Once again, Georgia football a tough ticket

10/06/2018 -- Athens, Georgia -- Fans cheer during the first quarter of an Georgia and Vanderbilt NCAA college football game at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Saturday, October 6, 2018.  (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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10/06/2018 -- Athens, Georgia -- Fans cheer during the first quarter of an Georgia and Vanderbilt NCAA college football game at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Saturday, October 6, 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

ATHENS – If there is fear about gathering in large numbers amid a reported surge of COVID-19 cases, it is not present within the Bulldog Nation.

Georgia football fans have continued to line up for season tickets to attend games at Sanford Stadium, and they’re finding availability at away games particularly difficult. That’s especially the case for the Bulldogs’ highly anticipated season opener against Clemson in the Duke’s Mayo Classic in Charlotte.

It took a Hartman Fund score of at least 24,001 points (read that as dollars) for UGA donors to qualify for some of the 27,000 tickets allotted for the Bulldogs for the Sept. 4 game, according to a report circulated this week to season-ticket holders. If they were seeking seats in the desirable club section of Bank of America Stadium, it took a cumulative score of 90,140 just for the right to buy them.

“Demand is definitely far exceeding supply on that front,” said Ford Williams, Georgia’s executive associate athletic director for major gifts and the CEO of the Georgia Bulldog Club. “I think that’s just a testament to our fan base and how fervent they are and loving to travel places to watch the Dogs play. It speaks highly to the matchup, too, of course.”

The ESPN “College GameDay” crew will be on hand for the Sept. 4 game, which is expected to feature a pair of top-five teams in Clemson and Georgia. In addition to both schools selling out of their allotments, the Charlotte Sports Foundation, also is tapped out. Their limited number of tickets ranged from $150 apiece for the upper level to $350 in the club sections.

Bank of America Stadium seats 75,412. Many of the game organizer’s tickets were sold locally as packages that include the Thursday night Duke’s Mayo matchup between Appalachian State and East Carolina, the ACC Championship game and the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.

Meanwhile, the excitement over Georgia and Clemson’s prospects this season coupled with the close proximity of the two schools to Charlotte has driven up the cost of tickets on the secondary market. Four weeks ahead of the 7:30 p.m. kickoff (ABC-TV), lower-level seats are going for upward of a $1,000 each.

It’s actually on the road this season where Georgia fans are encountering the most ticket-availability issues. UGA donors had to have given at least $38,985 to receive tickets to the Vanderbilt game, an always-popular destination because of its location in Nashville. The Oct. 9 matchup against Auburn required $70,401 and higher. The popular club level at the Florida game required a score of at least 88,410. Otherwise, though, all requests were accommodated because of the half-and-half ticket distribution split with Florida.

Home-game ticket requests have proved to be more easily accommodated this year. The reason for that is threefold: One, Georgia has more seats to offer; two, season-ticket renewals were slightly down, likely because of the pandemic; and three, a less-attractive home schedule. Georgia’s six home games this season are against Alabama-Birmingham (Sept. 11), South Carolina (Sept. 18), Arkansas (Oct. 2), Kentucky (Oct. 16), Missouri (Nov. 6) and Charleston Southern (Nov. 20).

Sanford Stadium seats 92,746 people for football games. UGA offers more than 60,000 of those seats to season-ticket donors, which typically have sold out every year. Athletic Director Josh Brooks expects that to be the case again this year, though they’re not quite there yet.

“We’re down to a handful of season tickets,” Brooks said. “Like, literally, a handful in the 600 (upper) level. So theoretically, for all intents and purposes, we’re sold out of season tickets. And that’s with all the additions we’ve taken on since 2019.”

Georgia has added roughly 2,000 season tickets to its allotment since then. That’s mainly the result of visiting teams requesting a smaller number of seats. The Bulldogs have more than 14,000 individuals who are season-ticket donors. UGA said it has added more than 800 new donors this year.

“We’ve been able to make more (tickets) available,” Williams said. “There’s been a perception for a long time that it’s been harder to get in, that you’ve had to be a long time, multi-year, multi-thousands of dollars donor to be able to enjoy Sanford Stadium. Now we’re at a point where we can offer even more season tickets than we’ve been able to based on the game contracts. That provides new opportunities for people to get on board and be a first-time donor and be able to get into Sanford Stadium. That’s really exciting for us.”

It’s certainly a big change from last year. Like all SEC teams, Georgia reduced capacity (to 20,524) to allow for social distancing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the last two weeks of July, the CDC reported 254 cases of COVID-19 in Athens, 196 cases per every 100,000 residents. There obvious concerns with the looming return of 50,000 UGA students and faculty in the coming weeks.

For that reason, Brooks and UGA and encouraging vaccinations. Otherwise, they are planning for a full-capacity season.