We’ll find out this coming Saturday whether last year’s morphing of G-Day into the much-hyped 93K Day created a new paradigm for spring football games at Georgia.
Will Sanford Stadium be full to overflowing again, or will attendance settle back into something more along the lines of the 46,185 figure someone at the athletic department came up with for the 2015 game?
There weren’t enough seats for all the fans attending last year’s game. (David Barnes/UGA)
Last year, besides the desire to outdo Kirby Smart’s former employer in spring game attendance (Georgia’s 93,000 ranked second nationally behind Ohio State’s 100,189 and ahead of third-place Bama’s 76,212), there also was the excitement of a new, highly anticipated coach and a new, highly anticipated quarterback recruit to draw fans to Athens to watch the game in person rather than on TV.
This year, folks still may be excited about the long-range (or, for the less patient, short-range) prospects for Smart and Jacob Eason, but, let’s face it, a good bit of the “new” has worn off, so seeing their second spring game is not reason enough by itself to prompt many folks to make the drive to the Classic City.
Also, despite Smart’s best efforts to whip up a QB competition between Eason and true freshman Jake Fromm, I doubt that’s going to be nearly as compelling in driving fan attendance as Eason’s arrival was in 2016.
Even last year, the main driver behind the record-setting overflow crowd at Sanford Stadium for G-Day was Smart’s appeal directly to fans to fill the house and an accompanying #93K marketing campaign.
The direct challenge from the coach and marketing push are absent this year. Also, plans are somewhat scaled back: There will be a G-Day Dawg Walk, but no pregame musical entertainment to follow up last year’s appearance by Ludacris. What little marketing there’s been has stressed the idea of “Red vs. Black.” Smart scrupulously has avoided calling for 93,000 or any other number this year.
Frankly, I think that, coming off an 8-5 season, Smart made a wise decision in avoiding the 93K angle.
Coach Kirby Smart roaming the field at the 2016 G-Day game. (Emily Selby/UGA)
Still, we haven’t entirely been without some low-key prompting from the UGA leader. Smart has noted that the full house at last year’s spring game helped seal the deal on some recruits.
And, belatedly, he tried to whip up a little competitive zeal among fans by revealing that former teammate Will Muschamp, now South Carolina’s coach, doesn’t think Georgia will hit 40K this year. Sort of a fan equivalent of Pat Dye’s “man enough” gibe from yesteryear.
On the other hand, despite saying he wanted “everybody” to attend, I’m not sure Smart made the best case for that by urging: “Make traffic bad.”
Meanwhile, after the team’s scrimmage Saturday, Smart downplayed the Muschamp comment. “There really wasn’t as much to it as it was made out to be,” he said (though, of course, it was Smart himself who told everyone what Coach Boom had said).
Smart did say that “our fan base should feel challenged.” But, he added, “as far as what [attendance] number we have, I’m not going to say an over-or-under. I don’t think it’s that important.”
So, the most compelling case for attendance seems to be to provide a nice, enthusiastic backdrop for recruiting. It remains to be seen if that is enough to spur fans to give up a spring Saturday to fight the traffic and parking nightmare in Athens for what’s essentially a controlled scrimmage in which quarterbacks aren’t sacked or even hit, kickoffs aren’t returned, and nobody really cares which side wins.
Of course, recruiting is a big deal, so maybe that is enough.
But, really, why else should a fan want to go to the G-Day game?
Well, there is the chance to see the first-string offense (Black) go against the first-string defense (Red), and get a look at some key early enrollees, such as receiver J.J. Holloman.
Here’s the one guarantee you have about any G-Day game. (Olivia King/Special)
However, even though one of the most encouraging spring story lines has been Jim Chaney reportedly opening up the offense more, and the running backs getting more passes thrown to them, the reality is that, on G-Day, we’ll see only the most vanilla pages from the playbook. No one wants to give upcoming opponents any really meaningful early film.
And yet … when it comes to those of us for whom any time spent inside Sanford Stadium is nirvana, there doesn’t need to be a reason other than just the chance to watch a football game (or sorts) Between the Hedges.
And, if it’s a glorious spring day, so much the better!
As for what will be new at this year’s G-Day, UGA will use the game to implement the SEC’s Clear Bag Policy, which will go into effect at all SEC venues beginning this fall, limiting the sorts of bags you can carry into the stadium. (More information on the SEC Clear Bag Policy can be found here.)
Along with the rules on fans having to use clear bags, the policy also includes new rules about what sort of seat cushion you can carry into the stadium. Unfortunately, information emanating from the athletic department had been a bit unclear on just what that means.
On the official website, the initial announcement said: “Seat cushions — without arms or pockets — will still be permitted into the venues.” And, in the downloadable PDF linked to on the official site, it said the banned attributes included “arm rests and any large traditional seat cushions that have pockets, zippers, compartments or covers.”
However, in the latest Bulldog Monthly fan email, it said seat cushions must be “without arms, backs, or pockets.
So, are seat cushions with backs no longer allowed?
I put that question this week to Matt Brachowski, associate athletic director for event management, who clarified: “Seats with backs are no longer permitted.”
While some cynical folks might see that as an attempt to push more fans into paying for the installation of those official seat backs that the athletic department peddles, Brachowski said the athletic association had received complaints in recent years about fans bringing in larger portable seats with arms and backs that encroached on the fans next to them and even reclined into the laps of the people behind them.
I asked whether UGA is prepared to turn away fans at the gate on G-Day if their bags and seat cushions don’t comply with the new rules. Brachowski danced around the issue a bit, saying, “We hope everyone will start following the new policy. I’d like to say we want to be a little bit lenient, but that might defeat the purpose and lead to people saying this fall, ‘Well, you let me do it at G-Day.’”
But, he said, “if we see people making an attempt to comply with the rule, we’ll use our best judgment” on whether to admit them. In that regard, he said, gate staff is being trained on the new rules.
“Obviously, this is a big change, and we appreciate everyone’s cooperation with it,” he said.
And, no matter what the desired G-Day attendance, Brachowski said his staff is preparing as if 93,000 fans will be in Sanford Stadium, in terms of staffing, concessions and first aid facilities.
“For all our planning purposes, we’re treating it just like a fall game,” he said.
If you’re going, the athletic association says the gates to the stadium will open at 10:30 a.m. ET for the 2 p.m. game, and there will be a Dawg Walk at 1 p.m. If you want to watch at home, the game will be televised on the SEC Network.
(If there’s something you want to discuss, or you have a question, email me at email@example.com, or connect with me on Facebook or via Twitter. And don’t forget to check out past entries of the Junkyard Blawg.)
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