ATHENS — Kirby Smart drew a lot of attention when he called for Georgia fans to pack Sanford Stadium to capacity for this year’s G-Day Game. But that wasn’t a whimsical moment thrown out by an overzealous new coach.
The Bulldogs had been planning to crank up the volume on their annual spring football intrasquad game weeks before Smart grabbed the microphone and stirred the masses at halftime of the Texas A&M basketball game. And the Bulldogs believe they can meet — and perhaps beat — Smart’s challenge of packing Sanford with 93,000 fans.
“Certainly,” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said of Smart’s call for 93,000 fans. “We’re focusing our efforts on 100,000 showing up. How do we manage that from a stadium capacity standpoint? We don’t have tickets, so it presents a challenge that we’ve never had to tackle before.”
Indeed, UGA began planning to make a big deal out of this year’s spring game soon after the New Year. Several factors pointed toward it being a good time to put some emphasis on it:
- It will be Smart’s first time on the sideline as Georgia’s head coach.
- It will mark the debut of the nation’s No. 1-rated quarterback in Jacob Eason.
- There is no conflict with The Masters golf tournament this year.
- ESPN stepped in to televise the event. To accommodate ESPN’s telecast, the April 16th game will kick off at 4 p.m. that Saturday.
“We were planning internally before Kirby said anything and have been for the last three or weeks on creating a totally different environment with the spring game,” McGarity said. “We knew that all the dynamics were set up where we needed to be fully functional as a campus, as a stadium. So We’re treating it as a regular home game, as far as police and parking.”
There are going to be a lot of logistical challenges. Parking is going to be first-come, first-serve on campus. And so is seating. There will be no actual tickets issued. However, every concession stand and restroom will be open.
Meanwhile, in addition to a softball game at 1 p.m. and a baseball game at 6 p.m., there will be 8,000 engineers attending a symposium at Stegeman Coliseum on the same day.
But with the help of police and campus planning, McGarity believes Georgia can pull it off.
“It’ll be like any other general-admission event,” McGarity said. “It does present a different dynamic that we’ve never dealt with before. We’re talking to others who have done this and trying to develop some of the best practices. There’s a little challenge there. But in the past we’ve had great attendance, but it’s been a lower level of emphasis from an operational standpoint.”
Ohio State setting an all-time record with 99,391 people in attendance Saturday. Ohio State set the previous record (95,722) in 2009.
Alabama averaged about 80,000 in the nine years that Smart was there as Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator. But it had been on the steady decrease, falling to about 65,000 last year.
But Smart strongly believes in making a strong showing.
“We want 93,000 fans to come out to the spring game to support us,” Smart said at that Jan. 23 basketball game. “The easiest thing in recruiting is when your fan base is united and everybody pulling in the same direction. That’s what we need, that’s what we want, that’s what we expect to get that done.”
McGarity was there when Smart made the announcement, and he was thrilled with the response.
“The way people responded to Kirby at halftime, that was really, really neat to see unfold,” he said. “So, yeah, I got goosebumps. It was nice to hear the crowd respond that way.”