Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post The twilight of the paper ticket

Friday August 28, 2020

The pandemic has served to hasten the move across sports to digital ticketing. Tickets at Georgia and other schools will be delivered to and managed on the ticketholder’s phone. From a public health standpoint it makes sense. Digital tickets are contactless at the gate, and selling/transferring tickets on the secondary market doesn’t require a face-to-face meeting.

It’s necessary but unfortunate that the days are numbered for the paper ticket. The arrival of the sheet of season tickets in August was a day many fans anticipated. Each year’s design was a little different and more elaborate. The bigger point is that the ticket was a tangible memento of the game and our presence at it.

I was reminded of Scott Duvall’s (of the Waitin’ Since Last Saturday podcast) table project that showcased his collection of ticket stubs. You can point to any spot on the table and dive into the history, stats, stories, and memories represented by that ticket. I expect many of us have a collection of stubs whether tucked away in a box in the closet or even turned into a showcase like Duvall’s. Most of the tickets are run-of-the-mill home game tickets, but the 2007 Blackout game or the 2013 LSU game is worth highlighting. Maybe there’s a special place for that Rose Bowl or Notre Dame ticket. That 2002 Alabama or 1997 Florida game? That’s in there too.

As Duvall predicted, “the proliferation of electronic and print-at-home tickets will surely slow the pace of collecting more (stubs.)” That proliferation hit the afterburners this year, and there’s no going back. There are too many benefits to the issuer to go digital: digital tickets are harder to counterfeit, easier and cheaper to produce and deliver, and they can be tied to a team-managed gameday experience.

Pro teams are well out in front of this trend. Tickets are tied to a team app that manages everything from parking to concessions to movement throughout the arena or stadium. Alabama made news last year for using this location tracking to monitor how many students stayed until the bitter end.

Once tickets and the gameday experience are routed through a team-controlled app, marketers will have plenty of data to mine. As the CEO of the group that owns Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz stadium put it, “I will know when you come in, and what you buy and when.” That sounds more menacing than it’s meant to, but the truth is that there’s a lot of valuable information wrapped up in the preferences and behaviors of top-dollar customers. As Georgia caters more to Magill-level fans and seeks to move more fans into that tier, data is key to reaching those people.

For now it’s just ticketing that’s moving to the digital platform. It won’t be seamless; older and lower-income fans might not have the technology to use these tickets, and accommodations will have to be considered. During the pandemic it might mean that some people are unable to attend games. For those of us who have that box of stubs, we won’t be adding much to it. Sports fans are still sports fans, and our deep attachment to nostalgia won’t disappear. We’ll just need something a little less tangible to trigger it.

Post Why I opted out

Thursday August 27, 2020

In April I posted a few thoughts about my decision to renew season tickets for the 2020 season during the early stages of the pandemic. I concluded that “renewing season tickets now bought me time to watch and wait and make a more informed decision months from now.”

The time for that decision is now. Georgia and the SEC plan to play football. The league is leaving attendance policies up to the individual schools based on local regulations, and most schools, including Georgia, will be at around 20% capacity. With a month or so to reallocate tickets under the new arrangement, Georgia had one question for its donors and season ticket holders: are you in or out? Fans had until yesterday, August 26th, to decide whether to opt in to the pool of applicants for tickets or opt out for the 2020 season.

It was a difficult decision, but I have opted out and will miss home games for the first time since 1990. In my April post, I outlined a few criteria I had in mind for attending games, and I don’t believe that we’re there yet. I’m encouraged by the trends in Georgia as we come down from a summer peak, but there is still considerable community transmission. Our therapeutic toolkit has improved since the spring, but the most promising treatments are still in trials. It’s possible (and likely) that the numbers and available treatments will be even better in a month’s time as we kick off, but we’re being asked to make a decision now based on information at hand.

There’s more to it than just the medical risk. For many of us the social element of gameday is as important as the action on the field. It’s an opportunity to bring together friends and groups from around the state (and beyond) and rekindle family bonds and traditions that span generations. It’s a cliché that football is a religion in the South, but gameday sure does seem like a ritual.

We don’t know yet whether tailgating will be allowed. (On-campus tailgating, that is. Off-campus tailgating won’t be under the University’s control but will still have to follow state and local regulations for gatherings.) It’s safe to say though that the social element of gameday will be disrupted. You and your friends could receive tickets to different games. You won’t be sitting in the same location around the same group with whom you’ve gone through the highs and lows of each season. You will park, go to the game, maybe catch a bite in town, and head home. We’ve all probably gone to a game in that way before, and it’s pretty much how I attend basketball games. It’s not how most of us prefer to spend a football Saturday. Those changes are understandable and necessary just to have anyone in the stands this year, but for the trouble, the risks, and the uncertainty of seat location and game, the at-home setup – or watching the game at a private and distanced tailgate – sounds pretty good this year.

Georgia’s refund policy made the decision easier. The policy allows us to convert this year’s sunk costs into priority points or a refund. More importantly, I’ll keep my seat location and priority going forward regardless of my opt-in/out decision. I chose to convert my donation since it is meant to support all of Georgia’s programs and not just football. Others need the refund, and it’s the minimum of decency to offer that option without penalty for the 2021 season.

