UGA fan says school misrepresented info to raise ticket prices; AD Greg McGarity responds

Georgia football-ticket increase-greg mcgarity-2018
UGA is raising ticket prices at Sanford Stadium in 2018, and some fans are not happy about it.

UGA announced last week, on the heels of the Georgia football team’s run to the National Championship Game, that it was raising season ticket prices, which would raise about $6 million in additional revenue and would go to increased salaries for Kirby Smart and his staff. In explaining the move, the school provided a handout to show it would go from third-lowest ticket price in the SEC to fourth highest. That information, however, did not include donations to the Hartman Fund, which are required to buy season tickets at UGA, or what other programs require as donations for season tickets.

Rebecca Phillips, a statistician and Georgia season ticket-holder, reacted by researching the cost of donations at other programs. She wrote to UGA athletic director Greg McGarity, providing her research that shows UGA is actually is at the high end when it comes to the true minimum cost of a season ticket.

DawgNation is printing Phillips’ email, along with a response from McGarity and a bit of our own reporting and analysis:

Rebecca Phillips’ email to Greg McGarity

Mr. McGarity,

As a Double Dawg from the University of Georgia Statistics department, I am upset not only by the sudden huge increase in football ticket prices, but moreover for the gross misrepresentation of information. The numbers presented in the charts about ticket prices for peer schools are misleading.

Over the last three days, since Tuesday’s announcement, I looked at each school’s website, and contacted many of their ticket offices to collect data. The biggest concern with the numbers you presented is that you excluded the per-seat donation. As this is a requirement to obtain tickets, it is only fair to include this in the actual price of the tickets.

This analysis looks at the least expensive way to obtain season tickets, as this is what I personally purchase. The following chart shows the cheapest option to purchase season tickets at each school. I used 2017 data, to stay comparable to your chart.  You will notice that Georgia comes in at the very TOP of the list. The very most expensive ticket in the ENTIRE Southeastern Conference. And this is before the price increase you announced on Tuesday. After contacting ticket offices this week, most SEC schools are not increasing their prices next year.

The required minimum donation and increased price will put us at an average of $105.71 per ticket, when the next highest price (including minimum donation) is $82.14 per ticket. The average per-ticket price (of the minimum price available) for all of the other SEC schools is $54.42. Your new pricing has the lowest price available for Georgia tickets at almost double the average!

You will also note that we have the very highest minimum donation in the SEC.  Florida is the next highest, and at $150, our minimum requirement is nearly double that amount!

Your second chart that shows ticket prices from Peer Institutions from around the nation is equally misleading. Other than Notre Dame (which has superior facilities and an excellent customer service mindset, as well as wealthier graduates), Georgia is again atop the list in both per-ticket price and also minimum donation.

*Data not received from Ohio State or Stanford.

I know that it takes money to run a great organization. But it’s not fair to create a system that leaves out loyal fans who are not super-rich. Raising prices is one thing. But your minimum is too high. Raise the prices on the better seats. Raise the donation for the better seats. Raise the prices for new ticket purchasers. But, like Georgia’s peer institutions have all done, leave a way for the “regular people” to get in the door. You’re pushing us out, and I’m disheartened, to say the least. I have been a season ticket holder since I graduated in 2007, and have not missed a home game since I started school at UGA in 2001. I fear the day is coming when I will have to make the financially responsible decision to no longer experience something I so very much enjoy.

Georgia is not in the bottom 3rd of ticket prices, as you claim. You owe it to the Georgia faithful to be honest and transparent with them about the true price of tickets.

Rebecca Phillips BS Statistics – UGA 2005 MS Statistics – UGA 2007 MBA – Kennesaw State 2011

Editing note

DawgNation was able to independently confirm Phillips’ information from several schools, including Florida, Auburn and Alabama. No schools that were contacted disputed Phillips’ figures. Phillips also provided copies of her emails and replies from the SEC and other ticket offices she contacted to get her information.

McGarity responded to Phillips’ email. But DawgNation asked McGarity if he would like to respond publicly, and he followed up with a lengthy statement:

UGA’s rebuttal

The ticket price adjustment decision was researched thoroughly. It was informed by a considerable amount of market research with a goal of equipping our athletic programs with the resources it needed to compete at a championship level.

  • The average price for a Georgia season football ticket will be $66.42 in 2018.
  • It’s also important to remember that Georgia will host an additional football game next season. In 2017, Georgia hosted six home games (at $50 for $300 total). In 2018, Georgia will host seven home games (at $66.42 each for $465 total). 

We have been clear and transparent in noting that our research and findings focused solely on comparing season ticket pricing. These findings clearly showed that Georgia was in the bottom third of ticket prices in the SEC for 2017.

  • It was this data that our board relied on when making its decision regarding our season ticket price adjustment.
  • When comparing the cost of a ticket for SEC schools we used the price from each institution that best paralleled the corresponding seating model at UGA.
  • For example, although programs like Kentucky and Missouri offer discounted season prices for mobile passes or general admission seating, Georgia does not offer those types of seating options as all seats are reserved and, therefore, we compared “apples-to-apples” scenarios where comparable seating discrepancies existed.

In comparing the prices between Georgia and other peer institutions, we identified the lowest price that most closely matched our seating and pricing model.

  • Our intent was not to adhere to the lowest ticket price at each stadium, but rather one that best represented the majority of the seats in their respective venues and was the most comparable to our seating options.
  • Additionally, some institutions offer various promotions and discounts for general admission seating, hillside seating and other seating options which are not available at Georgia.

