ATHENS — There will be fans in the stands for Georgia football’s G-Day Game on April 17, though the attendance will be in line with what it was during the regular season.
The Bulldogs’ Sanford Stadium capacity for the three home games last fall was 20,504 thanks to former deputy athletics director and current AD Josh Brooks’ creative engineering to maximize attendance while ensuring proper and compliant spacing amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Brooks said more specifics will be announced in relation to the annual football team scrimmage at Sanford Stadium later this week.
“We’ve been working on those logistics,” Brooks said Tuesday during the press conference that followed the Georgia Athletic Association board of directors winter meeting, conducted via Zoom call.
“I can tell you capacity will be similar to what it was in the fall.”
Brooks tipped his cap to the Georgia football donors and season ticket holders during his presentation to the board for being willing to roll their money into what he referred to as a “Covid relief fund” that enabled them to maintain their status for tickets.
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Per Brooks, while the opt-out rate for tickets was 60 percent, the money contributed to the relief fund was $22.1 million. That, in turn, has UGA anticipating a budget shortfall closer to $30 million than the $55 million former athletic director Greg McGarity projected last fall.
I think we’ve weathered (the pandemic) very well, (and) I think we’ve made a lot of sound financial decision that put us in a good place to finish out this fiscal year and go into the next fiscal year in good shape,” UGA president Jere Morehead said. “That assumes we have a more normal year next year.”
Brooks said Georgia is planning on full capacity for next fall, but the school will be ready to adjust as needed should seating still be limited.
“We’ve got to be ready for all scenarios, we’ve learned we can pivot quickly,” Brooks said. “I think the first step is we’re going to plan as if we’re going to have full stadiums, but we’re going to be ready, but we can’t commit to a budget next year until we know where we sit next fall.
“So, we’ve got to play a lot by ear . We’ve proven we can pivotal quickly so the plan is we’re going to have full stadiums and we’ll adjust from there.”
In other UGA sports related items:
• Morehead said one of the conversations at the NCAA level is whether some practices from the pandemic could be sustained going forward. “Do we need, for example, to have long recruiting periods in person, or can some of it remain in a virtual environment? Can we use more zoom, can we keep some expenses down going forward? I’m not sure everything will come back as it was pre-pandemic.”
• Brooks would not comment on conversations UGA had with the SEC office as it related to Vanderbilt’s decision to cancel on playing the Bulldogs twice, thereby costing the Bulldogs home game revenue.
“I don’t think it would be proper for me to speak about any conversations we’ve had with the league office about that, but we were mindful of that, and we refunded all those donors tickets and donation amounts for that game, because they had already stepped up and done so much,” Brooks said.
“Because they have done so much, we were able to make it through that without it being a massive hit. But that’s where we were very intentional about refunding that to every single ticket holder for that game.”
• Brooks said seating for Georgia baseball at tiny Foley Field will be limited to “the range of 20 percent” as well, which would put it at approximately 552 for the home portion of the schedule, which begins at 2 p.m. on Friday against Evansville.
• Brooks indicated future growth for attendance at Foley Field is possible, despite the site being relatively land-locked. “You start envisioning what it could become one day,” Brooks said. “There’s an opportunity for growth down both of those lines. I think we’re seeing a lot of baseball venues where there are more common areas where it’s not so much general stadium … but it’s more where people can gather and move about.” Brooks said there’s a wishlist for all facilities, but timing and funding are obvious factors.
• Attendance for UGA softball games will be limited to those who can acquire a pass from the players at Jack Turner Stadium, which is listed as having a capacity of more than 2,000. “Once you add up the rosters of both the home and visiting teams, the player pass list pretty much absorbs all the seating you have, so, it’s best not to open it up to any outsiders and let our student-athletes take care of their friends and family.”