If you haven’t read Marc Weiszer’s piece on the Magill Society, by all means take the time to do so. He does a terrific job of contrasting the relentless determination at Butts-Mehre to find a way to squeeze every drop out of a fan base energized by Kirby Smart’s success…
A $30.2 million indoor practice facility, a $63 million upgrade to the west end zone of Sanford Stadium and the still to come new football center that will house the two-time SEC East champions with a price tag that could be in the $80 million range, were built in part on handshakes and backslaps with those with deep pockets.
They are members of the Magill Society, whose entry costs $25,000 to be paid over a five-year period.
What that gets is added points in Georgia’s ticket priority system (1.5 points for every $1 donated), a chance to improve their seating in Sanford Stadium, secure tickets to prime games away from Athens, invitations to private dinners and extra attention from the powers that be at Georgia.
“If we want to play at a certain level, it costs a lot of money,” McGarity said.
… with the resignation of that same fan base that knows what’s going on and realizes there’s little to be done about it.
“It has all become such a cash grab,” said Dave Marler, a season ticket holder from 1978 to 2014 who gave them up after becoming disenchanted with the cost and game day experience. “The whole Magill Society thing reinforces that. … I understand the nature of the business today. What I don’t understand, and I suspect hundreds of others don’t understand, is the absolute almost neglect of those that aren’t at that level; the lack of concern for the average fan that comes and pays their money just like those folks do. … Any improvements are made with high-end donors in mind.”
Said more in sadness than in anger, and why not? It’s the way the college athletics world works these days.
In fact, in a perverse way, you almost have to admire the hyper-tiered nature of what B-M has come up with. There are ladders to climb within the Magill Society itself.
For Magill members, the more you give, the more you get.
“It was attractive to get the extra points associated with donating,” said Magill member Rob Mason, who lives in Atlanta and works in sales. “I understand there are a lot of people in line that are a lot older than me that have given for a long time.”
Mason said he has access to meet-and-greets, was invited to see Smart, have lunch and tour the west end zone expansion, but said the perks at the entry level aren’t overwhelming.
“It’s not like it’s a golden ticket,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like a society. It seems like within Magill there are higher tiers of being Magill. To me, if you’re going to have that type of environment, every single person in the society should have the same access.”
More than 300 people are at the $100,000 level, which gives them access to be on the field in Sanford Stadium for the Dawg Walk or at the corner of the end zone during warm-ups.
There are 64 people that have given $250,000, which can get their name on a room or a trophy case.
Those who give $100,000 in one year are part of “The Hedges.” They received invites to watch Georgia’s NFL prospects at pro day in April from a lounge and they received a chance to hear Smart speak to the small group.
About 65 people were at a Hedges dinner at Atlanta steakhouse Bone’s in June with Smart, McGarity and Georgia men’s basketball coach Tom Crean, and another 40 were expected last month to eat with Smart, McGarity and baseball coach Scott Stricklin at The Falls in Athens.
The Silver Circle counts 45 in the most exclusive group for those who give $1 million over a five-year period. Those at the level can transfer tickets after death.
The hilarious thing is that, as obvious as the money chase is, folks like Matt Borman feel as if they need to pay lip service to an egalitarian streak that nobody is buying.
“There’s a perception right now that we only care about the high-end donors and certainly we’ve got to do our best to make sure we’re taking care of those individuals, but we try to have a relationship with as many people as we possibly can that are donors to UGA and season ticket holders,” Borman said. “We care about everybody and it’s a cliché, but we want everybody to feel a part of what we’re doing.”
In other words, every wallet is special at Georgia. It’s just that some wallets are more special than others.
There’s a legitimate question to ask about the athletics department’s focus, too. What’s the future for the great unwashed, those members of the fan base who’ve been loyal supporters over time, but are being bypassed in favor of the Magill Society’s nouveau riche?
Rebecca Phillips wrote to McGarity at the time of the increase because she disputed Georgia’s portrayal to its athletic board that it ranked on the lower end in the SEC because she said it didn’t count contributions season ticket holders need to give to buy tickets. Georgia countered that it compared only season ticket prices.
She said if Georgia continued to increase prices, she wouldn’t be able to afford them in 20 or 30 years.
“Buying tickets is a splurge for my family and we justify it because of what the university means to us, because of what football means to us,” she said. “This is a family affair. We go together with our family. I’m a third generation Georgia marriage. All of us go together to the game and I want to be able to take my kids and teach them about Georgia football. My message to the Athletic Association is you ought not to price out the next generation. How is there going to be a new breed of Bulldogs standing ready if young families can’t afford to bring their kids?”
You have the feeling questions like that aren’t even going to be considered until Butts-Mehre runs smack dab into a financial crisis of its own making, but who’s to say when that day is coming? That ain’t the way the Georgia Way is wired.
Mason understands the resentment of some fans not in the Magill Society.
“I would say that people in Magill feel the same resentment towards the higher tier of Magill,” he said.
Georgia says it attempts to constantly improve the fan experience for all, but Mason wants to see more “forward thinking,” with facility improvements for fans.
“I think we can afford to be more ambitious in our stadium facilities,” said Mason, who took trips to LSU and Notre Dame and doesn’t believe Sanford Stadium “measures up.”
With 16,000 ticket donors to its Hartman Fund, McGarity sees untapped potential Magill members in the fan base.
“It tells you there’s tremendous growth in that number,” he told the athletic board. “There’s tremendous upside to make those numbers go up.”
Now there’s a plan. An exclusive stadium lounge here, a meet-and-greet with Kirby there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money. Maybe that’s what Borman means when he says, “We care about everybody and it’s a cliché, but we want everybody to feel a part of what we’re doing.”
Welcome to the corporatization of college athletics, folks. Georgia is on the cutting edge. In other words, best get used to it. If you aren’t already, that is.