I’m sure I’m opening myself up for a fair amount of grief for what I’m about to post, but I hope you’ll bear with me as I make my point.
You see, I’m about to compare my two days as a sports fan this weekend, one spent at G-Day and the other at the Masters. I’m not going to make a statement about which is a better spectator sport, to compare what’s expected in the way of fan behavior, or anything similar. What I am going to discuss is which venue provides a more enjoyable setting to be a fan.
Maybe you don’t think that’s a fair comparison for some reason, but I do. Both are sources for my attention and for my entertainment dollars. Both face similar issues in balancing fan attendance and the broadcast audience (although The Masters is less frantic about that concern than Georgia, the SEC and big time college football are). And both are commercial enterprises seeking to separate me from the contents of my wallet. But for all the similarities, the treatment I receive in each arena is quite different.
Start with what I got out of G-Day. Now, that’s a spring game, so the economics are different from what I’m subjected to once Labor Day rolls around. There’s no parking charge (no game charge, for that matter), the stadium isn’t full and you don’t pull your hair over the traffic snarls. The in-season experience, as we all know, is quite different. The only place you can stop your vehicle without an assessment is at a red light. Entry into Sanford Stadium is a fairly clogged routine. Tailgating has been pushed and prodded into a diminished state. Inside the stadium, you’re constantly reminded that many areas aren’t suited for a capacity of 96,000 souls. Concessions can be a fight to get served and the prices can make you blanch. Bathrooms are less than pleasant experiences at peak times. Traffic after the game has been a sadly mismanaged affair for some time now.
Compare that to arriving at The Masters. Traffic is carefully directed, all the way to your parking space, which is free. Entering the club is smooth, too, even with similar concerns about security. Once inside, getting around is a breeze. Everything is clearly marked and accessible. The efficiency at which you can maneuver through the restrooms and concessions areas is startling, despite the crowds. (I managed to pick up three sandwiches, chips and beer and pay for them, all in less than two minutes.) Even the gift store’s legendary crowds don’t get in the way of an efficient shopping experience – and, believe me, that is one crazed place. The grounds are as immaculate as the course.
Trust me, it’s a jarring comparison to take in on back-to-back days.
Now, I’ll admit it’s not a totally fair comparison to make in certain ways. For one, Augusta is a bigger town than Athens and the event it hosts draws a smaller crowd, so no doubt the logistics are easier. For another, there are differences in what’s expected from the crowds (although it should be pointed out that I saw a lot of Georgia fans yesterday).
Here’s the thing, though. It’s not that unfair. No one has forced the university administration to expand the stadium capacity to a point where it’s stretched the resources of both the school and the town to handle in comfort. And, again, these are both sporting events that are commercial operations. With that comes a responsibility to treat the people they attract in a way that makes them appreciate the experience.
If anything, that should matter more in Athens than it does in Augusta. The Masters is an exclusive brand and event that has proven to be remarkably immune from outside pressure. College football, however, is in the throes of dealing with a public that finds watching a television broadcast of the event in comfort a more attractive option to attending the game live than ever. And yet it’s the golf event that serves itself up to its visitors better.
There’s a pretty basic trick behind the magic. The Masters simply floods the place with personnel. It hires an army of local kids, trains them well and deploys them everywhere from the parking lots to the gift store to the restrooms. The grounds are constantly maintained (everywhere I turned you could see people discreetly removing garbage). Sure, that costs money, but it’s spent in a way that you can’t help but appreciate and admire. It also has the benefit of making sales more efficient, which means opportunity to make more sales.
It’s not like money is a problem in Athens. It’s just that there seems to be little thought to spending it in a way that makes the fan base content. I think back to the shameful way North Campus was treated before Michael Adams had his hissy fit and essentially shut down the tailgate experience; much of that could have been resolved with better security, more restroom facilities and a reasonable amount of attention paid to trash removal. None of that is exactly back-breaking from a financial standpoint for a school with Georgia’s resources. It’s just that no one in a position to improve things could be bothered with it. And that’s a story you could repeat in many other ways.
Instead, we’re offered enhanced wi-fi, ever more intrusive piped in music and goofy sideshows like yesterday’s mascot abomination as a solution. But I don’t weigh the prospect of live attendance on the basis of my short-term attention span. The home experience is about greater comfort and convenience. I don’t wait to go to the kitchen for a drink, my bathroom smells nice and I can always find a place to park. This is the lesson I’m afraid McGarity and his AD peers are missing. I want what I got yesterday – a feeling that the money I’m shelling out is somehow being spent to benefit my experience in a way that gives me what I have at home, while making me feel glad I came. Athens and Augusta may be different in some ways, but my wish to be appreciated is exactly the same.