UGA may have the SEC’s best fan base (as rated in an Emory University study) but in recent years Sanford Stadium crowds haven’t always provided the sort of loud, boisterous “12th man” factor in games that the home team would prefer.
No wonder Mark Richt was all over social media last week with entreaties for Dawg fans to show up early, get loud and try and make it difficult for the Gamecocks to hear their offensive signals.
There was good reason for Richt’s ploy: Georgia had just lost a game at Clemson in a playing environment so loud the offensive line even had trouble with its silent signals, leading to a number of costly penalties and poor pass protection. Last year, South Carolina fans raised a remarkable din at Williams-Brice Stadium that seemingly rattled the Dawgs.
I don’t know how much our yelling this past Saturday really messed with South Carolina’s offense, but it certainly was the loudest crowd to watch a game Between the Hedges since the 2007 Blackout game against Auburn. In fact, as I noted the other day, the crowd was so noisy that Georgia players had to gesture for fans to quieten down when the Bulldogs were calling their own offensive signals.
Of course, it helped that the game featured one of Richt’s more aggressive game plans. There’s nothing like an early onside kick to take the crowd up a notch. And Mike Bobo’s use of a more uptempo offense helped keep the fans fired up.
Richt and the players were appreciative of the change from too many previous Saturdays when it took a Georgia touchdown or a key third-down conversion attempt to draw some noise out of the UGA fans.
As Richt said in The Red & Black: “The crowd was amazing. Dawg Walk was awesome … Then we get our pre-game warm-up and the student section is packed, and they’re loud and rowdy. They kind of led the way … for everybody in the stands. By the time we came out by the Bulldog statue, our fans were there, they were really into it. They got loud when they needed to. After that touchdown by Justin Scott-Wesley, I thought the crowd blew the roof off. I’m was really pleased with the fans and appreciate everybody.”
And defensive end Garrison Smith told the UGA student paper: “We feed off that energy from the crowd. That’s why it’s so important for the crowd to get loud and keep that energy going.”
The recruits sitting in those new seats in the East end zone noticed, too. As DJ Smith, one of UGA’s top remaining targets at defensive back, put it: “It was really loud, and everybody was really into the game.”
This whole idea of the crowd becoming the 12th man by making it more difficult for the visitor has been a way of life for years at places like LSU’s Death Valley and Texas A&M’s Kyle Field. But too often in recent years, the crowds at Sanford earned a reputation more for a late-arriving, early-leaving student section that left large gaps of seats unfilled and quieter nonstudent fans who tended to sit on their hands during long stretches of the game.
The lack of intimidation factor for visitors to Sanford is the main element of UGA fandom that seems to be lacking. Otherwise, researchers Mike Lewis and Manish Tripathi of Emory’s Goizueta Business School recently found that the Bulldogs have the No. 1 fan base in the SEC and rank second nationally, behind only Texas.
Their study, covering a 10-year period, looked at how fans support their teams, based on metrics related to winning percentage, bowl participation and revenues. They reported that “over the period of our study, both Georgia and Alabama averaged between 9 and 10 wins a season. However, Georgia averaged 12 percent more in revenues per year than Alabama. Alabama also had a couple of years in the beginning of our sample (2002 & 2004) where the home games were not all filled to capacity. Thus, over the period of our study, when we control for team performance and other institutional factors, the Georgia fan base is just a bit more loyal and devoted.”
In another ranking, UGA also placed third behind Texas and Michigan on the most recent list of college football programs generating the most revenue and highest profits.
But, let’s face it, despite that devoted fan base Sanford Stadium hasn’t always been a particularly intimidating place for visiting teams to play. Saturday was an exception.
Richt challenged Georgia fans to keep it up, and it’ll be interesting to see if that happens. No one really expects a sustained roar for the North Texas game, but when LSU and former Bulldog QB Zach Mettenberger come to visit late this month, the Sanford crowd needs to rise to the occasion, to borrow a phrase from Erk Russell.
As Aaron Murray said after the South Carolina game, “Those fans tonight were unbelievable. It’s a beautiful thing to come out there and look up and see every seat filled with red and black and fans going nuts the entire game. We need that from here on out.”
Athletic director Greg McGarity summed it up this week in an online chat with fans: “We need that support every week. People have no idea the impact it has on our players, staff, and prospects.”
ANOTHER GAME DAY ISSUE
While on the subject of game day in Athens, this past Saturday appears to have drawn mixed reviews from many fans. As expected, the switch to scanning tickets slowed things down, with the lines to enter the stadium backing up and moving quite slowly and fans having lengthy waits to pass through the gates. I didn’t have that problem, but then I generally get to my seat before the team’s even come out for warm-ups.
The stadium still managed to be pretty full by kickoff, but fans are advised to get there even earlier in the future if they don’t want a long wait in line.
Speaking of lines, despite UGA announcing that it was going to have more vendors this season, fans report the amount of time necessary to get concessions was still ridiculous. It’s become routine for fans making a midgame trip to get a drink or something to eat to miss nearly an entire quarter of the game. This past Saturday, my son tried to avoid such a line by going to a water fountain to refill his water bottle — only to run into an even longer line of folks who had the same idea!
McGarity got some flak over this issue during his Monday chat at Georgiadogs.com, including one fan who said he “waited over 45 minutes for a water at the concession stands and missed a large part of the game.” McGarity said fixing that problem is one of the UGA Athletic Association’s “top priorities” and promised “more hawkers for beverages. Better accessibility to portable stands. Attempts to increase productivity behind the counter.”
He also said he hopes fans notice improved telecommunications connectivity in the stadium this season and “we expect more to come for the 2014 season. … Stay tuned!”
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg