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BYU's attendance, national brand separate it from other Big 12 expansion candidates

Editor's note: Third in a five-part series.

PROVO — Big 12 officials have stated that they will consider fan base size as part of the criteria when examining potential expansion candidates.

How, then, to determine the size of a fan base? Let’s start with attendance at home games.

BYU has ranked among the top 30 nationally in football attendance nine times in 10 years, according to the NCAA. The Cougars have finished in the top 20 in attendance in men's basketball for six consecutive seasons.

No other Big 12 expansion candidate can come close to those achievements.

BYU’s LaVell Edwards Stadium has a capacity of 63,470, and the Cougars have averaged 59,951 fans per game since the 2010 season. Those figures put BYU No. 3 among Big 12 member schools, only behind Texas (100,119 and 97,529, respectively) and Oklahoma (82,112 and 85,064, respectively).

Big 12 expansion candidate Memphis plays at the 61,008-seat Liberty Bowl and saw a big jump in attendance last season, drawing 43,802 fans per game.

Seating capacity at other expansion hopefuls: Boise State (37,000), Cincinnati (40,000), Central Florida (44,206), Colorado State (34,400), Connecticut (40,642) and Houston (40,000).

BYU’s Marriott Center (19,100) is larger than any arena in the Big 12, ahead of Texas (16,540) and Kansas (16,300). Over the past six seasons, BYU has averaged 16,137 fans per men’s basketball game, slightly behind Kansas (16,429) and ahead of the rest of the Big 12, including Iowa State (13,585) and Texas (11,805).

BYU also has a reputation for drawing large crowds for road games throughout the country.

“I think BYU is certainly a national brand, in the same ilk as Notre Dame," then-ESPN reporter Joe Schad told the Deseret News in 2012. "They have a national recruiting base and a national following.”

Because of its affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU boasts fans across the nation, even among those who didn’t attend the school.

According to information gathered from BYU, the school has 402,870 living alumni, including 189,248 that live in the state of Utah. Another 19,000 alums live within the Big 12 states of Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia. The LDS population in those five states is 469,799. That number swells to 696,056 when including surrounding Big 12 states.

In 2011, statistics guru Nate Silver, who is editor-in-chief of ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight, gathered detailed information for The New York Times regarding the geography of college football fan bases.

BYU’s fan base size in 2011, according to Silver, was 710,000. The next highest Big 12 expansion hopeful was UConn (600,000), followed by Boise State (483,000), Cincinnati (323,000), Memphis (236,000), Colorado State (199,000) and Houston (100,000).

“Brigham Young … would be an attractive-enough addition for a conference like the Big 12,” Silver wrote. “With about 700,000 fans, it ranks behind 42 (Power 5) schools — but ahead of 27 of them.”

In 2015, USA Today compiled a College Football Fan Index, which ranks each major college team’s fans by social media data and online polling. That study concluded that Boise State (No. 47) tops the list of expansion candidates, followed by BYU (No. 50), Memphis (No. 54), Houston (No. 59), Colorado State (No. 92), Central Florida (No. 93), Cincinnati (No. 94) and Connecticut (No. 106).

While not a scientific poll, an online survey — the Commoncensus Sports Map Project — reported in 2012 that BYU was the most popular college team in Utah with 28,419 votes. According to the survey, the Cougars were also the No. 2 most popular team in Tempe, Arizona; No. 3 in Tucson, Arizona; No. 3 in the Pacific Northwest; No. 4 in Los Angeles; No. 5 in Dallas-Fort Worth; No. 5 in San Diego; No. 6 in the Bay Area; and No. 9 in Houston.

EMAIL: jeffc@deseretnews.com