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February 14, 2012

9 Game Schedules in the SEC: Baby and the Bathwater?

I realize I am treading into Blutarsky's territory by quoting Michael Elkon, but Elkon hit on something this morning at Braves and Birds that I have been thinking about for nearly a year:
I seriously wonder about Georgia fans who would normally pay thousands of dollars for season tickets looking at their athletic director and saying “you sacrificed the Auburn game, which is often the best game on the home schedule, in order to preserve a glorified scrimmage.  Screw you, I’ll buy tickets to the games that I really want to attend on Stubhub.” 
Greg McGarity and his colleagues shouldn't be in panic mode yet, but it does beg the point: if the TV money comes in big early, do the ADs really care if the stadiums aren't full for the Noon kickoffs against Troy?

Putting aside the Hartman contributions required to get to the purchase threshold (and assuming the student tickets net the same price as the other tickets), there is around $3.25M in ticket revenue from the regular tickets for a game in Sanford. Will the drop off in ticket sales be enough to matter?

For schools like Georgia, read: any SEC school that collects a substantial amount of money as 'buy in' to be able to purchase tickets, that is where the ADs have to worry. For a number of years, the ebb and flow of Hartman money has been dictated by the quality of the team Georgia has fielded in the immediately preceding years. Signs are pointing to a phase were that the ebb and flow will be based as much on what teams are playing  in Athens as anything. If the home slate is Georgia State, FAU, Kentucky, South Carolina, Missouri, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State, do you get excited enough to bump your contribution to ensure you get tickets? If the TV money is good enough, do the ADs care?

The one thing Elkon isn't figuring in is the intrinsic, and subjective, value of contributing to the Hartman Funds of the conference (belonging to an 'exclusive' group, helping the student athletes at a place you love, tax shelters) and being able to sit in the same place year in and year out.  What he likely figures, though, is the same people I complained about yesterday, the students, are next year's new Hartman Fund donors. If they aren't excited about seeing a noon kickoffs against a slate of Coastal Carolinas now, why would they be when the tickets are more expensive to come by?

I'm not talking about just Georgia/Auburn and Alabama/Tennessee. The LSU/Florida game and the Arkansas/South Carolina games have been very big draws for those fan bases, something I would expect of the Texas A&M/Missouri game. Same could be said for the value of the match up for television.

Paul mentioned it the other day, and I think he's right. Follow the money. What we see as throwing the baby out with the bathwater, Slive and the ADs see as simply cleaning the wash tub out to hold more money. In the end, if the money is right, the stadium is merely a prop for the show happening on the field. The NFL learned that a long time ago (think the 70's when nearly half of all games were blacked out in home markets, but the national product was sold and broadcast to great success). No one really cares that the Steelers/Bengals game is sold out, at least outside of Southern Ohio/Western Pennsylvania, we just want to see Hines Ward and AJ Green play catch, or Ben Roethlisberger prisonshowered sacked.

And to answer Elkon's question, I don't know what it'll mean to ticket sales over the long term, but it probably won't matter either way.



Anonymous said...

We're already at that point at UGA and they haven't even got rid of the Auburn game yet. Look at this year's home schedule. It's absolutely horrible.

I understand your points in the NFL comparison but one of the key differences is that a lot of people watch college football for the atmosphere. If the stadiums aren't full and the fans aren't going bananas, people at home don't want to watch as much. That really isn't the case with the NFL, where people watch mostly for the product on the field. Sure, the crowd matters a little but it's not even close to being the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Not sure I follow Anon. I watch GTU play on Thursday night against UNC in a half empty stadium on TV. I could care less about the atmosphere at the game and frankly anyone who has ever been to a game where they can feel the crowds roar in their chest knows nothing ever replicates that over the TV.


Tony Waller said...

The NFL broadcasts make hay of the 'atmosphere' when it suits them (think Green Bay in December or anytime Philly has a night game). While ESPN really hypes the game day atmosphere of LSU or Oregon or Georgia or 'Bama, that is such a small subplot compared to LSU playing Georgia.

Slive might want to sell the 'it is different here' approach of the fans, and will be able to as long as his top drawing programs still bring in crowds that would make an NFL owner envious (think Tennessee, who played in front of nearly 5K empty seats on average, but still had 95+K fans on hand).

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