UGA football fandom’s off-season slumber was disturbed this past week by a couple of hot-button issues on which there appears to be no real fan consensus: serving alcohol at Sanford Stadium (and to whom), and whether the Dawgs and Gators should continue to play in Jacksonville.
The alcohol issue came up in Athens even before the SEC presidents and chancellors voted to allow member schools to determine for themselves whether they want to sell alcohol in general seating areas, effective Aug. 1.
Previous league bylaws restricted sales of alcohol to private controlled areas, such a skyboxes or premium seating. UGA’s Sanford Stadium already allowed alcohol in its private skyboxes and the East End Club opened for big-money donors last season.
Earlier in the week, Georgia had announced alcohol would be sold this season in a restricted area of the club level — but only to super-donors in the Magill Society who have contributed at least $100,000.
“We have an area that we’re going to utilize, that we’re going to cordon off and create an area for members of the Magill Society to have limited beer-and-wine sales this year,” Athletic Director Greg McGarity said. “It’s available to a certain level of donors, but it’s not accessible to fans in general seating areas. … We’re just doing it as a benefit to our donors.”
There’s a certain logic in that approach, since the more perks you give Magill Society members, the more those affluent fans might be likely to pony up to finance new facilities for UGA athletics. Georgia started the Magill Society as a way to raise money for the indoor practice facility. To be a member, you have to pledge $25,000, to be paid in full within five years, at a minimum of $5,000 per year. The athletic association says Magill membership has grown to 1,054 donors, who have contributed $108.9 million.
However, the club-level approach also is a somewhat tone-deaf idea that feeds into the growing feeling among some in Bulldog Nation that UGA favors the haves over the have-nots, and doesn’t pay as much attention to the concerns of the average fan at Sanford Stadium. Launching a beer garden available only to the monied elite just reinforces that feeling.
It set off a bit of class warfare among fans on Facebook. One longtime fan, who regularly attends a broad spectrum of UGA athletic events, said the move was “yet another slap in the face to the common folks that make a yearly donation. Let’s let those Magill Society folks have their alcohol AND all the post season tickets, too.”
That prompted a rebuke from another fan, who belongs to the Magill Society: “Don’t punish us just because we are a certain level of donor. We have nothing to do with this.”
The first fan responded that “donors of a certain level are benefiting in many ways, while others who scratch together their $3,500 a year are simply taken for granted.”
In response, the Magill member noted: “without big donors we have no new end-zone/locker room and no indoor practice facility. Big donors are needed. I am sorry that you think that hurts you, but it is not the donors’ fault. You need to talk to the people in charge.”
However, even in the Magill Society, there were those who questioned the move, with one member telling DawgNation: “I think they are out of touch with their fan base, and I doubt this will be that successful. Many of the $100,000 contributors have access to suites. In a suite, you can drink your own alcohol and see the game. I think this will not go over very well.”
Alcohol isn’t the only factor in the growing dissatisfaction among some UGA fans over the emphasis on fundraising and catering to those with money on game day. Said another fan in a different Facebook discussion: “They want to add to the experience of the high dollar donor, and jerk around the rest of us. They’re now going to a lottery system for the parking lots and decks that were free just 2 seasons ago.”
With Friday’s SEC vote, Georgia now has the ability to open up beer and wine sales (no liquor) to everyone of legal drinking age in the stadium. Although school officials said they will “review” their policy, they seem reluctant to offer alcohol in the general-seating area.
“I think we’ve got it right at UGA,” school President Jere Morehead told DawgNation. “I don’t see us making any significant changes.”
Morehead also told the Athens Banner Herald that public safety, especially that of students at the university, will be his main concern when evaluating how Georgia will implement the alcohol policy, because he wants to maintain “a family friendly atmosphere and guard against underage drinking.”
Of course, there’s always been plenty of underage drinking among students at Georgia home games, despite the fact there are rules against it. Smuggling alcohol into Sanford Stadium has become something of an art form, with flasks and baggies hidden inside clothing.
Personally, I’ve never understood why people want to drink at a college football game. I go for the football, and having to deal with angry, disruptive, or even passed out drunks is one of the less pleasant aspects of game day — though there’s been less of that in recent years, since they started searching for alcohol and other contraband at the entry gates.
Still, the idea of offering alcohol just to the rich folks seems not just unfair, but a poor public relations move on the university’s part. If beer and wine is going to be sold, it ought to be available to everyone in the stadium of legal drinking age. I understand that the logistics of that, in already-crowded concourses, could be problematic, but perhaps limiting general-seating beer and wine sales just to the more open areas, like Reed Plaza and the new West End Zone plaza, would be at least an interim answer.
About that other ‘Cocktail Party’
Meanwhile, the other issue drawing discussion this week — whether the Georgia-Florida football series should remain in Jacksonville — was stirred up by head coach Kirby Smart, who has complained that the neutral-site game costs him the recruiting opportunities that a home-and-home series would provide. In noting that the two schools’ contract with Jacksonville only runs through 2021, Smart said at the SEC spring meeting: “Nothing is off the table, but nothing has been decided.”
This is a perennial topic of discussion among Dawgs fans. Many fans, particularly those who live in South Georgia, want the game to remain in Jacksonville forever. But, a lot of fans would prefer a straight home-and-home swap between Athens and Gainesville, while others would like to keep Jacksonville in the mix with some sort of rotation.
This is a debate on which Bulldog Nation seems pretty evenly split to me. Many would hate to see Georgia-Florida lose its unique status. If you take the game out of Jacksonville — with the 50/50 split in seating and the surrounding party atmosphere — it no longer would be one of college football’s marquee events.
However, some Georgia players have talked about how they wish the game was played on a home-and-home basis. And others point out there’s also something wrong with Georgia fans not getting to see the team play its biggest rival in Athens. As fan Joseph Rice said on my Facebook page: “While I understand the long-standing tradition of playing the Gators in Jacksonville, I’d like for it to move to a home/home series. It would definitely feel like additional value with my season tickets.”
Smart obviously leans toward taking the series to home-and-home for recruiting reasons, and there’s been a general feeling since the former Bulldog arrived back in Athens as head coach that UGA’s athletic administration is pretty much willing to give him what he wants. But, DawgNation’s Chip Towers has pointed out that Georgia makes $3 million for every home game it plays, which it would get only every other year in a home-and-home situation with Florida. Meanwhile, UGA gets nearly $3 million (plus other costs) every year with the game in Jacksonville. And that payoff likely will grow if a new deal with the Florida city is signed. So, the current arrangement is twice as lucrative for UGA.
I think it’s going to take Smart winning a national championship to tip the balance in his favor. Otherwise, I can think of about 3 million reasons why Georgia-Florida is likely to remain in Jacksonville for a while longer.
Let me hear from you!
I’ll dip into the Junkyard Mail next week, so feel free to share your views on the upcoming season or ask any questions you might want me to answer by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.