There is no uniform policy for how many seats are distributed at the lowest cost level. Many of the schools the reader pulled data from list the donation at $0, while others are as low as $60. In actuality, there are only a very limited number of seats are offered at that level. In fact, as the AJC reported in recent years, UGA also has a very limited number of seats available that require $0 donation, but that is not noted in the chart.

  • Using the methodology in that analysis (which, as noted above, is flawed), Georgia is still below the median in ticket prices.
  • It also is worth noting that seven SEC schools have a higher maximum donation than Georgia.

Looking at the minimum donation is not an accurate way to look at ticket prices because no two schools are alike in their funding models. That is because it’s too challenging to try and normalize a number without diving deep into the numerous variables involved with each school’s donation policies, such as number of tickets sold overall, number of tickets sold at each level and a host of other issues. For instance:

  • Florida offers various donation levels for fans, including the $150 option referenced in the post that is needed for portions of 10 sections out of more than 100 at Ben Hill-Griffin Stadium. In 2017, contribution levels ranged from $150 to $2,550 with increases already approved for 2018.
  • Auburn has a minimum contribution level of $100, but it is open for a limited amount of seats at the top of one of its upper decks.
  • This is why we ran our analysis based on the average price of the ticket only.

Georgia has a uniform price for all season tickets, regardless of section or seat in Sanford Stadium. Because of this, adhering to the minimum ticket price in our comparison is problematic as many other institutions employ tiered ticket pricing, meaning some individual seats and sections vary in cost.

  • For instance, the lowest-priced season ticket at LSU was $360. However, that price is only available in two sections in the upper decks at Tiger Stadium. The rest of the stadium offers season tickets at $425, which was the number cited in our research.
  • It did not make sense to make two upper-deck sections in a stadium that seats more than 102,000 fans as the benchmark for our research.
  • Mississippi State has $200 as its lowest-priced season ticket, but this is only available in two sections. More than 30 sections feature season tickets at $375, which was the number cited in our research.
  • Kentucky features a premium pricing option at Kroger Stadium that is higher than the $310 price cited in our research.
  • Arkansas has the bulk of the available tickets at the $360 season ticket price cited in our research located in the much larger lower-level sections.

This ticket price adjustment will help support our commitment to providing a championship-level athletic program for all 21 of our varsity sports.

As it relates to donations, we have made it clear that we are not adjusting our donation requirements for 2018.

DawgNation’s analysis

It is hard to compare the true cost of ticket prices from school to school because you can’t take them at face value. Most every school, including Georgia, requires a donation to buy season tickets. Georgia is at the high end on minimum donation, but after that, the costs at each school vary.

But UGA officials didn’t really address that when they presented their findings to the Athletic Board. They presented material that only ranked the season ticket prices, not the donations. And prior to the vote, the board didn’t really press the point – and after the vote, neither did the media, quite frankly.

It can can be argued, as Phillips and other fans are arguing, that UGA only presented limited data that fit its argument ― that UGA tickets had been (past tense) among the cheapest in the conference and among top-tier football powers. Whether that’s true, however, is hard to say.

McGarity, in a phone interview Tuesday, said it wasn’t discussed at the board meeting “because we don’t have the information” on what funding levels are at every school.

“Misleading?” McGarity said. “We never presented that this was an all-in. Because the data is so hard. There are 13 different ways to do that, and it’s very difficult to gather that information.”

For instance, UGA also argued that its highest donation level is $2,250, which is among the lowest in the SEC.

But what about the timing? Matt Phillips, who is Rebecca’s husband and helped work on the research, said they were upset the increase in ticket prices was announced a little more than two weeks from the Feb. 15 deadline to make Hartman Fund donations. Matt Phillips said his family had budgeted in the tickets under the original price, and the increase threw them for a loop.

“I think people feel misled,” Matt Phillips said in a phone interview. “Whether it’s intentional or not ― I guess whether it was intentional or not ― I guess is beside the point. It was 16 days before Hartman donations were available. You stuck us 16 days before the deadline. Like we said in the email, we budget for this. You changed this on us at the 11th hour.”

McGarity, asked his response to that criticism, pointed to the Athletic Board meeting on Jan. 30 and said that it was the only time to address the issue. The previous board meeting was in September; the next one is in May. So, was there any thought on delaying this until 2019?

“Well, I think trying the budget and foreseeing what our expenses will be for fiscal year ’19, we knew that we had to do this to make ends meet,” said McGarity, who then was asked about the school’s reserve funds. “The reserve funds are not intended to get into operating expenses. We do that to a certain degree, minimal, to an amount that is done at this time to offset expenses.”

McGarity was asked if going back he wished they had done anything differently in presenting the ticket price increase.

“When you can’t draw on specific data, it’s very difficult to present data that is inconclusive,” McGarity said. “I think it just reaches the point that that was not the thrust of the meeting. I don’t think there was anything that we did that was in a dishonest way. Our goal was just to be fully transparent with everyone. We presented it as best we could with the information that was solid and indisputable. The other was just so complex that I don’t know how you get your hands around that. Everyone knows the Hartman Fund was in play. It wasn’t a situation where we were trying to run away from anything at all. It was just strictly focused on the face value of the tickets.”

Rebecca Phillips, however, was undeterred.

“I was clear about what I presented, which was the minimum possible price with donation. They were unclear and inconsistent,” she said. “While every school has higher-priced options, and it’s complicated to compare, they owe us transparency.”

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