Cost dropping to get new UGA football season tickets

Two years ago, one had to donate $10,651 to qualify for the right to buy new University of Georgia football season tickets. Last year, the cutoff dropped to $4,205. This year, it will decline again.

The final figure won’t be calculated until next week, UGA associate athletics director Alan Thomas said, “but it certainly will be lower than last year.” He declined to speculate on how much lower.

The reasons for the drop: a rise in ticket cancellations and a decline in donations. Georgia attributes both factors to the economy and the team’s disappointing 2009 season.

The way the system works is that all of the previous year’s season-ticket holders retain the right to buy their seats if they make a prescribed annual contribution to the Athletic Association’s “Hartman Fund” -- a minimum of $250 per seat, more for prime locations. But becoming a first-time season-ticket buyer in the perpetually sold-out 92,746-seat stadium tends to be much costlier because orders for new tickets are filled from the limited supply of non-renewals on the basis of prospective buyers’ lifetime Hartman Fund contributions, starting with the highest and continuing until no seats remain.

The contribution level of the person getting the last available season ticket becomes the cutoff -- a closely watched figure among some Georgia fans.

In 2008, amid the hype of a preseason No. 1 ranking, there were only 804 non-renewals and so much demand for those seats that the cutoff reached the stratospheric and jaw-dropping $10,651. In 2009, the number of season-ticket seats not renewed almost doubled to 1,560 and the cutoff returned to earth. This year, coming off an 8-5 season in a bad economy, there were 2,021 non-renewals.

Still, there won’t be enough vacated seats to fill all of the new orders that have been received.

“We again will have to refund some season-ticket orders,” Thomas said.

That’s a situation no other sports team in the state, college or pro, enjoys.

“We have more contributors wanting tickets than we have tickets for,” UGA executive associate athletics director Frank Crumley said, “so that’s a great scenario to have.”

Crumley said most of the non-renewals resulted from customers reducing their number of seats, rather than canceling altogether. “What [some] may be doing is going from eight to six [seats] or six to four or something like that," Crumley said.

Thomas also noted a drop in first-time contributions. “What we did not see this year was as many large first-time gifts,” he said. “We saw some fairly significant first-time gifts but not as many.”

Overall, Hartman Fund contributions this year totaled $22.8 million from 14,002 donors -- the lowest on both counts in at least four years, according to UGA records.

In 2009, contributions totaled $23.3 million from 14,332 donors. In 2008, contributions hit a record $26.1 million from 14,713 donors. In 2007, contributions totaled $23.5 million from 14,396 donors.

The contributions go toward funding the overall athletics program.

Georgia athletics director Damon Evans is confident he knows the reasons for this year’s declines -- “the economy and how we performed as a team” last season -- but said it’s hard to assess the relative impact of the two factors.

Said Evans: “Look back a couple of years ago. We were preseason No. 1 [and] had beaten Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl -- a big win and a great season -- and things spiked up. ... The support is still there, but I just think when people are excited and have a little bit more expendable income, they’ll put more toward their ticket priority. Right now, with the economy and so forth, people are a little bit more hesitant. But we’ll still be sold out.”

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