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Post Bottom line says to keep the game in Jacksonville

Tuesday May 2, 2017

Last week we learned that Jacksonville’s government has been presented with a new contract that will keep the game in place through 2021. The new deal preserves the current revenue split and sweetens the pot with a shared $2.75 million of incentives over the life of the deal.

Bill King wonders what it might take to force the schools to consider a home-and-home arrangement rather than continuing at the neutral site. The first catalyst he mentions is a possible move to a 9-game SEC schedule. “If that were to happen,” King explains, “Georgia and Florida would be at a disadvantage in having one less home game in the odd-even rotation of home and away, and one less spot open for a cupcake home game.”

It’s true, and that disadvantage is already the case – when Georgia is the “home” team in Jacksonville, that’s a conference game we don’t get in Athens. We get three SEC contests at home, four true road SEC games, and Jacksonville. Georgia faces that situation every other year, but they usually pick up another cupcake game to fill out the home schedule. It was even worse in 2016 – there were just three home SEC games and not one but two neutral site games. I doubt Georgia or Florida would allow the rotation in a 9-game schedule to create a 3 home / 5 road imbalance, and the teams would have four home conference games every year while “hosting” a fifth in Jacksonville in alternating years.

King also wonders whether market forces might compel a move back to campus. As schools face increased pressure to sell season tickets as more fans watch at home, they might have to consider improving the quality of home games. It makes sense – Florida on the home schedule would definitely make a season ticket more attractive. Neither Florida nor Georgia seems to be at that point yet – we’ve seen the empty seats, but the tickets are still – for the most part – being sold.

Let’s say that season ticket sales do fall off. It would take a precipitous drop to give up the cash cow that’s the WLOCP. With ticket prices $70 and up, Georgia’s share of the gate is already more than they’d make selling out a home game at normal prices every other year. That’s even before you include 1) the incentives and bonuses built into the new contract and 2) the fact that Georgia’s take in Jacksonville is pure revenue. The schools pay nothing to host this game and forego only concessions revenue. More, let’s remember that all neutral site game revenue is on top of what we’re already paying for season tickets. Georgia gets the Hartman Fund donations, season ticket renewals, *and* any revenue from neutral site games. It would take one heck of an apocalyptic fall in season ticket sales to upset that gravy train.

Rather than encouraging games on campus, economic incentives tell us to prefer the neutral site. Successful neutral games can command premium ticket prices, cost the schools nothing in terms of operating expenses, and will almost always come with a national TV audience. There might even be untapped revenue to be had. As neutral games go, the Georgia-Florida game is still a bargain. $70 will get you in the door in Jacksonville. Last season it took at least $85 to buy a UGA-UNC ticket, and of course better seats cost more. Prices for this year’s FSU-Bama, Florida-Michigan, and even Tech-Tennessee games are comparable or even higher.

The guarantees that come with these games easily eclipse the net revenue from a home-and-home with a comparable opponent. Michigan is walking away with $6 million for their 2017 opener against Florida. Again, that’s on top of whatever Michigan is bringing in from season ticket sales and priority donations. When Jeremy Foley talks about the “unique opportunity” of Florida playing in that game, he’s not talking about a chance to spend quality time with Jerry Jones. These schools might not have the sharpest knives in the drawer running the athletic department, but even they can do the math.

I’ve said my piece about removing some of the best nonconference games from Sanford Stadium. It might seem inconsistent for me to turn my nose up at non-conference neutral site games while wanting to preserve the Jacksonville game, but that’s a hypocrisy I’m willing to live with. I enjoy it too much. Kirby Smart has made known his preference for a big neutral site game to start the season, so that ship has sailed anyway. As for Jacksonville, until Georgia begins to take a noticeable hit from its own core fans about the quality of the home schedule, there’s just too much value in the neutral venue. If that backlash doesn’t happen with the rancid 2017 and 2018 home slates, will it ever?



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