ATHENS –Look out Louisiana, another Dawg Nation Migration is under way!
Georgia fans are becoming a peculiarity in the SEC, and in college football in general. While attendance is down everywhere, the Bulldogs’ fan base continues to flock to their games — and that’s especially true to away games. That’s evident again this week as tens of thousands of Georgia fans are heading to Louisiana this week for Saturday’s game between the No. 2 Bulldogs and No. 12 LSU.
“Our fans are definitely making their presence known on the road,” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said Wednesday.
In fact, demand for tickets for this game is even greater than we witnessed last year when Georgia took over Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. The cut-off score for UGA donors to qualify to buy LSU tickets was 99,000 points, according to McGarity. Basically, that means one would have to donate a total of $99,000 over the years to qualify for tickets through UGA’s priority distribution system for this game. The cut-off for Notre Dame tickets last year was “in the 70s (thousands),” McGarity said.
“So it’s a higher demand this time,” McGarity said. “Having fewer tickets makes a difference, too.”
UGA received 6,000 tickets in its ticket swap with LSU, which seats 102,321 in Tiger Stadium. The Bulldogs got 8,400 from Notre Dame for its 80,000-seat stadium last September.
Of course, a lot more than that made it inside Notre Dame Stadium. Estimates have Georgia fans ending up with 40,000 to 55,000 of the tickets as their fans flooded the secondary market and paid as much as 10 times face value for tickets. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Bulldogs won 20-19.
Notre Dame was considered a “bucket list” game for many Bulldog backers. Georgia was playing the Fighting Irish for the first time ever in South Bend and the first time overall since defeating the Fighting Irish for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1981.
Saturday’s game at LSU certainly isn’t quite as rare, but Baton Rouge is definitely an infrequent destination. The Bulldogs will be be playing in Tiger Stadium for the first time in 10 years, and only the 12th time ever. Georgia is 5-5-1 in those games.
“I doubt if LSU will be as generous Notre Dame was,” McGarity said with a chuckle. “I just know there are so many people who are making a big weekend out of it by going to New Orleans. It’ll be interesting to see how much red and black gets inside the stadium. But we’ll see. Our fans are very creative. They find a way to get it done. ”
At present, Georgia’s fan base appears to be one of the most mobile and motivated in the SEC. Thanks to last year’s successes — which included a run to the SEC championship and the College Football Playoff finals — the Bulldog Nation remains excited about the potential of its team at a time when overall attendance is down. Visiting fan travel is markedly down.
Tennessee and Vanderbilt returned huge portions of their ticket allotments for Sanford Stadium, Florida used only 2,500 of its allotment at Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium earlier this year and LSU did the same last week when the Tigers went to Florida.
Even traditional powerhouses programs such as Alabama doesn’t appear to be bringing as many fans on the road. Perhaps they’re jaded — or maybe broke — from the Crimson Tide’s long succession of championship seasons. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs continue to maximize their tickets allotments, even at Missouri earlier this season.
“I think we are separating ourselves from our peers when it comes to traveling to road games,” McGarity said. “Whenever we play a Western (division) opponent, we always travel well, and that’s definitely the case here. We haven’t been to LSU in a decade, so Georgia fans are eager to get back.”
This comes at a time when visiting team ticket lots are shrinking. SEC teams used to have to guarantee the visitor 10,000 seats. That number is now 6,000 and is expected to continue to decrease.
“Schools are weighing whether to sell seats late that are returned from a bock as opposed to lowering the number in the blocks and offering more opportunities for your own fans,” McGarity said.
But Georgia fans are still going. In an informal social media survey done by DawgNation, some Georgia fans admitted paying as much as $1,000 for LSU tickets, but others claim to have paid only face value within the last couple of weeks.
StubHub.com, which is the official secondary-market provider for LSU, showed a lot of tickets still available as of Wednesday afternoon. Not including fees, prices ranged from $213 from upper-level, Section 600 tickets to $1,380 apiece for lower-level, club seats.
Earlier this week, LSU announced the game as an official sellout and a issued an advisory warning against counterfeit tickets and urging fans coming up from New Orleans on Saturday to leave very early for the 80-mile drive up Interstate 10. The game is set for a 2:30 p.m. local-time kick (3:30 ET) and the game will be nationally-televised on CBS.
Meanwhile, residual weather effects from Hurricane Michael are impacting some people’s travel plans. The storm made landfall in the Florida panhandle Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 hurricane, but was expected to head northeast and roll through Atlanta in the early-evening hours. But heavy thunderstorms were expected to clear out well before midnight.
Otherwise, the weather looks to be fantastic in Louisiana for the weekend. The forecast for New Orleans and Baton Rouge on Saturday has highs reaching the low 80s under mostly sunny skies.
That’s good news for thousands expected to spend a long weekend in New Orleans. UGA is chartering 150 members of its Magill Society donors and private charters have been booked by the dozens as well. Dawg Days Shuttle service of Atlanta has reserved 50 buses to carry passengers ticketed on their party buses from the Superdome to Baton Rouge on game day. They’ve also sold 4,000 tickets to a tailgate party on the LSU Golf Course.
Not all of them are going to get into the game. Some might not even try. But it’s going to be interesting to see how many do.
“We certainly didn’t expect as many to be at Notre Dame as there was until we saw them there on game day,” McGarity said. “You never know how many people who are out there looking for tickets. And a lot of them like to go even without tickets just to be able to say they were there. There may be a lot people in New Orleans and Baton Rouge watching on TV. They just want to be able to say they were there.”