (M&T Bank Stadium)
- 2012: Total attendance -- 79,959 (Gillette Stadium)
- 2013: Total attendance -- 79,179 (Lincoln Financial Field)
This isn't good: In just six seasons, Championship Weekend has seen a slide of 44,000 folks at the ticket window, losing an average of 7,341 fans per season (the biggest drops came between 2008 and 2009 when attendance slipped by 18,910 people and between 2011 and 2012 when attendance dropped by 18,827 folks). There are lots of potential reasons for the problems that the Final Four has faced with respect to attendance, but one thing is clear: A lot of eyeballs are going to be focused on M&T Bank Stadium this coming Memorial Day Weekend to see if Baltimore has the goods to save Championship Weekend from its issues.
While Baltimore holds the highest average attendance among the three locations favored in the NFL Stadium-era of the event (M&T Bank Stadium -- 105,088; Lincoln Financial Field -- 103,680; Gillette Stadium -- 101,236), the location has not been immunized from the Final Four's attendance decline: After steadily growing in 2003, 2004, and 2007, M&T Bank Stadium came back to Earth in 2010 and 2011, pushing 102,219 and 98,786 bodies through the doors, respectively. This regression in attendance shows marks below the venue's 2004 count (110,023) and dangerously near the building's 2003 then-record attendance tally of 91,184.
Many may point to the fact that local and/or national powers were missing from Championship Weekend's roster in 2010 and 2011. That argument, however, is somewhat lacking in strength: Virginia (a relatively local team to M&T Bank Stadium) headlined the 2010 event and three national brands -- Duke, Notre Dame, and Cornell -- joined the Cavaliers; in 2011, two local programs -- Maryland and Virginia (which eventually met in the finals) -- took a leading role in the event with Duke and Denver in tow. These two events -- the last two that Baltimore has hosted -- have had juice, yet people have declined to make M&T Bank Stadium a thing over Memorial Day Weekend. (Admittedly, the 2003 and 2004 events featured Hopkins and Syracuse -- gigantic draws -- but it's not like 2010 and 2011 threw a pile of trash at Baltimore.) People just haven't embraced Baltimore the way they should have in recent years, which emboldens the question of whether M&T Bank Stadium can reverse the most talked about trend in college lacrosse.
Outside of the traditional reasons posited for the decline in Final Four attendance -- ticket prices; traveling concerns; participating schools; weather; the growth of television coverage; etc. -- there is another factor that could significantly impact Baltimore's hopes of a gigantic crowd in the coming May: The locations of the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals are north of Maryland and could siphon ticket sales from Baltimore. At ticket rates generally cheaper than Championship Weekend passes, will lacrosse fans north of Baltimore spend their lacrosse-viewing dollars in more accessible locations like Hofstra and Delaware instead of assuming the bite of making a Memorial Day Weekend trip? It's certainly a possibility, one that the NCAA didn't think through if they were looking to provide protection to Baltimore's Championship Weekend effort.
Regardless, Baltimore is in a big spot this year and its hosting responsibilities this season are arguably bigger than any that has come before.