The last time Georgia had more than 93,000 people in Sanford Stadium was in April 2016 at the G-Day game. TAYLOR CARPENTER/AJC file
Photo: TAYLOR CARPENTER/AJC file
Photo: TAYLOR CARPENTER/AJC file

UGA expanding capacity of Sanford Stadium for Notre Dame game

The Bulldogs will set an all-time attendance record for Sanford Stadium when the Fighting Irish visit Sept. 21. In the visitors ticket agreement UGA made with Notre Dame when it brokered a home-and-home series to be played in 2019 and 2017, the Bulldogs promised 8,000 tickets to the Fighting Irish for this year’s contest.

The trouble is, Sanford Stadium does not have the room to accommodate its home crowd plus 8,000 visitors. It has room to seat only 7,500.

To solve the problem, UGA decided to bring in extra seats for next week’s historic matchup between the hedges between the No. 3-ranked Bulldogs and No. 8 Notre Dame (8 p.m., CBS). To do that, temporary aluminum bleachers will be installed on the West End plaza, underneath the Sanford Stadium scoreboard and at the back of Sections 143 and 139.

So, the official capacity of Sanford Stadium – normally 92,746 – instead will be 93,246 on Sept. 21.

“This is all due to our up-front request to maximize our seating block at Notre Dame (in 2017),” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said Tuesday. “They offered us 8,000 seats and we accepted it, even though we knew we didn’t have room for that many here. We knew we were taking a risk, but it was extremely important to us to get 500 more seats; 500 tickets is like gold to our fans. So, I wanted to be able to get as many as we could, and we’d figure it out later.”

When the deal was brokered in June 2014, Georgia had not yet even started its West End expansion. In addition to building a new locker room and recruiting lounge for the football team, that $63 million project moved the scoreboard back to the edge of Gillis Bridge and the roof of the new building was made into a plaza, which included new ingress and egress gates.

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The next issue Georgia had to resolve was how to distribute the seating. It was determined that 500 UGA students would move from other student-seating areas in the stadium to occupy the temporary bleachers. Meanwhile, the visiting seating area on the north side would be expanded, and then small groups of seats would be shifted back toward the primary student section in the northeast corner of the stadium.

“That’s really the only way we could do it,” McGarity explained. “We wanted to eliminate as many ‘friction points’ as possible. So, this way, most of the Notre Dame fans could stay together. And the UGA students are already in the West End, so they’ll be able to stay in their groups.”

McGarity said the student seating areas are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis, rather than assigned seat numbers.

UGA's resolution was further enhanced by Notre Dame’s decision not to bring its full marching band on the trip to Athens. The “Band of the Fighting Irish” typically takes only one road trip per season.

Georgia’s entire 400-member “Redcoat Marching Band” made the trip to South Bend in September 2017. The Bulldogs won that game 20-19.

UGA is proving to have one of the best traveling fan bases in college football. The Bulldogs’ red-and-black clad faithful famously claimed at least half of the tickets in 80,000-seat Notre Dame Stadium. In Week 1 this season, Georgia fans occupied three-quarters of 40,500-seat Vanderbilt Stadium.

Georgia hopes to have a lot of other surprises for the Notre Dame game. Since last season, the Bulldogs installed a new multi-million dollar LED lighting system that allows them to change the color of the lights. So far, UGA fans have only seen Sanford Stadium lit up in all red on weekday nights. But all the Bulldogs’ games have been played in daylight so far.

The Notre Dame is scheduled to kickoff at 8 p.m. as a rare CBS prime-time telecast.

While 93,246 on Sept. 21 will set a UGA record for football attendance, it won’t be the most souls ever inside Sanford Stadium. Georgia held what it labeled “93K Day” its G-Day spring instrasquad in 2016, Kirby Smart’s first season as head coach. It’s thought that many more than 93,000 fans attended that day. But it is not a sanctioned game and tickets are not sold.

Tickets for this year’s Georgia-Notre Dame game – as they were in 2017 – are expected to be the most expensive and sought-after in college football this year.

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