When the Virginia Cavaliers beat the Maryland Terrapins 9-7 to win the 2011 NCAA Lacrosse National Title on Monday, they did so in front of the smallest crowd to witness a title game since 2002 (announced crowd of 35,661).
Incidentally, 2002 was also the last time the NCAA Championship was played in a non-NFL football stadium (Rutgers Stadium).
As a frame of reference, 37,126 watched Duke beat Notre Dame last year at M&T. Syracuse and Johns Hopkins broke the attendance record in 2008 when 48,970 watched them at Gillette Stadium. Attendance in the finals has been on a downward slope ever since, dropping to 41,935 in 2009 and then the aforementioned 37,126 last year.
With two nearby lacrosse powerhouses playing in Baltimore's M&T Stadium, it begs the question...why is attendance for the National Title game dropping?
Heat: This is more of an explanation for this year's game. It was 96 degrees in Baltimore when the game started. And that was the temperature outside the stadium. You had to believe it was even hotter inside and one report said temperatures reached 120 degrees on the field at one point.
Lack of CNY teams: Despite the fact that Maryland and Virginia are closer to Baltimore than Syracuse, there's something to be said for Central New York fans and how they travel for the Final Four. And it's not just Syracuse. Schools in lower divisions such as Cortland and Le Moyne have been Final Four mainstays for years. Not this year, however.
TV/Internet Growth: It's hard to quantify how much lacrosse's improved exposure could be affecting attendance but the truth is, it's easier than ever for fans to watch these games from the comfort of their own homes. Every tournament game was televised and the Final Four/National Titles games were prominently featured on ESPN/ESPN2. Besides, its easy enough to find the game, or at least live updates, on the Internet.
Timing is everything: Because of the raised awareness and interest in the National Title game, the start time has crept back in recent years. While that's good for TV numbers, it could have an inverse affect on attendance. The game always take place on the Monday of Memorial Day Weekend and folks usually want to try and beat traffic or end their trips early that day. A noon start gets folks out of Baltimore at a reasonable time while a 3:30pm start means weary travelers are likely in for more traffic, something that might make them think twice about driving down from NY/NJ or wherever.
Fans getting priced out?: As the game has gotten more high-profile and the stadiums have gotten bigger, ticket prices have risen. Unless you're pretty confident your team is going to play for the title, you might not be so quick to snap up tickets as you used to be. This year if you're a Denver or Duke fan, perhaps its that much harder to find a buyer for that ticket you don't need anymore.
Baltimore not the mecca its made out to be?: Maybe this is jumping to conclusions but attendance has fallen drastically since the Final Four returned to Baltimore from Boston. Still, Baltimore saw 48K pack the stadium in 2007, almost as well as Foxborough. So the question is probably more related to the state of lacrosse tickets and demand rather than where the game is held.
Besides, this year's semifinals were extremely-well attended. The Duke-Virginia semifinal was watched by 45,039, the sixth-best attendance for a semifinal match ever.