If you’re a Hartman Fund donor at a certain level, you might have received a note this week with this offer: “The Georgia Bulldog Club is offering you the opportunity to request additional non-renewable season tickets.” Qualifying donors may request as many as eight non-renewable season tickets before the deadline in May.
Now before we assign any sweeping trends to the availability of extra season tickets, this news isn’t unusual. Yes, the $10,000 donation that it took for first-time season tickets in 2008 seems like a long time ago, but that spike in demand was the exception. Extra season tickets remained in years before 2008 and have remained in years since.
You only have to look around the nation (or in the Georgia student section) to see that schools face challenges in packing their stadiums. It’s true that some schools are undertaking ambitious expansions and renovations. We’ll see if the fans follow. Even the programs on top have trouble holding interest. Administrators are grasping at ideas to compete with the experience of watching a game from the comforts of home.
Georgia ticket sales have remained strong in this climate, but even the Dawgs aren’t immune from the pressures on demand. Is that what we’re seeing in the season ticket numbers? We won’t know until the totals are in, and even then it will take a few years of data to establish a trend. Individual teams face their own micro factors in ticket demand – how do fans feel about the coming season? How did they like last season? How do they feel about the coaches and the offseason moves?
If you want to raise a small red flag, we’re talking about extra season tickets remaining for a season that features Clemson, Auburn, Tennessee, and Georgia Tech on the home slate. How will things look in 2015 when the home schedule drops off precipitously after South Carolina?
That brings us to the quality of the schedule. I’m not as gung-ho as others on a 9th SEC game driving ticket demand. The same temptations that keep people at home still apply. We like to imagine that the 9th game will always be a big draw like Alabama or LSU, but it’s just as likely to be Arkansas or Mississippi State. It still figures to draw bigger crowds than a lightweight opponent as demand grows more elastic. How much bigger? That’s where I’m slightly skeptical. If we do move in that direction, it’s pretty clear that the push is going to have to come from the administrators rather than the coaches.
SEC coaches again emerged from a discussion about the 9th SEC game without much support for the idea. Saban, who champions both a 9th conference game *and* another game against a power conference opponent, is playing a solo rather than leading the band. We know that keeping the schedule at 8 games could jeopardize traditional rivalries, but coaches don’t seem to mind. I don’t really blame the coaches for acting in their own interests. Another conference game by definition spreads 7 more losses around the league affecting everything from job security to bowl bids to bonuses. A coach like Saban might feel relatively secure in those areas, but many of his peers can’t afford to take the risk.
When the 9th game comes – and it will – it’s going to come from top-down pressure by administrators. They’ll hear the demands from networks wanting a better inventory of games, and they’ll do what it takes to keep the money flowing in by appeasing those networks and priming demand for tickets. They just won’t (and shouldn’t) count on the coaches to lead the charge.