Much has changed since April. We’ve learned a tremendous amount, but that’s led to other questions. One thing that’s remained unchanged is this: as things reopen and events resume, we can control our participation. We each have our own risk tolerance and financial situation, and its our responsibility to make our own decisions based on the best available information. I’m glad that Georgia’s policy allowed some flexibility with very little downside, and I would have been disappointed with the program had a less generous policy been offered. I’ll very much miss attending games if they’re played – I’ve been to every home game since I enrolled. I’ll miss just as much seeing the usual crew and reuniting with my extended family inside and outside of the stadium. I see those as small sacrifices for myself and my family to navigate safely through this pandemic. You might disagree, and please bark twice as loud for me.

With my decision over and done with, I just hope they can play safely. Wear your mask.

Post Why students should, but won’t, get most of 2020’s tickets

Sunday August 23, 2020

If I had one issue with the ticket plan, it’s this: I was disappointed to see that only 3,000 tickets will be reserved for students. I understand why: the first half of Greg McGarity’s letter outlining the new ticket policy clearly laid out the financial stakes, and as many people as possible need to be paying the full $150/game. Students also won’t contribute as much to the struggling Athens economy that depends on home games. There are still some very good reasons why students should get a larger share:

  • Students are in a much lower-risk group than the typical fan. Of course COVID-19 has affected all age groups, but on average those around college age are much less likely to face severe disease or worse if there is transmission among the crowd.
  • Donors will be able to be right back in their same seats next year and beyond. Students, on the other hand, have a limited time to enjoy the experience of attending a game as a student. Student tickets are already constrained by a lottery. Alumni can recall how their passion for watching Georgia football and their lifelong relationship with the program was cultivated in the student section. Even fewer students will have that experience now.
  • Students are more likely to make noise. With attendance limited, you want to maximize the impact of those who are in the stands.
  • If tickets were limited to students, groups of fans without tickets would be less tempted to come to Athens to tailgate or score a ticket.
  • Perhaps most importantly, students won’t have to travel to the game. By the first home game, students will have been in Athens for at least six weeks. Their loose networks of contacts will have stabilized. Local initial outbreaks might have settled down. Other fans will travel in from areas with varying levels of outbreak. Tens of thousands of people descending on Athens from all corners of the state four times during the fall will establish potentially new networks of transmission when those fans return home.

I trust that a lot of thought has been put into keeping the gameday experience as safe as possible for those who are able to attend. Of course any policy comes down to compliance and enforcement, and we’ll see how that goes.

Post Limited capacity ticket plan announced for the 2020 season

Thursday August 20, 2020

They’re going to try. We know what the modified SEC-only schedule looks like, and now we know that a limited number of fans will be able to see it in person. The SEC will allow each school to set its own attendance policy subject to state and local regulations. The only common guideline is that only 500 visitor tickets will be allocated for each game, and those tickets will likely be held in reserve for the visitor’s family members and official traveling party. In other words, road games won’t be part of the new ticket application.

Georgia’s policy is similar to others we’ve seen. Tickets will be kept to 20-25% of capacity with social distancing enforced. Masks will be required outside of the seating area. Tickets will be allocated in blocks of four. This means roughly 20,000 tickets will be issued for each of Georgia’s four home games, and that figure includes tickets set aside for visitors, students, guests, faculty, administration, and all of the other usual uses. The rest of the tickets will be offered to donors, and they’ll have the option to request from one to four games based on contribution level with no guarantees. The general public will not be able to order tickets directly through Georgia.

Of course with capacity reduced, the policy also includes information about refunds and options for 2020 Hartman Fund donations and season ticket orders. Fans will have to decide to opt in or out of the new ticketing system to help UGA gauge demand and allocate the tickets. Fans will also have to decide what to do with the money already deposited for the 2020 season. Fortunately there are options regardless of the decision to opt in or out.

The big takeaways of the policy were:

  • Your seat location and priority level won’t be affected if you choose to opt out. This is very important for those who might have reservations about attending games.
  • 2020 donations and season ticket payments won’t roll over to 2021 but can be refunded or turned into a tax-deductible donation for 3x Hartman Fund points.
  • Unless your annual donation is over $5,000, you will be able to request at most one home game this year, and it’s not a sure thing. They’ll use the same system used for road games and postseason tickets, and demand at the top levels will determine how many tickets are available lower down the priority system.

I’d like to see who actually ends up using the tickets. Tailgating and games likely won’t be the elaborate social and networking opportunities we’re used to. No one will get more than four seats, and they won’t be in the location you’re used to around the same people. If (on-campus) tailgating is limited or prohibited, you’ll park, go to the game, and leave – maybe after grabbing a bite to eat. Will attending a game be less appealing with the social element stripped down?

