With yesterday’s official announcement of the expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, there was a question posed by some naysayers: Can Louisville Fill 65,000 seats?
When the Cards built PJCS in 1998 there was concern that the Cards could fill the new 42,000 seat facility, and the question was posed again prior to the Cards opening the expansion in 2010. Let’s examine the trends:
During John L. Smith’s tenure Louisville struggled to achieve a 38,000 average attendance (about 4,000 shy of capacity). Tickets could usually be found easily on gameday.
In Year 1 of Bobby Petrino in 2003 Louisville was in the same position and was about 5200 shy of capacity. But in 2004 with just 5 homes games during a 11-1 season Louisville didn’t just exceed 38K in attendance, but the Cards exceeded a 40,500 average attendance (1500 shy of capacity, or 96.5%). Under Petrino average attendance only grew: 41,001.2 in 2005 and 41,481.8 in 2006. In October, Louisville announced the proposed expansion that was originally going to be expanded to 63,600 and then later scaled down during the economic hardship suffered during 2008 & 2009. When Petrino left for the Atlanta Falcons Louisville filled PJCS to 98.76% of capacity.
In 2009 Louisville’s actual capacity was reduced due to construction to 40,000. But during the Steve Kragthorpe years the Cards actually held some of the gains they had made during the Petrino tenure with a 39,811.2 average in 2007, a 39,680.3 average in 2008, before eventually falling off during the final year in 2009 to 32,540.3.
That decline in attendance was short-lived. With the arrival of Charlie Strong, the restoration of the 2,000 lost seats to construction + the 2010 completed expansion of PJCS there was renewed interest in the Louisville Football program. The Cards posted a 50,648.1 (92.1% of capacity) average attendance in 2010 and at the time was easily the most well-attended season in UofL Football history during a 7-6 season.
In 2011, things weren’t sparkling new and Louisville started slowly BUT from 2011-2014 Louisville has steadily increased its average attendance each year: 2011 48,537.5 average (88.25%), 2012 49,991.1 average (90.9%), 2013 52913.7 (96.2%), and in 2014 52,971.5 (96.3%).
With Louisville only having played one season EVER in the ACC, Louisville fans have a demonstrated appetite for football. With continued traditions, an increase in profile, and an annually enhanced schedule that appeals to fans, the expansion announced on Friday only makes sense. Particularly when taking into account that Louisville has sold out each of its luxury boxes for the past two seasons, has a waiting list for both season tickets and club level seating, and has also sold each game since 2012 the University is most certainly doing the right thing by “Closing the Bowl” and allowing the football fanbase an avenue to expand.