Despite a small step back from the top two, Division I college wrestling saw overall dual attendance continue to climb to heights not seen since the data was first tracked by Denny Diehl during the 2001-02 season. The 2017-18 NCAA DI wrestling numbers from this season underscore the growth of the rank and file programs across the country. While the top of the list looks similar to last season and a few programs took significant steps backward, the number of programs averaging more than 1000 or 2000 fans per home date continues to grow. The 2000 spectator attendance benchmark has seen a steady rise since the turn of the century while those surpassing four figures has been up and down. This year, however, saw some programs you might not expect draw consistent crowds.
This effort was a collaboration between TheOpenMat and Mat Talk Online. To dig deeper into the numbers, please visit the Mat Talk Almanac which features dual by dual attendance numbers as well as historical data.
The Iowa Hawkeyes led the country in attendance for the 12th year in a row averaging 8996 fans per contest this season. That figure is the fourth highest average for the program since 2001-02 and no other school has reached that mark. Penn State continues to fill Rec Hall every time they wrestle there, but its lower capacity keeps them second on this list. The Nittany Lions did have the biggest crowd of the year when they packed in 15,998 for their dual against Iowa at the Bryce Jordan Center. That was the third most people to ever attend an NCAA Division I wrestling dual and the most ever to do so at an indoor event. Fresno State made a spectacular return to NCAA competition getting no fewer than 3700 fans at a home dual and averaging an incredible 4566 per date. The Bulldogs ranked fifth in the country behind Rutgers who has also become a consistent draw in recent years. The Scarlet Knights first averaged over 2000 fans in 2014-15 and have been on a positive trajectory ever since.
The NCAA Division I Wrestling attendance top 25 for 2017-18:
||South Dakota State
After a record 19 schools attracted more than 1000 per match last season, 23 did so this year, setting a new standard for college wrestling. 11 programs cracked 2000, up from the previous record of nine that did so in 2015-16. Comparing the top 20 this year to last, the 2017-18 averages come out on top and considering 21-23 this season outdrew number 17 from a year ago, it is safe to say dual attendance increased once again. This season did not feature any record-breaking outdoor events nor did it have the National Duals match-ups late in the season to ensure a few more marquee duals. The effect of the latter was particularly evident in Oklahoma State’s total. The Cowboys dropped from averaging 5041 to 3152 largely due to the fact that they had no competition that approached the 14059 they achieved when they hosted Penn State last season.
One-off events that get incredible crowds are a great thing that can generate interest and expose new fans to the sport. However, seeing average attendance grow during a year without those things does more to suggest the sport is healthy than relying on a handful of massive numbers to drive the totals. That Penn State/Iowa dual is the only one that cracks the top 10 in regards to all-time attendance and only one other meet, Ohio State/Iowa managed more than 14000. The number of competitions each season that even have the ability to sell that number of tickets is limited with many being held in smaller venues. Still, attendance is up and we have nearly a third of Division I programs averaging over 1000 fans. College wrestling is alive and well.