Whether Georgia will play football in the coming season is still unknown. But, whenever they do, the games in Sanford Stadium should be sold out.
Monday was the deadline for season ticket-holders to inform the UGA Athletic Association if they intend to renew their orders for the 2020 season. It was very much a soft deadline in consideration of the coronavirus pandemic and its far-reaching economic effects. But despite those extenuating circumstances, the response has been “extremely positive,” according to Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity.
“Season-ticket renewal at this time is very encouraging,” McGarity said Tuesday morning. “I’m hesitant to kick that can down the road because we’re not done yet, and I don’t want to jinx it. I can’t throw a number out there just yet, so I’ll just say what we’re seeing is very promising.”
Earlier this year, Georgia’s board voted to raise the number of season tickets available from 58,000 to 61,000. The Bulldogs did that by lowering the number of visiting-team tickets it reserved. The move was made to meet increased demand.
But that was before the world was ground to a halt by the novel coronavirus. Since early March, the deadly, fast-spreading illness COVID-19 has led to the cancellation of the entirety of the spring-sports schedule in college athletics, as well delays in play for the NBA, MLS, Major League Baseball and many others sports.
Now fall sports are considered to be in jeopardy. It depends on when the spread of the virus peaks and begins its anticipated regression. When that will occur is a matter of great medical debate.
Slated to get underway in late August, football schedules remain unchanged – so far.
“There’s nothing new there, really,” McGarity said. “We’re watching closely what the NFL does, Major League Baseball, the NBA. We’re certainly keeping a close eye on where the professional teams are. (SEC) commissioner (Greg) Sankey is in close communication with all those leagues, as well as the NCAA.”
With nearly $66.5 million in unallocated funds in reserve ($102.7 million overall), UGA is better prepared than most Division I athletic programs to weather the financial storm that a season cancellation would create. But it would still exact a significant blow.
McGarity estimated that a sports stoppage for the coming season would cost the athletic association approximately $13 million a month based on the current budget. That could wipe out what McGarity calls Georgia’s “rainy day fund” in a matter of months.
“We were preparing for a storm; we didn’t think it’d be a Cat-5 hurricane,” McGarity said.
But the response of the Georgia people indicates they fully expect to play ball in the fall. If not then, eventually.
Earlier this spring, the Bulldogs sent letters and emails to its donor base stating that UGA would need to receive checks by April 6 from individuals hoping to improve their seat locations or allotments. Otherwise, it needed only an “I’m in” response for those who intended to renew as is.
The real concern, McGarity said, is among the small set that has not responded.
“As we always do, we’re circling back to make sure they didn’t just forget or are encountering difficulties,” McGarity said. “With all that’s going on, some may just drop, which we totally understand. But if some need financial assistance or something like that, we want talk to them about ways we might be able to work with them and help them out. So, we’ll eventually have a better picture of the way things stand.”
Georgia has roughly 16,000 donors in the Hartman Fund, which requires a minimum donation for the right to buy tickets. Of that number, about 1,200 are members of the Magill Society, a club which requires a minimum donation of $5,000 a year over a three-year period for inclusion.
McGarity said those numbers continue to rise.
“We are still receiving gifts during these difficult times,” he said. “It’s very encouraging.”