GREENSBORO — Sanford Stadium will have some new premium seating in the future and track and field is going to get a new locker room and coaches’ offices at the Butts-Mehre building.
Those items, along with the news of a full-capacity crowd at the home opener, were among the more intriguing developments to come out of the Georgia Athletic Association’s board of directors meeting at the Ritz Carlton Lodge on Lake Oconee on Thursday.
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Thursday morning’s executive meeting was followed by first-year Athletic Director Josh Brooks’ presentation before the full board. It was part of a three-day retreat provided for the 22-member board and emeritus members at the annual end-of-year meeting.
They will meet again in the Ritz’s spacious ballroom Friday morning to get the treasurer’s report and athlete wellness report.
To no one’s surprise, Brooks told the board that once again there will be 92,746 persons present at Georgia football games for the coming season.
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“We’re excited to have 100% capacity in the fall,” Brooks said during his 24-minute presentation. “And a lot of people can talk about having 100 percent capacity, but we can actually have 100% occupancy as well. So we plan to have full crowds at that first game against UAB Sept. 11 and I cannot wait for that first home game.”
Full football attendance should improve the athletic association’s bottom line considerably.
Brooks shared many of his thoughts with DawgNation earlier this month in an exclusive one-on-one.
As Brooks has noted, the Bulldogs are doing pretty well financially, all things considered. Overall revenues were down significantly in Fiscal Year 2021 because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that is now 15 months long. UGA brought in only $2.4 million in football ticket income, as compared with $34.3 million one year ago. The decrease is, of course, the result of having only three home games at approximately 20% capacity.
UGA was able to mitigate the shortfall with the generosity of donors. Many season-ticket holders who chose to not attend games contributed their donations instead to the GAA’s COVID-19 relief fund, which grew to $22.3 million.
Also, expenditures were down considerably. The athletic department spent $89.7 million over the academic year, compared with $108.8 million in FY 2020.
Board treasurer Ryan Nesbit reports that current ticket contributions for the 2021 football season are at $27.7 million.
Meanwhile, Brooks vowed to continue an effort to keep expenses down for fans attending Georgia’s sporting events. So, he has established a cap on the cost of the concessions at least for the next year, including bottled water at $2, bottled soft drinks at $2.50, hot dogs at $2.50, candy at $2, $2 for a small popcorn and $5 for a bucket.
“I know what it’s like to feed three boys at an athletic event,” who is raising three sons under the age of 12 with his wife, Lillie. “It’s about managing people over profits. Our donors do a great job of supporting us. … I just felt this was something we needed to do to make our environments more of a family atmosphere, or for anyone, to feel like they can get a more affordable option at any of our venues.”
One unexpected update provided was provided by Matt Brachowski, associate athletic director for internal operations. He told the board that the sports medicine and equipment spaces being abandoned at the Butts-Mehre building to move into the new football operations facility will be occupied by UGA’s track and field teams.
Design studies are underway that will result in new coaches’ offices and locker rooms. Georgia’s nationally renowned track program has been housed in Stegeman Coliseum since that facility was first built in the early 1960s.
“We knew that space was going to be vacated since the Butts-Mehre expansion began, so the easy answer was to convert that space into a new locker room and offices for the track team,” Brooks said. “That’s something we’ve been working on for more than a year, but now we can move on to the design phase.”
Apparently, that plan still falls short of the expectations of coach Petros Kyprianou. Having led Georgia to men’s and women’s national championships in 2018, Kyprianou has pressured UGA to build a new indoor track facility. After declining a generous contract extension, Kyprianou’s current deal expires on June 30 and is not expected to be renewed.
Conversely, things are going well with the tennis program’s attempts at getting a new indoor facility so it can host the 2026 NCAA championships. Brooks reported that UGA already has raised $11 million toward the construction costs of a new six-court facility that will be necessary to host that event. The association set a goal of $12 million in private donations in order to approve construction of what original projections said will cost $18 million to build.
Meanwhile, the Dan Magill Press Box is going to moved to the southwest corner of Sanford Stadium, underneath where the famous trumpet soloist plays before every game. Spanning the club level from each 20-yard line to 20-yard line, the space has long been eyed by UGA’s development team as prime seating opportunities for the Bulldogs’ most generous donors. Brooks could not provide a timeline for the conversion but it won’t be this season.
“It’s the greatest location in the stadium for seating,” Brooks said. “Our development office e does such a phenomenal job of raising money and we have donors who give lots of money who cannot get any premium seating right now because those spaces are filled. So, this would create new, much-needed opportunities and we’re very excited about that.”
Brooks also revealed that Georgia is in the process of exploring options for another live music concert at Sanford Stadium. Brooks’ reputation as a top-level sports executive was enhanced when he took the lead in organizing the Jason Aldean Concert in 2013.
Brooks would not say if UGA was leaning in one direction or another.
“I learned a long time ago in football operations, when you talk about choosing food, a movie, music or room temperature, you’re never going to please everybody,” Brooks said.
“But, at the end of the day, we want someone that draws the masses, somebody that we feel good about, somebody who’s not going to be too crazy. You know, you want someone who fits the community of Athens.
For the record, Brooks is an unabashed Avett Brothers fan.