ATHENS — We’re inside two weeks until the annual G-Day Game is conducted at Sanford Stadium. The last few years, there had been a pretty good amount of “buzz” generated in advance of those games. That hasn’t seemed to be the case this year.
Not so far, at least.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart, ever the promoter, thinks everybody should be beside themselves with excitement for this year’s G-Day. He pointed to the 14 early enrollees on the Bulldogs’ roster as just one of several reasons fans should be excited about coming to Sanford Stadium on April 20th to take in the nationally-televised “game” (2 p.m., ESPN).
“I think it’s is an opportunity to showcase the talent of 14 new freshmen that just got here that people want to come watch and see,” Smart said. “It certainly has impact on our recruiting. We’re going to have some of the best players in the country coming by to G-Day, because they want to see what the atmosphere is like in Athens. I just think that’s just the nature of the beast when you’re at the University of Georgia that fans want to come to watch it. It’s a free chance to watch a game.”
Smart and Georgia have promoted the annual game-simulation, controlled-scrimmage to varying degrees in his previous three springs. His first year came the now legendary “93K Day” game when Smart and Georgia’s considerable marketing machine pushed had for a capacity crowd at 92,746-seat Sanford Stadium.
Thanks to a two-month PR blitz and a 15-minute pregame concert by legendary Atlanta rapper Ludacris, the Bulldogs drew that and then some. Fans filled the stairwells in all four corners of the stadium and thousands more were turned away at the turnstiles as well over 93,000 responded to the call. And while that was great fun for all, the most important outcome of that event came several months later when Georgia signed what would be ranked the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation for 2017.
That first year turnout doubled what had been the previous record for G-Day attendance –46,815 — so there was nowhere to go but down from there the following year. Georgia fans turned out to the tune of 66,133 for the 2017 game.
But thanks to the natural excitement and enthusiasm generated by the previous season’s run to the national championship game — and the early enrollment of a freshman quarterback named Justin Fields — attendance was up again last year. An absolutely gorgeous spring day in Athens brought 82,184 to Sanford Stadium for the 2018 G-Day Game. And while it fell short of capacity, it was the most-attended spring game in the SEC and the second-most in the nation behind Nebraska last year.
UGA has taken a bit of a different promotional approach this year. There hasn’t been as much of a cattle call to the masses to fill up the place and there certainly has been no more appeals to the entertainment industry to help the cause (remember the controversy that some of those “riders” caused in 2016?). But there has been a subtle and steady social-media campaign drawing attention to different segments of the Bulldogs’ fan base as well as a number of the program’s many game-day traditions. All of them are punctuated with the hashtags #GoDawgs, #GDay and #ATD (for Attack The Day).
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) April 5, 2019
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) April 4, 2019
On Saturday, UGA football circulated one of their coolest Twitter messages yet. It featured drone footage from the day’s scrimmage at Sanford Stadium flying over the players on the field and the giant west end scoreboard. It said “just missing the 93,000 of you,” which seemed to serve as a sort understated invitation come fill up the place in a couple of weeks.
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) April 6, 2019
In the past, laid-back crowds of 20,000 to 30,000 for the spring game were the norm for G-Day. Between promotion and making sure the game does not conflict with the Masters golf tournament as it often did, Smart has made packing out Sanford Stadium a yearly initiative.
And like everything else in the SEC, that has turned these spring games into a competitive endeavor. Alabama — which Georgia has out-drawn each of the last three years — has refocused its efforts to get a big crowd to Tuscaloosa for the A-Day Game. And Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt chastised Vols’ fans last year for putting a paltry 65,000 in their 100,000-plus-seat stadium.
So while there hasn’t been that much buzz to date, it doesn’t sound like Smart’s ready to relinquish the Bulldogs’ place in the battle for spring game supremacy.
“University of Georgia fans love this game,” he said after the Bulldogs’ first scrimmage in Sanford Stadium. “I certainly don’t expect anything less. I’m not sitting here proclaiming that everybody has to come to the game. I think we’ve got a really good football team coming back. I think we’ve got an exciting team.”
I know I’ll be there, but it’s my job to be there. What about you?