ATHENS – For years, Georgia’s head football and basketball coaches used to go on an extensive spring speaking tour, answering questions and shaking hands with fans who paid a small fee at the door.
Those days of extensive touring around Georgia appear to be over. At least for now.
The university has planned five events this spring featuring Kirby Smart, but they will be private donor events – and for now only one will be in the state of Georgia.
The school will host events in Nashville, Charlotte, Jacksonville and Houston, with the lone in-state event being in Atlanta in July. These events will be closed to the public and the media, open only to donors.
But there will also be two additional in-state events featuring Smart, athletics director Greg McGarity said Monday afternoon. Those events will just be branded differently.
“We’re still working through two in-state events that would be branded under the Georgia Bulldog Club, or under UGA athletics,” McGarity said.
In the past, Georgia football and basketball coach did as many as 12 spring tour stops, almost all in the state, from Columbus to Macon to Augusta and even smaller stops. But those tours have gradually dissipated:
In Mark Richt’s final year, he only went to seven stops. Last year Smart went to five stops, though four of the were in-state, the exception being a donor event in Dallas.
This year it’s going all-private, which someone with knowledge said evolved mainly from UGA’s emphasis on fundraising. There’s a feeling they don’t need the old model, where fans get a chance to hear from coaches and ask them questions, because of social media and other factors. Crowds at these events had also been going down.
“The university is trying to be strategic to generate the money that everybody needs to generate right now,” McGarity said. “The purpose of these events have changed, they’ve morphed over the years.”
The athletics department did seem to anticipate some fan blowback.
“As for our donors, I realize there may be some sensitivity to the majority of the events being out of state this year,” associate athletics director for development Matt Borman wrote in an internal e-mail earlier this month. “If donors bring this up to you please just say that we are excited to be in Atlanta with an event in July and we wanted to take an opportunity this year to visit some of our supporters who don’t have the opportunity to make it to Athens on a regular basis.
“After this year of events we will reevaluate and definitely consider bringing some of these events back into Georgia.”
There are other speaking events for Smart that aren’t directly affiliated with the school. For instance, he is speaking Monday night at the Athens Touchdown Club, and spoke last month at the Macon Touchdown Club.