By ERIC TABER
For the second-straight season and the fifth time in the last decade, the Montana Grizzlies football team has packed in more fans than any other program in FCS football, and in 2015 dew more fans than 44 FBS programs as well.
The Grizzlies averaged 24,139 fans per-game over the course of a seven-game home slate last year, for a total of 168,975 according to an annual NCAA report. That’s over 16 percent of Montana’s population according to the latest US Census Bureau estimates.
When compared to the Football Bowl Subdivision, Montana drew more average attendance than over 34 percent of the 128 total FBS programs, including seven teams from the regionally comparative Mountain West Conference.
If the FCS and FBS average attendance lists were combined, the Grizzlies would rank just below Colorado State, who drew an average of 24,917 to their six home games last season, and just above New Mexico, who averaged 23,528 fans over the course of eight home games.
UM drew an average of 362 more fans per game in 2015 as compared to one year ago, when the Griz averaged 23,777.
Montana also set a new single-game attendance record in 2015, when 26,472 fans watched the Griz defeat North Dakota State 38-35 to open the season in the first game under head coach Bob Stitt.
On homecoming weekend, UM surpassed the 26k mark again, packing in 26,136 fans against Northern Arizona to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1995 national championship.
The Grizzlies’ 2015 average of 24,139 fans per-game is also the best in the Big Sky conference, where Montana State and Eastern Washington are the only two other schools to register in the FCS’s top-30 teams. Montana State averaged the fifth-best national attendance with 19,172, while Eastern Washington was 29th with an average of 9,577 fans per game.
With UM and MSU combined, an average of 21,847 fans turned out to watch 13 different football games in Missoula and Bozeman last year, with a combined total attendance of 284,007. That’s almost 27.5 percent of Montana’s population.
As a conference, the Big Sky packed in the third-most fans of any FCS conference in the nation, averaging 9,877 fans over 70 games played between 13 teams. The Southwestern Athletic Conference drew an average of 12,823 fans per game, while the Missouri Valley Football Conference drew an average of 10,916.
The Griz have averaged more than 22,000 fans a game in the last 13 seasons, dating back to 2003.
Montana opens its 2016 season on September 3 against Saint Francis in Missoula.
Season tickets and three-game mini packs go on sale to the general public starting July 5, with single game tickets becoming available July 18. Visit griztix.com for details.