Georgia has a lackluster home football schedule this season and renovations on the west end zone side of Sanford Stadium will be ongoing this fall.
Yet when the school put on sale 600 non-renewable season tickets Thursday that it said came from visiting team returns, fans snatched up most of them in a day. There were less than 100 remaining as of Monday morning.
They paid $430 per ticket for a six-game home schedule of Appalachian State, Samford, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina and Kentucky.
The most attractive games are all away from Athens: Notre Dame, Tennessee, Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in this building that doesn’t think the SEC games, you’re talking South Carolina, Missouri and Mississippi State, are all games that are pivotal games for us,” athletic director Greg McGarity said. “It may lack the luster of an LSU or perhaps an Alabama or a Texas A&M brings to the table, but I can assure everyone in this building that those are not to be taken any differently than any other opponent.”
McGarity said scheduling is a balancing act complicated by Georgia’s annual nonconference game with Georgia Tech and wanting to have seven home games each season.
Georgia has six this year because it visits South Bend and plays its annual game with Florida in Jacksonville. Notre Dame will return the game to Sanford Stadium in 2019.
McGarity said the annual game with Georgia Tech keeps Georgia from playing other attractive power conference opponents each and every season.
He said schools like Florida (with Florida State), South Carolina (with Clemson) and Kentucky (with Louisville) all have traditional nonconference rivals that other schools don’t.
“We all have a built-in rivalry that precludes us from having an annual game of this stature,” he said. “Our goal in scheduling is to periodically play a game of this magnitude.”
Georgia plays at UCLA in 2025 and again in Athens in 2026. There’s a neutral site game in Atlanta against Virginia in 2020.
“I’m sure we’re going to work on some opportunities between the Virginia and UCLA series,” McGarity said.
Having seven home games means generating more revenue and means seasons when there are three guaranteed games, like in 2018 when Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee and UMass are on the home schedule.
Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia Tech all will be on the home schedule then, but they are all on the road this year, like they were in 2013 and 2015, after Georgia played in Auburn in both 2012 and 2013 following SEC expansion.
McGarity was asked if Georgia could seek to change that for a more attractive home schedule.
“I think everyone’s on the table in the future regarding SEC scheduling,” McGarity said. “Every meeting we have, we talk about scheduling and just the current landscape, what do we need to consider. We know we are committed to an eight-game schedule for the next few years. Will that change? Who knows? I think we have a group of ADs that are willing to listen to other alternatives.
Will there be change in the future? Who knows? But it’s something we constantly talk about in our meetings.”
This year, South Carolina returned 3,500 tickets out of its 8,000-ticket allotment, McGarity said. Mississippi State and Kentucky returned about 1,500 each, he said.
Usually, those are sold individually, but Georgia had enough from each visiting team that it sold 600 as season tickets, but the seats won’t be the same for every game for those who purchased them.
That came after season ticket donors had a chance to purchase those tickets for individual games.
On a few other topics related to the home schedule:
— Fans seem to be happy that they are getting a break from noon kickoffs. The Appalachian State game is Sept. 2 at 6:15 p.m. and the Samford game Sept. 16 is at 7:30 p.m.
“The number of noon games we have had previously and the reaction we’ve had from our fans and others was that was not a desirable time,” McGarity said. “Frankly, among all conference teams, especially in the central time zone, that’s not a great time, but we all know that’s part of the TV package. We did ask for any consideration. It’s never guaranteed, but we did ask for some consideration for non-noon kickoffs whenever possible.”
He said he hears howling from fans for those type of games, but he said the Athens business community really wants seven home games.
“You’re not going to make every population happy,” he said. “You try to have the best blend possible. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be the same every year.”
— The $63 million west end zone project will create inconveniences for fans this season who use the Gates 10 and 1 entrances. A new home locker room, recruiting space, and additional concession areas and bathrooms are scheduled to be finished for the 2018 season.
Temporary bathrooms and concession stands will be used there this season.
“If you’re not sitting in the west end zone, which is really dominated by our students, then there are other gates to access the stadium,” McGarity said. “We will be in a construction mode. … You’ll still be able to enter and exit the stadium beneath the bridge, but it will be a temporary mode for this year until we complete construction.”
— The rising price for guaranteed games includes Georgia paying Kent State $1.9 million for a 2023 game in Athens. Auburn is also paying UMass $1.9 million for a home game in 2020, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Mass. It reported those are believed to the largest contracts for guaranteed games between Bowl Subdivision schools, according to fbschedules.com. That doesn’t include games with special circumstances of Florida paying Colorado State $2 million as part of Jim McElwain’s contract when he was hired by the Gators. Nebraska gave Southern Miss $2.125 million to move a game to Nebraska.
“We’re all fighting for the same pool of teams,” McGarity said. “Auburn does not want to go play UMass in Boston. You’ve got to basically go pay teams to come play you. They’re sitting in a good seat right now, the Group of Five schools. They are able to kind of dictate the market. … To make the models work, you’ve got to schedule maybe two or three of those nonconference games.”
He said the market “trend is going to continue to go upward.”