Kirby Smart: Georgia fans ‘should feel challenged’ to pack out G-Day
ATHENS — There has been no talk of Ludacris, or any other kind of pregame entertainment for the G-Day Game this year. Well, that’s not entirely true. There is the annual alumni flag football game that’s scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m. ET. And I hear the YMCA kids might scrimmage again at halftime.
But compare the pregame buzz for G-Day 2017 to what we were hearing and feeling this time last year for “93K Day,” and it’s like night and day.
I asked coach Kirby Smart if he was concerned about that. He said he was not. But he did say he’s hoping for another big turnout, and preferably another capacity crowd for 92,746-seat Sanford Stadium.
“I mean, our fan base should feel challenged,” Smart said following the Bulldogs’ second scrimmage of the spring Saturday at Sanford Stadium. “They should want to go out and have more (attendance) than the other teams have because it does help in recruiting. It shows the passion and the energy that I know our fan base has, so that really is important.”
There certainly was a lot more excitement in general heading into last year’s intrasquad game. Of course, Smart was a brand-new, untested head coach. So that in and of itself made for a tremendous attraction.
Smart also hyped up the event at every opportunity. He brought up 93K Day at every speaking engagement and made his now-famous call for capacity attendance at halftime of a Georgia basketball game.
Internally, Georgia was producing promotional spots and hype videos. The phrase “93K Day” could be found everywhere, on t-shirts and bumper stickers and websites.
Then there was the rather impassioned and somewhat controversial discussion of pregame musical acts. At first there were talks of Georgia working on a major artist coming. Then apparently some big-time prospects fell through before Atlanta-based rap artist Ludacris bailed the Bulldogs out in the 11th hour — at a cost of $65,000 — only to cause retrospective embarrassment weeks later, but that’s another story.
There doesn’t seem to be a similarly-energized marketing initiative, though Smart begs to differ.
“We are marketing it internally,” he said. “We’re doing Red versus Black. It’s huge. You can’t imagine the effect that had on recruiting (last year). Talk to the kids we just signed and they all tell you that it had a great effect.”
I do know that David Greene and D.J. Shockley will be signing autographs at the Tailgate store in downtown before and after the game. And they’re supposed to do something on the field at the stadium at halftime. But I’m not aware of much else.
To date, the most notable marketing influence there has been on the G-Day Game was a sort of made-up challenge between Smart and South Carolina coach Will Muschamp that Smart mentioned earlier this week on a radio show. He claimed then that Muschamp bet him in a phone call that Georgia wouldn’t even draw 40,000 for this year’s game. (For what it’s worth, the Gamecocks had 12,345).
Smart claimed more has been made of that exchange than there actually was.
“It really didn’t go down that way,” Smart said Saturday. “Will and I were just talking about his spring game and about his attendance more than anything. There really wasn’t as much to it as it was made out to be.”
All that said, there is a lot to attract Georgia fans. Namely, the prospect of quarterbacks Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm competing against each other on opposite teams should be enough to entice more than a few fervent fans. And for everybody it’s an opportunity to see a lot of the young players who either have just arrived or haven’t yet gotten to show their stuff for the Bulldogs. That in itself should provide some motivation.
But to Smart, it’s a chance for Georgia’s fan base to make an impact on recruiting. He said the more they pack in and the more electric the atmosphere, the more it helps them attract the top recruiting prospects. There are supposed to be many in attendance on Saturday.
“As far as my concern for that, I like for our kids to have a good environment to play in all the time,” Smart said of fan attendance. “You find out more about them when they have to play in front of great environments. But as far as what number we have, I’m not going to say an over-or-under. I don’t think it’s that important.”
Unless it’s fewer than South Carolina. That could be a problem.