Executive Summary

A ReviewTrackers study analyzed 140,000 online reviews to rank NCAA football stadiums for the best bands, most loyal alumni, loudest crowds, tailgates, and most school spirit.

1. Top 3. Texas A&M, University of Nebraska, and University of Alabama had the highest overall rated stadiums in NCAA football.

2. NCAA vs. NFL. On average, fans rate the top NCAA football stadiums 4 percent higher than NFL stadiums.

3. Tailgates. Tailgates are 3 times more popular in NCAA football than at the average major sporting event.

4. School Spirit. The Wisconsin Badgers had the highest scores for school spirit in their stadium.

5. Major Conferences. The Big Ten, Big 12, and SEC have a significantly better fan experience than the other major conferences. The Big Ten Ranked highest for school spirit.

6. Best Bands. The Wisconsin Badgers, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and Texas A&M Aggies had the top three bands.

7. Loyal Alumni. Northwestern University, TCU, and Michigan State had the most loyal presence at their games.

8. Loudest Fans. University of Oregon scored the loudest stadium. Fans talk about the noise there 5 times more often than at the other 20 noisiest stadiums.

9. Biggest Tailgates. West Virginia, Oregon, and UCLA had the most popular tailgates.

(For questions about our data or press enquiries, contact [email protected]).

Collecting Data on the College Game Day Experience

ReviewTrackers analyzed online review data for 147 NCAA stadiums, looking at two things:

1. Star rating for the stadiums (averaged across Google, Facebook, and other review sites).

2. Analysis of the text of 140,000 reviews for NCAA stadiums — comparing how often and how positively fans talk about the important parts of NCAA fandom.

Before we get to the rankings, a word about how text analysis works.

At ReviewTrackers, we use a natural language algorithm to read these reviews and give them a score for each important keyword in the review.

So, for example, when a Badger fan writes,

“The fans are fun and watching the student section is a treat. Especially third quarter jump around.” 

Our algorithm reads the review and extracts the “student section” keyword and gives it a positive score because the reviewer calls the student section “a treat.” Which is adorable. And also exactly what someone from Wisconsin would say.

Zoom out. And apply this approach across 140,000 reviews and suddenly you have a data on  232,703 keywords across 147 different NCAA stadiums.

What do you do with 232,703 keywords? Group them into topics that are important to the college football experience.

Where there is enough data, we can score each stadium for the things like:

1. Marching bands.

2. Alumni.

3. Crowd noise.

4. Tailgates.

Compiling all that data allows us to rank stadiums overall as well as to see what makes some stadiums exceptional.

NCAA vs. NFL: Fans Talk about College Football Differently

Alright, give us one minute before we get to the rankings.

ReviewTrackers has about 1.5 million sport stadiums reviews in its database, which allows us to do some comparative analysis across sports.

As it turns out, the NCAA football experience is a *bit* different than professional sports. And the data can show us how.

Obviously, NCAA stadiums vary a lot from one to the next. The experience at Ohio State’s The Horseshoe is leagues apart from, say, the stadium at Rice University. Rice University is a small school, which wouldn’t be able to fill its arena even if every single one of its alumni attended a game.

So to get an idea of how NCAA stadiums compare to NFL, we can take the 31 NCAA stadiums with the most reviews (generally large state schools and schools with major football programs) and compare them to the 31 NFL stadiums. When we do that, we see something interesting.

Fans consistently rate NCAA stadiums are higher — about 4 percent higher across the board.

What do fans like more about college football? One way to answer this question is compare what fans actually say in their reviews.

For the chart below, we compared 146,000 keywords in NCAA stadium reviews to 228,000 keywords in NFL stadium reviews and grouped them by topic. Take a look.


First of all, there’s a lot of similarity. But when college football fans talk about their game-day experience, they’re more likely to talk about the game itself and the fan experience (the crowd, noise, cheers, and atmosphere).

When they review their experience at the stadium, NCAA fans are 19% more likely to talk about the atmosphere and 10% more likely to talk about the game itself than NFL fans.

For their part, NFL fans are more focused on the stadium (the facility keywords) and the food and drink.

And then there’s the tailgate. And that deserves its own section:

Why the NCAA Is All about Tailgates

College football has the most popular tailgates of any sport.

In fact, NCAA fans are about 10 percent more likely to mention a tailgate than pro football fans — and 3 times more likely to tailgate than fans of other sports. Well done, college kids.

We’ll dive in and rank college tailgates later on, but allow us to take a minute to talk about tailgates across all sports. Because it’s cool and fun.

We have data on 300+ stadiums (see our MLB stadium report), so we can see which states have most tailgates per capita based on where we see the most fans talking about tailgates.

The top five states are:

1. Wisconsin.

2. Missouri.

3. Washington D.C.

4. Louisiana.

5. Nebraska.

Let’s talk Wisconsin. For most parts of the country, 1 out of 300 stadium reviews involves tailgating. For Wisconsin, that number is 1 out of 55, or roughly 6 times greater than what’s typical. Wisconsin definitely has a tailgate culture that other states simply don’t quite match.

