Ever wonder what it would take for high school sports to capture the fascination that collegiate and professional athletics holds in the American subconscious? According to some recent data, we may have reached that point already.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), an astonishing 336 million fans attended high school football or boys or girls basketball games during the 2009-10 school year (the most recent year for which complete attendance stats are held). That attendance figure rises to an even more impressive 510 million when you add in other secondary sports.
To put those numbers in perspective, the football and basketball attendance figures for high schools were more than twice the 133 million fans which were drawn by professional and collegiate football and basketball … combined.
"The stats speak for themselves," Sachem (N.Y.) High Director of Athletics Pete Blieberg told a branch of Patch.com. "Distances for their college aged child might prohibit them from attending as many contests and the economic times have put a damper on the average person attending a number of professional sporting events each year. So, by default, we get the crowds. But in all seriousness, it's the parents and their attachment and involvement with their kids at an earlier age than ever before that promotes the larger high school crowds."
While high school attendances are sometimes viewed with a skeptical eye because of the attachment parents can feel to their childrens' activities, that bond also provides a more firm basis for continual attendances at high school events. While a fan of a waning professional team might decide to save their money for another discretionary purchase during an "off" season, they are much less likely to do so for an area high school team, whether they have a relative competing for that team or not.
It's incredibly difficult to determine whether such interest will continue, but the recent scramble to attain television rights for as many high school events as possible speaks to the rising popularity of prep games.
For it's part, the NFHS is convinced (unsurprisingly) that attendance figures across all high school sports will only trend upward from here.
"This first-of-its-kind survey of attendance figures at the high school level is certainly a great sign that high school sports continue to be a big part of communities throughout our nation," said Bob Gardner, NFHS executive director, in a statement. "A ticket to a high school sporting event remains one of the best values for the entertainment dollar."