Husker spring game: Attendance through the years

More than 2 million people have attended Nebraska spring games since the event's creation in 1950. Though it's nothing more than an intrasquad scrimmage, the annual Red-White game has become a must-attend event. We dug through the numbers to find the trends and factors that have made the Husker spring game one of the nation's most popular.

By Big Red Today   //   Updated April 13, 2019

More than 2 million fans have attended Nebraska spring games since the tradition started 69 years ago.

The crowd for the 2018 Red-White game set an attendance record, and the following year came in at No. 2 in program history. That continues the trend as a large chunk of NU's spring attendance has come within the last decade. Since 2008, 825,434 fans have attended Husker spring games, or about 39.9% of the total attendance of 2,067,606 since 1950.

It’s come a long way since that first one. There were an estimated 5,000 fans in attendance for the first modern spring game held on what was then called “All Sport Day” between the Husker varsity team and a collection of alumni.

Word spread the following year as attendance more than tripled to 17,000, but only one other time (10,000 in 1958) in the first 20 years would spring game attendance reach five digits.

National championships eventually helped make the spring game into a must-attend event. After the Huskers’ first title in 1970, attendance grew from 13,000 to 18,000 for the 1971 spring game. Following the 1994 championship, spring game attendance rose from 29,000 to 40,000 in 1995. There were also increases after the 1995 title (40,000 to 48,659) and 1997 title (42,018 to 60,498).

There was actually a decrease in attendance for the 1972 spring game that followed NU’s second national championship. Only 9,000 were there, half as many as were in attendance in 1971, but a “rainy afternoon,” as the reports described it, likely kept fans away.

Those back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995 essentially ushered in a modern era of Nebraska spring game attendance. Before the 1995 spring game, only one other had reached the 30,000-fan mark. Since 1995, only two (1999 and 2000) failed to reach that milestone.

Coaching changes also tend to cause an uptick in spring game attendance. The number nearly doubled for Bill Callahan’s first spring game in 2004, growing from 33,419 the year prior to 61,417. Mike Riley’s first spring game in 2015 also saw a rise in attendance — 76,881 fans were there for that one compared to 61,772 in 2014. Another big spike can be attributed to Tom Osborne’s first spring as head coach in 1973. A then-record 20,000 saw that one, up from 9,000 the year before.

The two games with the highest attendance also came during a new coach's first year. Bo Pelini's first in 2008 set a record with 80,149 fans (up from 54,288 the year before). Then Frost topped him in 2018 when 86,818 fans were in attendance, up more than 8,000 from the 2017 spring game.

Surprisingly — c'mon, Nebraska spring weather, right? — only one game in the 69-year history of the event has been canceled. Nebraska chose not to play the 2012 spring game when a severe thunderstorm blew through the area about 90 minutes before kickoff. For that reason, data from 2012 is not included in our findings.

It’s also worth noting that exact attendance figures weren’t consistently kept until the late 1970’s. Before that, only estimations were provided in box scores and game stories.

Check out the charts and graphs below for more information on the spring game attendance figures from the last 69 years.


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