But let’s get back to looking at NCAA football.

Top 50 NCAA Football Stadiums

Out of the 140 NCAA football stadiums we looked at, these were the 50 best:

Texas A&M, Nebraska Cornhuskers, and the Crimson Tide form a convincing top three with only .01 stars separating them.

What makes Texas A&M No. 1?

Yell leaders, polished-booted student corps, a collie named Reveille — if you don’t know what those things are, just know this: A&M has an absurd amount of college football traditions that range from the peculiar to the devotional. Seriously. The fans have a special funeral ceremony (and graveyard) for their mascot dogs. Touching? Creepy? Either way, they’re No. 1. 

Nebraska and Alabama aren’t far behind. The Cornhuskers have sold out every game since 1962, the longest running streak in NCAA football. And ‘Bama is, well, ‘Bama. In Tuscaloosa, the phrase “Roll Tide” can be used as a greeting, goodbye, or generic sentence enhancer (“About to drop off my laundry, roll tide.”)

These are the top 50 stadiums by star rating, which is a helpful way to look at the overall stadium experience for each team. But that only provides a glimpse of the NCAA experience.

As we found out above, what makes the NCAA different than other sports is the experience. Fans talk more about the in-game atmosphere at college stadiums. So it only makes sense to look at what fans actually say about that part of the NCAA experience and use those things to compare stadiums.

How to Measure School Spirit at NCAA Stadiums

School spirit is elusive and hard to define.

Here’s our attempt.

We tracked every mention of terms related to school spirit in every review. These terms included things like tailgates, the halftime performance of the marching band, fight songs, student sections, and alumni. All told there were 20,000 such mentions in stadium reviews.

From there, we looked at how often fans were talking positively about these parts of the experience, averaged these scores, and ranked the stadiums.

This should give us a fair way to measure what it’s like to be in the bleachers at these stadiums and see which teams have the most spirited fan base.

Here is top 16:

Once again Nebraska, Alabama, and A&M come out near the top. But this method, also shows the Badgers have the most spirit in their stadium.

What sets them apart? Jumping around. 👇

Badger fans “jump around” at the end of the 3rd quarter. And it’s really, really popular. In fact, reviewers talk about the jump around tradition more often than they use the word “Wisconsin.” True story.

And there’s plenty of non-House-of-Pain things that Badger fans do. They shout offensive cheers, have a great band, and stay afterwards to sing songs in the “5th quarter.”

Since we’ve already talked about University of Alabama and Nebraska, let’s take a minute to talk about the spirit of Notre Dame Fans.

When we compare the way fans talk about Notre Dame Stadium to any other NCAA venue, we see one clear and obvious difference.

Fans talk about the history and tradition at Notre Dame more than at any other stadium. A lot more.

As a matter of fact, fans are 21 times more likely to talk about history and tradition at Notre Dame than at the average college football stadium.

Bands, Alumni, Noise, and Tailgates — Which NCAA Stadiums Rank the Best?

Okay, let’s drill down a little deeper and look at how some specific aspects of the NCAA college experience rank.

1. Loudest Stadiums

Yup. Oregon is really, really loud.

A compact arena sunk into the ground, Oregon’s Autzen Stadium becomes a deafening echo chamber for 54,000 fans.

Crowd noise is a complicated thing. First of all, it’s an engineering feat. Renovations at Autzen Field and Kyle Field (A&M’s stadium) have both been made with an eye on making sure the new architecture doesn’t dissipate the noise.

And secondly, crowd noise can become an “owned” experience — part of the way fans identify as a group. Craig Pintens, senior associate athletic director at University of Oregon, explained, “We have a fanbase that identifies with creating a difficult environment for opposing teams.” Fans know they’re loud, they own it, and it becomes a defining part of what it means to be a Ducks fan.

2. The Best Marching Bands in College Football

These 6 bands stand head and shoulders above the rest. Other schools don’t generate as much buzz in their reviews about the halftime performance. 

3. 20 NCAA Football Stadiums with Most Popular Tailgates

Here are the top tailgates ranked by conference.

  • Big Ten: Penn State
  • Big 12: WVU
  • SEC: LSU
  • ACC: Clemson
  • Pac-12: Stanford

It should be no surprise that West Virginia University, a school whose fans are notorious for burning couches, would score so highly for extracurricular activities like tailgating.

It is also no coincidence that WVU also has the second most complaints about drunken fans:

Yeesh.

4. Schools with the Most Engaged Alumni at College Football Games

Northwestern University’s Ryan Field has the highest percent of reviews talking about alumni.

What do the Wildcats do so well? Northwestern is certainly buoyed by being located just outside of Chicago, where many of its alumni end up. Wildcat Chicagoans can hop on the Red Line, switch to the Purple, and make their way to a tailgate to meet up with old friends.

5. Power 5 Conferences Ranked for School Spirit

We can use this same keyword analysis to look at how each of the major conferences fares as a whole:

The first take away: the top three conferences are in a league of their own.

