Georgia football fans ‘stepping up’ eases financial hit from pandemic

11/21/20 - Athens - Socially distanced seating during a NCCA football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020 at Sanford Stadium in Athens.    (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
11/21/20 - Athens - Socially distanced seating during a NCCA football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020 at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

ATHENS – Georgia football season-ticket holders needed to take a bow following the financial report delivered to the Georgia Athletic Association board of directors Tuesday.

At its annual winter meeting, which was conducted remotely via video conference call, UGA Athletic Director Josh Brooks revealed that the humongous budget deficit that was predicted for the 2021 fiscal year because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic was significantly mitigated by Georgia season ticket holders “stepping up.”

The deficit was projected last year to come in at around $55 million, but Brooks said that UGA instead expects a budget shortfall of about $30 million.

Brooks said the savings primarily were the result of season-ticket holders who chose to opt-out of attending games during the 2020 football season responding to UGA’s request to roll that money into a “COVID relief fund” while maintaining their ticket status. While the opt-out rate was 60 percent, those individuals contributed $22.1 million to the fund.

Georgia recorded only $2.5 million in football ticket revenue as of December 2020, compared with $33.7 million in December 2019. The decrease was a result of Georgia having only three home games, and each at approximately 20 percent of stadium’s capacity of 92,746. Brooks said Georgia also was able to cut back by 27 percent on operating expenses by spending money only on outlays considered “mission critical.”

“We can shave that down some more as we get closer to the end of the fiscal year,” said Brooks, who succeeded Greg McGarity as Georgia’s AD on Jan. 6. “Again, I can’t say the word ‘thank you’ enough to everyone about the way everyone has stepped up in a difficult situation and made it a more manageable situation. We’re not out of the woods, but if we stay the course we ought to be in good shape and maintain a healthy reserve into FY 2022.”

Those same fans are stepping up when it comes to new expenditures as well. According to Brooks, Georgia’s development office has raised $71.5 million in donations and pledges toward the new $80 million football operations facility being added to the Butts-Mehre athletics complex. Phase I of that construction project will be competed in late April, with Phase II scheduled for completion in January.

“That’s a phenomenal update,” Brooks said, referring to an update from UGA’s development team. “They’re doing great work, and it’s a true testament to our donors, who have stepped up again and again to provide us with first-class facilities.”

Brooks said the board voted in November for access to $24 million from the athletic association’s reserves. However, none of it was required. Georgia reported a surplus of $40 million from Fiscal Year 2020.

As for FY 2022, which runs from July 1 of this summer to June 30, 2022, UGA’s financial picture will be dictated by whether a full football schedule will be played before capacity crowds. They’re tentatively planning on full stadiums.

“We’re going to be ready for that,” Brooks said. “But we can’t commit to a budget until we know where we sit next fall. So, we’re going to have to play a lot of that by ear. But we’ve proven we can pivot quickly, and we’ll adjust from there if needed.”

At least for the April 17 G-Day instrasquad game, Georgia is planning for the same limited-season, socially distanced plan that it utilized last fall. That allowed for 20,524 spectators in the 92,746-seat stadium.

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