Despite the nine victories, the thumping of Georgia in Athens, the post-game mass twig-snapping of the hedges, the universal admiration for head coach Paul Johnson and the real possibility that things could get even better next season, Georgia Tech finds itself in a familiar position these days:
Yelling from the rooftops, “Watch me! Buy me! Pay some attention to me!” And what do they hear in response? “Woof!”
As Wayne Hogan, the school’s associate director of athletics, said of Georgia’s long shadow: “The sheer numbers are overwhelming. But I went through the same thing when I was at Florida State. No matter where you went, there was a Gator standing in front of you.”
This is nothing new for Tech. When the Jackets won a share of the national championship in 1990 under Bobby Ross, they weren’t even a hot ticket the following year.
When Dan Radakovich came aboard as director of athletics, he and Hogan wanted the school’s programs to gain a bigger footprint on the landscape. If ever there was a window for that, it was this spring. The Jackets were coming off their best football season in years. They had beaten Georgia for the first time since 2000. A fan base that was somewhat divided behind Chan Gailey now is united behind Johnson.
But some things haven’t changed. Georgia fills 92,000 seats at Sanford Stadium and requires a donation of several thousand dollars just to be eligible for season tickets (which rarely are available). Tech can’t fill a 55,000-seat stadium. It averaged about 48,000 last year and its season-ticket base is 24,000. Most of the season tickets available for purchase won’t require a donation to the Tech fund.
Radakovich is a bottom-line guy. Hogan said, “His mind works like a spreadsheet.” But both say it would be overstating it to suggest Tech is in trouble.
“This is just a different way for us to reach out into the community,” Radakovich said. “We’re concentrating on those folks who are not part of the 92,000 in Sanford Stadium every Saturday.”
Hogan was one of the best sports information directors around in his days at FSU. When he was hired at Tech, he spoke of his plans to reach out to the increasing in-town population base for ticket sales. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
“We have about 6,000 seats to sell each game,” he said. “The first thing you do is you think, ‘We’re in a city of six million people. This can’t be difficult.’ But the reality is the guy who’s living on 10th Street has other things to do. People weren’t coming to Tech just because we had mounted some new ad campaign or had a slick billboard.”
The new sales efforts will focus on anybody with a Tech connection: parents of students, vendors, newsletter subscribers, booksellers, maybe the guy who once bought a slice of pizza two blocks away.
Hogan again: “We decided, ‘Let’s eat where we live. Let’s find all the people who have some affinity for the institute.’ Because really, it is us against the world, us against the Dogs, us against the ACC and the SEC, us against the other sports. It is what it is.”
And as much as things have improved on the field, Tech is still trying to be heard over the woofs. And good seats are still available.