Certainly there are some younger donors in the Magill Society, but a large share of Georgia’s top donors are older fans in more vulnerable age groups. Will they simply distribute their tickets to younger relatives or try to make some money reselling their tickets? Will they simply pass and open up tickets for donors at lower priority levels? I’m interested to see how that secondary market develops. Will there be much excess demand for those scarce 20,000 tickets? With Auburn and Tennessee coming to town, I expect there will be.

It’s also worth pointing out that even this revised policy is subject to change. It’s not likely that more tickets will be issued, but it could certainly go the other way if conditions merit. Venerated events like the Kentucky Derby and the Masters have announced that they’ll proceed this fall without fans or patrons. The schools would prefer to salvage as much ticket revenue as possible, but if it comes down to holding a game with no fans versus no game at all, the stands will be empty.

Post 2020 schedule, take 2

Tuesday August 18, 2020

Georgia’s revised conference-only 2020 schedule was released Monday night. It’s surreal to write about a schedule that stands a fair chance of further revision or outright cancellation, but it’s what we have for now.

Even if it ends up never taking place, the 10-game SEC slate looks mighty attractive, and it’s going to be tough going back. Give me Tech and maybe another P5 nonconference game, and you’ve got a compelling schedule in the years to come. The revised home schedule isn’t great, but the original schedule wasn’t much to look at either. Tennessee and Auburn are still on there, and a visit from Mike Leach’s MSU Bulldogs replaces Georgia Tech and a couple of forgettable contract games.

Here’s the complete SEC schedule, and here’s Georgia’s slate:

Sept. 26: at Arkansas
Oct. 3: Auburn
Oct. 10: Tennessee
Oct. 17: at Alabama
Oct. 24: at Kentucky
Oct. 31: Bye
Nov. 7: vs. Florida (Jax)
Nov. 14: at Missouri
Nov. 21: Mississippi State
Nov. 28: at South Carolina
Dec. 5: Vanderbilt

  • Attention will be focused on the front of the schedule, and consecutive games against Auburn, Tennessee, and Alabama jump out. What might be more important to Georgia’s season is the midseason stretch from Alabama through Florida. There will be three straight games requiring out-of-state travel, and Kentucky has proven to be a credible threat in the division. Alabama and Florida need no hype. By that point in the season, you’ll also have the early wear and tear begin to take their toll – remember how much the fortunes of 2013 changed from September to October.
  • In 2019, Georgia’s November SEC schedule was widely described as a “gauntlet.” The four-game stretch from Florida to Texas A&M featured three opponents ranked in the top 16 of SP+, and Missouri was still a respectable #36. That doesn’t seem to be the case this year. Missouri and Mississippi State will still be working through first-year coach issues. We know better than to overlook South Carolina, especially on the road, but Georgia should once again be favored. If Georgia comes out of Jacksonville on top of the division, they’ll be heavy favorites to finish the job.
  • Yes, that’s only four home games out of ten. It’s Georgia’s turn as the home team in Jacksonville, and the Bulldogs won’t have any of the nonconference games that would have filled out the usual home slate. Georgia will have to travel out-of-state for six of its ten games.
  • That itinerary means that Georgia will go six weeks in the middle of the season without a true home game. That’s not unusual; the game in Jacksonville often means an extended road trip during October even in normal seasons. There will also be the usual pre-Florida bye week during the road trip.
  • Since this is all improvised, several traditional dates were sacrificed. Georgia-Auburn moves to the beginning of the season, but that was expected in the original schedule. The Iron Bowl is no longer the last game of the season. Alabama’s “Third Saturday in October” opponent is now Georgia rather than Tennessee. Georgia-Florida won’t be a Halloween trick or treat, but the November 7th date is more in line with when the game was played prior to 1992.
  • A schedule release usually leads us to think about travel plans. Georgia hasn’t been to Fayetteville since 2009. For the first time in years, the Kentucky trip is in October. Keeneland’s Fall Meet will run through October 24th, though attendance details haven’t been released yet. Columbia, SC might even be pleasant in late November, and it will be nice to avoid the furnace that is a mid-September game over there.
  • It might be best to hold off planning elaborate road trips. The SEC will limit visiting teams to just 500 tickets, and there almost surely won’t be tickets sold to the general public.
  • I hope your WLOCP reservations were refundable. Maybe you’ll just extend your plans another week.
  • The Jacksonville NFL schedule wasn’t much help in divining the date of the WLOCP. Jacksonville will host the Georgia-Florida game and an NFL game on consecutive days. That’s quite a long night for stadium operations people, but it would be made easier if organizers aren’t expecting many people at either event.
  • It’s small potatoes in the scheme of building a schedule from scratch during a pandemic, but I do hope Georgia’s administration at least tried to preserve the date in Jacksonville. It’s the only neutral-site game in the conference, and so it’s the only game for which both sets of fans would travel. Even if fans aren’t allowed at the game (or are limited), a lot of people have money wrapped up in the weekend of October 31st.
  • When schedules began moving around in the spring and summer, a tantalizing possibility was a double-header with a big Georgia home game and the Masters. Now we know that Georgia won’t host a home game on November 14th (they’ll play at Missouri), and Augusta National won’t have patrons at the Masters. You’ll be watching both events from home.