The margin between the Big Ten, Big 12, and SEC is razor thin. Their sentiment scores are divided by a mere .13:

  • Big Ten: .771
  • Big 12: .760
  • SEC: .758

From there, there’s a significant dropoff to the ACC and Pac-12. 

And, while it’s a close margin of victory, the Big Ten gets to wear the crown as the conference that creates the best stadium experience for its fans.

 

Does Size Matter in NCAA Stadiums?

Forgive the cheekiness of that headline. But here’s the thing about NCAA fans. People love talking about how big their stadiums are. It’s a matter of bragging rights for a number of teams.

And it makes sense why fans are so concerned with their stadium size: college stadiums can be huge. Michigan Stadium is about twice as big as Yankee Stadium.

But does the size of a stadium actually impact how much people enjoy the game?

As this graph shows, there’s a weak correlation between capacity of stadium and star rating. In other words, fans may enjoy big stadiums more, but not dramatically. Furthermore, this may be a correlation / causation issue. Teams that can afford to build bigger stadiums might be, like Michigan, already supported by a rabid fan base. So the higher star ratings may be a a result of large stadiums generally coinciding with major football programs.

The question of stadium capacity prompts another question: as stadiums get bigger, does that mean they’re louder? As it turns out, it doesn’t.

The flat red trendline shows there’s almost no relationship between the size of stadium and how loud it gets (or how likely fans are to talk about the noise). What gives?

As we covered above, Oregon’s Autzen Field (the clear outlier in the graph above) has the most fans talking about its noise. But that stadium only seats 54,000. For many loud stadiums, the architecture is actually what determines how much the sound is able to reverberate or dissipate. Which is somewhat depressing if you thinking about it. Fans can yell as much as they want at some stadiums, but they’re simply never going to be as loud as other fans.

NCAA Stadiums: Rivalry Matchups

For the last part of this report, we thought it’d be fun to look at a few college football rivalries and see which teams delivered the best stadium experience to their fans. We have about 30 rivalries below. Feel free to scroll through these or tweet @ReviewTrackers to let us know if there’s a rivalry you’d like to see that’s not listed here.

Iron Bowl: Alabama vs. Auburn

Stadium rivalry winner: Alabama.

Army vs. Navy

Stadium rivalry winner: Army.

The Game: Ohio vs. Michigan

Stadium rivalry winner: Ohio State.

Big Game: Stanford vs. Cal

Stadium rivalry winner: University of California, Berkeley.

Apple Cup: Washington vs. Washington State

Stadium rivalry winner: Washington State.

Wisconsin vs. Minnesota

Stadium rivalry winner: Wisconsin.

Battle for the Golden Boot: LSU vs. Arkansas

Stadium rivalry winner: LSU.

Sunshine Showdown: Florida vs. Florida State

Stadium rivalry winner: Florida State.

Michigan vs. Michigan State

Stadium rivalry winner: University of Michigan.

Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry: Auburn vs. Georgia

Stadium rivalry winner: Auburn.

Battle for Highway 82: Alabama vs. Mississippi State

Stadium rivalry winner: Alabama.

Battle for the Commonwealth: Virginia vs. Virginia Tech

Stadium rivalry winner: Virginia Tech.

Bedlam Series: Oklahoma vs. OSU

Stadium rivalry winner: Oklahoma State.

Bowden Bowl: Clemson vs. Florida State

Stadium rivalry winner: Clemson.

Civil War: Oregon vs. Oregon State

Stadium rivalry winner: Oregon.

Clean, Old-fashioned Hate: Georgia vs. Georgia Tech

Stadium rivalry winner: Georgia.

Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry: Auburn vs. Georgia

Stadium rivalry winner: Auburn.

Duel in the Desert: Arizona vs. Arizona State

Stadium rivalry winner: Arizona State.

Egg Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Miss State

Stadium rivalry winner: Mississippi State.

Florida State vs. Miami

Stadium rivalry winner: Florida State.

Holy War: BYU vs. Utah

Stadium rivalry winner: BYU.

Oregon vs. Washington

Stadium rivalry winner: University of Oregon.

Palmetto Bowl: Clemson vs. South Carolina

Stadium rivalry winner: Clemson.

Red River Rivalry: Texas vs. Oklahoma

Stadium rivalry winner: Oklahoma.

The Revivalry: Baylor vs. TCU

Stadium rivalry winner: TCU.

 

The Southwest Classic: Texas A&M vs. Arkansas

Stadium rivalry winner: Texas A&M.

Third Saturday in October: Tennessee vs. Alabama

Stadium rivalry winner: Alabama.

Texas A&M vs. LSU

Stadium rivalry winner: Texas A&M.

Texas vs. Texas Tech

Stadium rivalry winner: Texas Tech.

UCLA vs. USC

Stadium rivalry winner: UCLA.

USC vs. Notre Dame

Stadium rivalry winner: Notre Dame.

World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party: Florida vs. Georgia

Stadium rivalry winner: University of Georgia.