I know the knee-jerk reaction among many Bulldogs fans is to ridicule or dismiss any statement having to do with sports coming from Michael Adams, but I find myself very much in agreement with something the outgoing UGA president said last week in his final State of the University speech.
Said Adams, who steps down as president June 30:
“I will close this item with a plea. The next, and probably last time, that Sanford Stadium is expanded, it should be done on the east end, taking the capacity to 102,000-104,000, which is frankly all that the roads, sidewalks and other infrastructure can handle.
“The west end should remain open. The visible interconnection with and view of the central campus is more than just a pretty scene — it is a powerful statement about the appropriate place of athletics at a great public university.
“Despite the logistical challenges it poses, I am glad that our stadium is in the middle of campus, and being able to see the Tate Center, the Miller Learning Center, the Russell Library, the Baxter Street residence halls and, soon, a new Bolton Hall and the Terry College complex reinforces the important idea that athletics at UGA is part of the whole, not an entity unto itself.
“I will come back and haunt the president and athletic director who close the west end of the stadium.”
Adams is right, and not just because of the aesthetic benefits of the campus view through the west end zone or the logistical limitations. Basically, in the foreseeable future UGA isn’t likely to need more than 102,000 to 104,000 seats — if that many — no matter how successful the football program is.
It’s likely that we’re seeing the end of the era of college football stadium expansions in general. The regular season attendance in college football dropped to the lowest level since 2003 last season, according to a study done by the Birmingham News. And while the SEC again led the country with an average of 75,444 fans per game, that was the lowest since the 2007 season. Overall, college football attendance is down 2 percent since the 2008 peak of 76,844. Schools also have been having trouble selling postseason tickets.
Sanford is still mostly sold out, but just barely for some games, and overall UGA registered a minor attendance decrease in 2012 with an average of 92,723. And that was in a successful season in which the Dogs won their second consecutive SEC East title.
There are several factors at play here.
Factoring in the price of the tickets and the minimum required donation to buy them, the News figured that Georgia had the second most expensive season tickets in 2012 at an average $75.71.
Amid a struggling economy and rising ticket prices, more fans are deciding they don’t really need the hassle of attending a game in person — especially if it’s against a no-name nonconference foe — when they can sit and enjoy it all on their flat-screen high definition television in the comfort of their own home. (Thus the attempts to make the in-person game experience more conducive to luring folks away from home by adding extras such as additional replays on the big screen in the stadium and calls from fans for increased cellphone access at games.)
Most fans still will attend a game against a quality opponent if they can afford a ticket, but in the future that decision is likely to be made on a more selective basis.
So fans will be attending fewer games, and UGA doesn’t need to be building more seats that may sit empty several times per season. Assuming the program continues to thrive on the field, the Dogs probably can fill 102,000 seats for conference games and quality nonconference games.
And that sounds like plenty. So Adams is right in opposing the idea of enclosing Sanford completely.
MORE CONCERTS AT SANFORD?
Back when I was in journalism school at UGA, a couple of classmates and I did a series for The Red & Black as a class project on whether concerts at Sanford Stadium were feasible.
We showed they were, but the athletic administration at the time was completely opposed and remained so for a long time. In the 1980s, then-athletic director Vince Dooley turned down a chance to have Bruce Springsteen play Between the Hedges, and a proposed R.E.M. charity concert also didn’t come off.
Now, though, we’ve had a sort of generational shift in the thinking at Butts-Mehre, and Greg McGarity is testing the waters with the April 13 Jason Aldean concert at Sanford, the first ever held at the stadium.
Dooley, and before him Joel Eaves, always worried that having a concert in the stadium would damage the field, but now there are better ways of covering the turf and protecting it.
While the Aldean show, announced at a Legion Field football pep rally last fall, has been set up as a break-even proposition for UGA, not a money-maker, McGarity said the main benefit is in giving a spring economic boost to Athens restaurants, hotels and other businesses that profit from UGA football games.
McGarity, who saw concerts staged at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium when he was at the University of Florida, told the Athens Banner Herald that the Aldean show, which sold out quickly, could lead to more concerts being staged at Sanford Stadium.
“It may be an opportunity to where we can maybe (in the future) take more of an active role in a project of this nature,” McGarity said. “We’re just hoping we have great weather and will be able to enjoy a night of great music.”
I’m sorry it took 40 years for the athletic association to come around to what we were proposing back in 1973, but I’m glad my daughter will get to experience the first ever concert at Sanford.
GREATEST MOMENT AT THE STEG?
Following up on my two blogs on memories of Stegeman Coliseum, voting at Georgiadogs.com on the greatest moment in the arena’s history has reached the round of four. It’s down to this:
Silver Bracket: Jan. 3, 2004 — Georgia upsets Georgia Tech 83-80 . Georgia upset 3rd-ranked and previously unbeaten Georgia Tech 83-80 in double overtime behind a career-high 25 points from senior Jonas Hayes.
Red Bracket: Feb. 25, 1990 — UGA Students Storm Court After 86-85 Comeback Win over LSU. In his final home game for the Bulldogs, Alec Kessler scored 30 points and helped Georgia overcome a 19-point, second-half deficit to defeat 12th-ranked LSU 86-85. The victory gave Georgia a 1-game lead in the SEC standings as the league schedule entered its final week. It also touched off a wild on-court celebration by UGA students.
Black Bracket: Feb. 23, 1996 — Lichey’s Perfect 40 Score. The Gym Dogs’ Karin Lichey became the only gymnast in college history to post four perfect 10s in Georgia’s win over Kentucky.
White Bracket: Apr. 25, 2008 — Gym Dogs Win Fourth NCAA Championship. Georgia tied Utah for the most NCAA titles by winning the fourth of five straight championships.
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