The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Friday, April 16, 2010

Stadium Attendance Records, Trends

I've just uploaded a new page at It's a compilation of attendance records for existing track stadiums in the USA, with every known record in excess of 7,500. I have 33 such stadiums.

I should add a disclaimer: This is only what's known to me. So far, the only attendance figures I know of come from Track & Field News and the Ohio high school championships. Even there, I've only researched back to 1971. So there's a LOT of missing info--for example, the California high school championships alone have certainly attracted more than 7,500 in at least a half-dozen different stadiums.

Still, I think it's instructive to look at the meets that set attendance records for each stadium and see what they have in common.
7 relay carnivals (Penn, Kansas, Texas, Drake, West Coast, Mt. SAC, Florida)
5 pro tour events (IAAF three times, ITA twice)
4 dual meets (USA v. USSR twice, UCLA v. USC, Tennessee v. Villanova)
4 Olympic Trials
3 US Olympic Festivals
3 team championships (NCAA twice, OHSAA)
3 national championships (TAC/USATF twice, USTFF)
2 international games (Goodwill Games, Universiade)
1 college invitational (Jumbo Elliot Memorial)

At first, it looks like the IAAF tour-type events are a big deal, as they occur second-most in terms of stadium attendance records. But if we take these nine categories and put them into meta-categories, some strong trends show up.

Heavily individual-oriented competitions are only represented nine times out of the 33 attendance records--the five pro tour events, three national championships, and the lone college invitational. All the other 24 are oriented towards team competition, be they team scored (dual meets and championships), based around team competition (relay carnivals), or strongly associated with the idea of an Olympic team (Olympic Trials and Festivals and the international games).

And what about the biggest attendances at defunct track venues? They were the Olympic Games, of course (in LA and Atlanta), but also in the Olympic Stadium in an Olympic year (Trials and an IAAF GP meet) and USA-USSR dual meets.

So the lesson to take from this is that while track & field is an individual sport, we ignore its team aspects at our peril.

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