Greg McGarity is telling anyone in earshot that he’s getting ready to feed us a steady stream of cupcakes, and we’d better like it, by Gawd.
The playoff era in college football arrives next season, and Georgia will begin it with a major nonconference opponent. But after hosting Clemson in 2014, the Bulldogs don’t have any other major nonconference plans, other than the annual rivalry with Georgia Tech.
In fact, athletics director Greg McGarity indicated he wasn’t pursuing anything. Don’t look for Georgia to make a habit of major nonconference games, due to reasons more financial than competitive.
Now, some of his bet hedging is explained by uncertainties over the future of a nine-game conference schedule and how much weight the new playoff selection committee will give strength of schedule, but that only goes so far. (For one thing, a ninth conference game is still going to offer another opponent on a home-and-home basis, so it doesn’t address McGarity’s financial concerns.) But let’s not lose sight of what’s important here – the bottom line is the bottom line.
Only having six home games this year cost UGA “more than $2 million,” McGarity said. That’s the revenue UGA typically gets from a home game at Sanford Stadium. The surrounding areas also lost potential revenue. So McGarity said he is “absolutely” focused on getting seven games at Sanford Stadium per year, with finances a big reason.
“This past year really hurt us financially, because we only had six home games,” McGarity said.
That’s a trifle misleading, in that the revenue the school receives from the WLOCP exceeds what it would make if the Florida game went home-and-home, but McGarity’s right in that by playing the season opener at Clemson instead of hosting, say, Georgia Southern, the program is leaving money on the table. At least that’s the case in the short run. But what about the longer term picture?
Here are two assertions that don’t seem contestable:
(1) The cost of attending most major sporting events has been rising in real terms for decades.
(2) The cost of watching most major sporting events via remote technology has been plunging, especially in recent years.
The second point might require a bit of elaboration. “Cost” in this context means the relation between the price of watching a sporting event other than by attending in person, and the quality of that experience. That experience has been improving at a very rapid rate in recent years: for example, watching a high definition broadcast of a sports event on a 50-inch screen costs a sports fan today perhaps one-twentieth of what purchasing such an experience would have cost a decade ago. (HDTV is an especially superior technology for sports viewing).
In addition, the variety of games available for remote viewing, and the technologies available for viewing them other than standard televisions (computers, mobile devices etc.) are vastly superior to what they were even a few years ago.
As a simple matter of economics, these trends can’t both continue indefinitely. 40 years ago the average NFL ticket cost $30 in 2013 dollars: this year the average is probably over $100 when you include the cost of private seat licenses. And the cost of parking and concessions has risen even faster than ticket prices. Meanwhile a giant television with a superb picture costs in real dollars what what a 12-inch portable black and white TV that pulled in a fuzzy broadcast of two games per weekend cost a generation ago, and you can for a fairly modest price watch literally every NFL game of the season on your IPhone if you so desire.
Admittedly, it’s hard to gauge when those two trends cross paths for college football. There are regional ties and traditions that give the sport an impressive brand loyalty. But it’s not immune to erosion, especially when the powers that be running the sport act in a way that indicates they take those ties and traditions for granted. And when they assume, as McGarity does, that the fan base will accept a watered down product (the matchups, not the home team) at greater cost.
The Georgia football season ticket is already one of the most expensive in the SEC, once you factor in the mandatory Hartman Fund contribution. As the cost of staying home and getting a choice of watching more competitive football at a lower expense accelerates, what can McGarity offer the fan base as a sweetener to keep them coming back to Athens? That’s a question he’s going to have to answer sooner or later.