Between a hike in the required donation to buy season tickets and an already planned ticket price increase to $50, Georgia Bulldogs fans face the prospect of paying considerably more for a rather uninspiring 6-game home schedule in 2017.
With the Dawgs’ two most enticing nonconference games coming on the road that season (at Notre Dame and Georgia Tech), the home schedule in Athens will consist of Appalachian State, Samford, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi State and South Carolina.
Sounds like a lot of noon kickoffs and no time for serious tailgating, Dawgs fans!
Meanwhile, as if to add insult to injury, at the same time as the announcement of the required Hartman Fund donation increases for Georgia Bulldogs Club members, the stadium improvements announced involve projects aimed at the players and recruits. Again, the fans are ignored.
The athletic association said its next project at Sanford Stadium will be a new home locker room for the players and entertainment space for recruits on the west end of the stadium underneath the Sanford Drive bridge.
Not a word, however, about much-needed improvements directed toward the fans who provide that revenue, such as renovating the squalid restrooms along the dingy concourses on the North side of the stadium, or providing more water fountains so that ticketholders don’t have to miss the better part of a quarter standing in line for bottles at the overwhelmed concession stands run by poorly trained volunteer groups.
(I had been told by the athletic association this time last year, when UGA announced it was upgrading the restrooms on the South side of the stadium, that “the North side restroom renovation will take place in phases beginning next year.” But, when I recently asked for an update on that, I got no response, and at the recent commencement ceremony at Sanford, no work appeared to be underway.)
Athletic Director Greg McGarity said the Hartman Fund increase was “something our staff has been looking at the last couple of years” and that this “felt like it was the right time to do it.”
I have a feeling that’s because, in the wake of the 93K success at G-Day and the overall rise of optimism about the program, they thought they ought to strike now, while everyone’s in love with Kirby Smart. (Hope they’re still in love with him after this season, when it’s time to make those donations.) Chances are, if there had not been a change in coaches, we might not have seen that donation hike in what would have been the 16th year of a recently underachieving Mark Richt era.
Depending on your point of view, you can see this as gouging the most dedicated fans while Bulldog Nation is still in the honeymoon period with the new head coach, or simply keeping pace with what other schools in the SEC are doing. As the athletic department has been at pains to point out, UGA generally still will rank in the middle of the conference in what it asks fans to pay, even after the increases, which are the first hikes for the donations since 2005.
Now, having been a season ticket holder since I graduated from UGA in 1974, I’ll pay the increase and still buy my season tickets, and I know I’m not alone.
I’m a lifelong Bulldogs fan. It’s what we do. As the athletic department noted in announcing the increase, the contributions of $24.4 million this year were on par with previous years, and UGA has sold out its allotment of 58,000 season football tickets for 2016, as it usually does.
Of course, not all those seats are actually filled with fans for every game. I know of quite a few season ticket holders who skip the directional schools and lower division cupcake opponents Georgia pays to be designated victim in padding out the home schedule.
And, I have to wonder: At what point will the cost and hassle of going to games in Athens exceed some fans’ willingness to pay that price for cupcakes and SEC also-rans? (Admittedly, when a Clemson or Alabama comes to town, folks will pay anything.)
I’ve had several fans tell me in recent months that, if Georgia hadn’t gotten rid of Richt, they had planned on dropping their season tickets and instead buying the better games on StubHub, figuring that even if they had to pay a premium over face value for in-demand games, they’d still wind up paying less than they would going the Hartman Fund route. Plus, of course, even the cupcake games now are televised.
Also, I hear from a lot of fans who are disappointed that, despite being one of the most beautiful football stadiums in the country, the facility frequently fails to live up to the standards of the football program that calls it home.
Besides the outdated, inadequate and poorly maintained restrooms (the No. 1 complaint I hear from fans) and the frustratingly slow and overwhelmed concession stands (a close No. 2), Sanford in many ways shows its age and the fact that it was expanded piecemeal over the years. (I remember years ago the fire marshal warning that having concourses built to handle 50,000 people in a stadium that now accommodates nearly twice that many could lead to tragedy in case some disaster were to hit.)
I thought it ironic that one of the upcoming athletic expenditures announced recently was renovation work at Stegeman Coliseum with the aim of “rebranding” the arena by turning the east end into a mural space featuring artwork of the three teams that compete there: men’s and women’s basketball and gymnastics.
“We want to really energize the look and feel of the arena,” McGarity said. “We’ve got to have some pizzazz in that building.”
And yet, Sanford Stadium, the venue that generates most of the revenue that supports the non-football programs at UGA, has very little pizzazz outside of the video board.
As I wrote in a previous rant about the stadium needing upgrades, it seems odd that they went to a lot of effort to improve the concourses of Stegeman and yet the concourses of Sanford, UGA’s flagship athletic facility, still look terrible, besides being smelly. Even after they tore down the walls behind the lower level seats to let more light in, they’re dim and drab, just bare concrete corridors.
It seems like the athletic administration could have some murals painted or put up some plaques or pictures of past Bulldogs heroes or something to dress them up a bit. It would make the stadium more attractive and, at the same time, UGA could tout the proud history of its football program, as many other schools do much more effectively in their stadiums.
Meanwhile, improving the restrooms no doubt would go a long way toward fixing the smell that often plagues the concourses. I’m not sure there’s much that can be done structurally about opening up those areas, but perhaps removing concession sales from the concourse area (which results in lines blocking the concourses) would help.
Basically, a thorough renovation of the older part of the structure is needed, but there are relatively inexpensive improvements that could make attending a game more pleasant — and perhaps head off the sort of decline in attendance that some other SEC schools already are experiencing, as many fans decide they’d rather watch games in the comfort of their own home on their big flat-screen TVs.
Yes, in order to win on the level that Bulldogs fandom is demanding, UGA is going to have to spend big money on player facilities and recruiting, in addition to ever-inflating coaches’ salaries.
But, unless they want to wind up in the business of just providing programming content for ESPN and CBS while the players perform in a less-than-full house, the folks in charge of Bulldogs athletics need to start paying as much attention to the fans as they do to the recruits.
ON TO THE WOMEN’S COLLEGE WORLD SERIES!
Congratulations to the Lady Dogs softball team, which knocked off No. 1-ranked Florida in the Super Regional playoffs and now move on to the Women’s College World Series, beginning Thursday in Oklahoma City. It will be Georgia’s third appearance in the WCWS and the program’s first since 2010.
Go Lady Dogs!
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.