Just a little over a week from now a large segment of the Bulldog Nation will reconvene in Athens to cheer the Dawgs on Between the Hedges. It’s a time of year when optimism runs high and fans eagerly look forward to the tailgating, Dawg Walk, ringing the chapel bell and all the other traditions that make up game day at UGA.
It’s hard to beat a fall day in the Classic City watching SEC football. As my friend Steve put it this week: “How do you improve what’s already the greatest place and college stadium in America?”
Other devotees of the red and black think there’s room for improvement and that UGA perhaps ought to be looking at what some of its SEC neighbors are doing to improve the game day experience for their fans.
They’ve noted that Auburn is adding wireless internet access in the stadium and will allow fans to bring in tablets or even laptops. AU is also doing stadium tours on Friday nights and even experimenting with serving dinner on the field to donors and eventually perhaps the general public.
Meanwhile, Bama is releasing an app that allows fans to see real-time stats. And Tennessee is instituting various fan-friendly improvements, including more flat-screen TVs around the stadium showing what’s on the Jumbotron, for when you’re away from your seat.
I asked Claude Felton, UGA’s longtime sports communications director, if there was anything new for UGA fans this season.
The main thing, he said, is that “while there are some guidelines, fans will now be able to bring trailers, cookers, etc. on campus from a tailgating standpoint.”
Of course, if the cooker or trailer takes up another parking space in a university-controlled lot in addition to the one your vehicle is in, you’ll have to pay for a second parking permit.
There’s also been some renovation inside Gate 10 (the main gate under the bridge where the team enters from the Dawg Walk), with new graphics highlighting the football team as well the 1996 Olympics torch that resides in the stadium.
Felton said there are also a couple of other things in the works that may be announced sometime in the next week.
Those are pretty modest changes, though the relaxing of the restriction on pull-behind cookers is likely to be very popular with the tailgaters who have griped about all the rules instituted a couple of years ago.
Still, there are other changes fans would like to see. One, of course, is fixing the student ticketing situation so there aren’t several thousand embarrassing empty seats in that section for most games.
This year, the 5,000 freshmen have been given higher priority in the allotment of the 18,000 student tickets in hopes they’ll be more enthusiastic about showing up for games (my daughter Olivia is excited she got tickets to all seven home games!), but I frankly don’t think that problem is going to be fixed until the athletic association bites the bullet and goes back to paper tickets, despite the fact they frequently will be resold.
Back when students could sell their tickets, young alums just out of UGA who can’t yet afford season tickets were frequently the buyers, and that’s a constituency UGA needs to give higher consideration.
Speaking of young alums, my son tells me that among their major complaints about game day is cellphone reception, which is usually pretty bad in the stadium, probably because the network is overloaded. So anything to address that would be appreciated.
Also mentioned is the idea of having a “team song” play on the P.A. system (a la the Soulja Boy number in 2007) that gets the players and stadium really excited. “Traditionalists won’t like it,” young Bill noted, “but it was pretty electric in 2007 when the whole place was into it and the team was jacked. The game is played by 18-22 year olds, so I think it’s alright to play something that gets them excited. Doesn’t hurt with recruits, either.”
In the Junkyard Mail I also got some suggestions for improving game day in Athens from a slightly older fan, 48-year-old Michael Scharff, who’s been going to home games in Athens since he was 5 years old.
Among the tweaks he’d like to see is a better shuttle system from the remote parking lots, better housekeeping in the restrooms, and more and better porta-potties. “There are now not enough porta-potties, and the ones they have are hot and smelly,” he said, adding that it’s not much better inside the stadium. “Having been to most other stadiums in the conference, I can honestly say that we still have terrible concession stands and restroom facilities.”
Of course, that’s not a problem in the entire stadium, as the concession stands and restrooms in the Reed Plaza area behind the north stands are pretty nice, as stadium facilities go.
Scharff isn’t alone in his complaints about the Sanford concessions and restrooms, though. I put the question about what could be improved on game days at Sanford Stadium to readers of the Blawg’s Facebook page this summer, and the state of the restrooms came up a few times. As Blake Halberg put it: “The men’s restrooms are a disgrace!”
Other suggestions were aimed more at getting the team and fans fired up. Mark Symms, aka “Cuz,” made the not-really-serious suggestion that the field have black turf with red end zones, and Mary E. Justice wants fans to show up earlier and stay on their feet. She added: “Our student section needs to be vocal.”
Jim Mansour said that UGA and the city of Athens “need to act as if they actually want fans in Athens and on campus, instead of acting like they want our $$$.” He also thinks more police officers should be deployed “helping traffic get out after games … if Auburn can figure out its game day traffic, why can’t UGA?”
What are your thoughts on game day in Athens? What parts do you like best? And what improvements would you like to see made?
Got something you want to discuss concerning UGA athletics or a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg