National title will drive Georgia’s athletics revenue train

Josh Brooks, Athletic director at the University of Georgia, on the field before the 2021 College Football Playoff Semifinal between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Michigan Wolverines at the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

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

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Josh Brooks, Athletic director at the University of Georgia, on the field before the 2021 College Football Playoff Semifinal between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Michigan Wolverines at the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

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

Editor’s Note: Georgia’s first national championship in 41 years will have an impact more far-reaching than the football program. In Sports, this is the second in a series of stories examining how the title will impact fans, admissions, recruiting and politics.

Former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer once said “Football is the engine that drives the revenue train.”

ExplorePart 1: What championship means to fans: ‘Relief, euphoria, thankfulness’

There’s a big, red locomotive steaming down the tracks in Athens on the heels of Georgia football’s first national championship in 41 years.

The University of Georgia athletic department ranked fifth nationally in most revenue generated in the most recent pre-pandemic compilation, at $174 million in the 2019 fiscal year, per a July 2020, USA Today rundown. It’s difficult to project the financial impact the Bulldogs’ College Football Playoff championship game win over Alabama, 33-18, on Jan. 10 will make, but early signs are promising.

New Money

Georgia sold more championship gear within 24 hours of winning the championship than Alabama sold in the 30 days after winning its most recent CFP title last year, per a Fanatics global digital platform report.

Josh Brooks, in his second year as the UGA athletic director, said there will be an increase in revenue generated from licensing, along with more marketing opportunities through the school’s multi-media rights holder.

The numbers, Brooks said, are “impossible” to predict or budget for because “the needle is still moving.”

ExploreBradley: For Georgia, the national championship banished all doubt

Former Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity, who maintained a $100 million financial reserve that enabled normal operations during 2020 pandemic, revealed UGA’s largest area of financial growth.

“The biggest impact you will see is in your licensing, and you won’t know that until two quarters from now,” McGarity said. “That’s where you see a tremendous bump in your revenue, and that’s a windfall split 50-50 with the university.”

Brooks, like most financial managers, errs on the conservative side. But Georgia fans have proven many times over they cannot be underestimated.

Celebration

The Bulldogs’ faithful outnumbered Alabama fans by roughly a 3-to-1 count at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis at the title game. They followed that by lining Lumpkin Street and filling Sanford Stadium amid frigid temperatures for one final celebration of the championship season days later.

Brooks said the parade and celebration had been in the works before the Bulldogs won the title. There were logistical items that needed to be prepared in advance in order for the plan to be pulled off successfully.

Explore100,000-plus turn out to celebrate Georgia’s national championship

The cost of the celebration — roughly $250,000 — was approximately two-thirds of the game-day operations costs for a typical home game, Brooks said.

“There were those immediate expenses, and we take pride in doing things the right way,” Brooks said. “When we get to a national championship game, we are going to travel our staff, because we want to take care of the core football group the right way.”

Alabama’s primary football team and party arrived in one airplane at the Indianapolis Airport three days before the game, but there were three comparably sized Delta charted jets needed to bring the Georgia team and travel party.

Brooks explained that part of Georgia capitalizing on the championship is to invest in the future and continue to serve the fanbase.

The Bulldogs will soon be reinvesting in coach Kirby Smart, who is renegotiating his current contract (worth approximately $7 million per year) for a new deal believed to be in the neighborhood of 10 years and $100 million.

ExploreThe Bulldogs sit atop the world. Get used to it.

Inflation and added operational expenses with the new $80 million football building would seem to make higher ticket and concession prices a given at Georgia, as seen at other SEC schools.

Brooks indicated that’s not how Georgia will approach things this year.

Capital investments

“We have no plans to increase home game ticket prices or concession prices for the upcoming season,” Brooks said. “Our fans were crucial in support of us through the pandemic with so many converting their potential refunds into donations. That allowed us to keep providing our student-athletes a first-class experience.”

The numbers, Brooks summarizes, will take care of themselves.

Where the Georgia athletic department looks to be proactive is amid the culture.

“One of the main priorities for us this year centered on the Georgia Athletics experience,” Brooks said. “We want to make sure that we are providing all of our stakeholders, including our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans, the best possible experience every time they step into an athletics facility. Dawg Nation is such a big part of our success.

ExplorePhotos: Champion Bulldogs celebrate with a parade in Athens

“They make Sanford Stadium a true home field advantage, they take over stadiums at our road games, and when we took the field at Lucas Oil Stadium, it was 70% Georgia fans in red and black. With all the support they have given us, we will continue to make sure their game days are the best they can be.”

Brooks said to that end, there will be great attention to detail in how the UGA athletic department approaches its duties, from top to bottom.

“The first part of all of this for me starts with a championship mentality, and goals and expectations for all of our programs to win championships,” Brooks said. “This staff, throughout the building from the student workers, to full-time staff, from grounds keepers to event management staff, has to find that championship mindset and mentality.

“We want this championship mindset to bleed over into every department and sport we have.”

Sports scene

The Bulldogs were 10th in the nation in the 2021 Learfield Directors’ Cup Standings, which ranks the nation’s athletic departments based on the finish of NCAA scholarship sports.

The six UGA sports that didn’t place and earn points were baseball, men’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, soccer and volleyball.

ExploreThe AJC's complete coverage of the Georgia Bulldogs

Brooks has since hired former USC Trojans’ national championship soccer coach Keidane McAlpine to replace former coach Billy Lesense. Last summer, Brooks hired USC’s national championship track coach, Caryl Smith Gilbert.

“Now with Keidane, Caryl and Kirby, eight of our 15 coaches have won a national championship as a head coach,” Brooks noted.