Attendance isn’t a perfect measure of fan interest, particularly for a program like Vanderbilt, which has a lot of alumni who don’t live close to Nashville and mostly have to follow the team on the teevee and the interwebs.
But it’s a pretty decent measure, so long as you know what the numbers you’re looking at mean. Vanderbilt drew 30,304 fans for its home opener against South Carolina.
To put that number in context, the 2015 home opener against Western Kentucky -- a Conference USA team -- drew 30,307. The 2014 home opener against Temple drew 31,731. The 2013 home opener, like Thursday’s home opener a Southeastern Conference game (against Ole Miss), drew a capacity crowd of 40,350.
And not only was the crowd the smallest for a home opener since 2011 (when a Vanderbilt team coming off a 2-10 season hosted FCS foe Elon), but compared to the Temple and Western Kentucky games of the last two years, it was considerably heavier on opposing fans. The only thing that the White-Out that Vanderbilt planned for the home opener accomplished was making the number of South Carolina fans in the stadium even more obvious.
Granted, there were other, side factors. The Tennessee Titans had a preseason game on Thursday night, and the Vols were also playing. (Not that anybody who might be interested in going to a Vanderbilt football game should even be considering staying home so they can watch the Vols on television, and as a Memphis native I’d probably make a similar argument for the Titans, but I digress.) South Carolina fans probably weren’t too excited about their own team, either, which might have depressed their crowd.
But in any case, it’s hard to argue that the smaller crowds are a good sign for the Vanderbilt football program. It seems that the fan response to the current state of the football program isn’t anger, but apathy.