Quick move by UGA to hike football ticket prices unpopular with fans

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Georgia fans were disappointed by the outcome of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Atlanta. Many fans are not happy about an increase in ticket prices, either.

It’s likely that most Georgia Bulldogs fans figured the Dawgs playing for the national championship might result in pricier tickets to games at Sanford Stadium somewhere down the road.

However, the speed with which the UGA Athletic Association chose to cash in on the program’s 2017 success has left many with heads spinning.

The word came a few days ago that Georgia is raising ticket prices for home football games — substantially, in the case of bigger-name opponents — effective immediately.

The ticket price increases will help pay for salary boosts for Kirby Smart and his staff, according to the university. (Caitlyn Tam/UGA)

The approval of the price hikes for the 2018 season by the UGA athletic board came just over three weeks after Kirby Smart’s Dawgs played in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

The latest boost follows two other recent hikes: from $40 to $45 in 2015 and from $45 to $50 in 2017.

For the coming season, UGA is introducing a new two-tiered ticket system: $75 per game against Power 5 teams and $55 for games against teams from lesser conferences. Last year, the cost was $50 for every game.

That means those of us who support the program by buying season ticket packages will pay $465 per seat, up from $300 last season. (And that doesn’t count the Hartman Fund donations required for the right to buy season tickets. Hartman Fund donation levels, which went up last year, are remaining the same this year.)

As part of making a case for the price hikes, a fact sheet put together by UGA notes that secondary market data shows that demand for Georgia football tickets far exceeds the face value of the ticket. Last season, the average price on StubHub was $113.43 per game.

The athletic association also hinted it could have been worse: “Many schools charge a premium for higher-demand seats above the base season-ticket price, which is not being recommended at this time.”

Yeah, at this time.

In justifying the hikes, athletics director Greg McGarity cited increased salaries for the football staff as a result of the great season in 2017, plus the fact that football generates the majority of the revenue that funds the overall 21-sport UGA athletic program.

Added UGA president Jere Morehead: “This is a byproduct of success.”

UGA athletic officials also went to pains to point out that the football program’s average ticket price of $50 last season ranked 12th out of 14 schools in the SEC. The new average price ($66.42) will put UGA fifth in the league, behind LSU ($70.83), Texas A&M ($70), Auburn ($67.85) and Alabama ($66.57).

Increased ticket prices in the wake of Georgia playing for the national title wasn’t a surprise; the amount of the increase was, however. (Caitlyn Tam/UGA)

They have a valid point about Georgia historically ranking in the bottom third of the conference in ticket prices, but that argument might come closer to assuaging fans’ bruised wallets if it weren’t for the fact that the nonconference portion of the coming season’s schedule (Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee and UMass) is extremely weak.

I asked Dawgs fans via social media whether they thought this was a reasonable move in the wake of UGA playing for the national title, or whether they saw the increase as greedy gouging.

Only 15 percent of the fans I heard from gave a thumbs-up to the price hikes.

Among them was Mac Colvin, who sits near me in Section 104 at Sanford Stadium. “I think the ticket prices are fair and the increase justified,” he said. “Our tickets have been cheaper than our rivals’ tickets for many years.”

Jesse Murrah said that, despite the hikes, Sanford Stadium “will still sell out. They could go even higher. I want the best coaches, so pay up!”

Paul Trolinger thought the new prices “are in line,” and Matthew Scharff said you’ve “got to pay for success.”

But, 85 percent of the fans responding weren’t supportive of the increase, though some were sarcastically accepting of the move. Said Clint Ard: “As long as they lower prices back when they have a down year, I guess it’s fair.”

Others were outraged by the size of the hike. Fumed Lynn Stevens: “Any 50 percent increase is price gouging.”

Said Debbie Green McAfee: “That is a big jump! I expected $60 tix, but not $75.”

Chris Carter, on the other hand, was pragmatic, noting this is “the cost of success,” though he added: “Soon [or already] it will be too expensive for the common fan.”

MiMi DuBose Gudenrath, an Athens native (we went to school together from kindergarten on), also was worried that “this makes it even harder for regular families to take their kids to a game. Sad in our country that the love of sports and a great football game is becoming unaffordable. Not a fan of this increase. Always a fan of UGA.”

Some fans flatly said the increase might price them out of Georgia home games.

“Not going to lie — this makes me think hard about continuing this expensive habit,” Kelly Edenfield said. “I’m spending so much money at home [games], the chance of me traveling to away games or bowl games is tiny.”

“My couch just got more comfortable,” said Mark Symms, adding: “They should pay us to attend Austin Peay.”

Also alluding to the preponderance of “cupcakes” on the schedule, Jay Unger said: “I understand raising prices in accordance with costs, but the AD will need to come up with a more compelling schedule on a more consistent basis. Charging more and delivering less is an insult! Throwing in a Notre Dame home-and-home every five years is great, but not enough. Our strength of schedule this year might cause us a problem when the playoff committee starts meeting next fall.”

In the end, though, most are like Malinda Teasley Erwin, another Section 104 regular, whose reaction was: “What choice do we have? Pay it, or don’t go to the games. Going to the Natty costs money. I am sure there are folks waiting to buy our seats if we give them up.”

And my own view? As a longtime season-ticket holder, I stake out a middle ground on this issue. I concede that funding an elite college football program is an increasingly expensive proposition, so a price hike for the Power 5 opponents was justified. But a 50 percent price hike for anything is excessive.

Along with elite ticket prices come elite expectations by fans. (University of Georgia/courtesy)

And, along with that elite status comes elite expectations. If the program has a season or two where it isn’t contending seriously for the SEC championship, UGA might find it tougher to sell out the lesser games on its schedule.

Speaking of which, while most programs play at least one cupcake opponent at home each year, Georgia has shown a tendency to overdo it with less entertaining games against “designated victims.” Asking fans to pay for three cupcake games in one season is unacceptable.

Also, if UGA is acknowledging the up-and-down nature of its home schedule with two-tier pricing, perhaps it also ought to consider offering two tiers of season tickets, so that, if you’re so inclined, you could buy the higher-priced Power 5 games without being forced to buy the cupcake games. Those already were overpriced at $50 last year.

I’m not placing any bets on that happening, though.

Souvenir tickets on the way

There’s good news for those Dawgs boosters who were disappointed that the digital-only setup for the SEC and National Championship games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta meant no souvenir tickets.

The athletic department said official SEC Championship Game and CFP National Championship Game commemorative tickets will be mailed to all Hartman Fund donors who qualified for tickets. They should start showing up in our mailboxes sometime this month.

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