Georgia's Football Fans Rescued the Georgia Bulldogs From a $55 Million Budget Deficit

Zulie Rane

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Sports was one of the first casualties when COVID struck in the States. Many Americas say that they first knew the pandemic was “serious” when football, basketball, and baseball games began to be canceled for safety reasons around mid-March 2020.

At that point, nobody knew how long the pandemic would last. Some thought it’d be over by summer, while more pessimistic - and realistic, as it turned out - voices suggested it might be going on for a lot longer than that.

For sports fans as well as sports teams, this was bad news. The number of games being televised was drastically reduced, especially at first. Stadium capacities were limited for safety reasons. For example, in Georgia's football stadium, only 20,524 spectators were permitted to attend games in the 92,746-seat stadium. And football teams like the Georgia `Dawgs began to worry they’d incur an enormous budget deficit.

“Georgia recorded only $2.5 million in football ticket revenue as of December 2020, compared with $33.7 million in December 2019,” writes Chip Towers in the AJC. Combined with the loss of concessions and fewer at-home games, the budget looked like it was in real trouble.

Georgia Football Fans Stepped Up to the Tune of $22 Million

It looked dire. Especially at the start of the pandemic, when remediation methods weren’t ironed out and the future of the game seemed very uncertain, estimates of the overall budget deficit were high. UGA Athletic Director Josh Brooks reported that the original estimates for the deficit were at $55 million, a very high number to recover from in the future.

In the end, what saved the Georgia Bulldogs from financial difficulties were its fans. Even though they couldn’t show their support for their team in-person, football fans did their part. When the Georgia Bulldogs team asked its season ticket holders to “opt-out” of attending in-person games, allowing their season ticket money to roll into a Covid relief fund, 60% did so.

“I can’t say the word ‘thank you’ enough to everyone about the way everyone has stepped up in a difficult situation and made it a more manageable situation,” Brooks said during his address to the Georgia Athletic Association board of directors annual winter meeting. Thanks to the loyal fans of the Georgia football team, the team is in much better shape fiscally than they had originally anticipated at the start of the pandemic.

COVID-19 had an unprecedented impact on sports teams nationally

Throughout the pandemic, football teams have been beleaguered by both the sickness and how it’s affected games. The gameplay is affected, while the NFL tries to normalize the experience of watching games at home by providing a soundtrack crowd created by NFL Films. Many teams are doing the same for players, pumping in fake crowd noise to boost morale.

When speaking to NBC’s Peter King, New England Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty said, "When you play in a stadium with no fans, no noise, you've got to bring your own energy for three hours ... And you win, nobody to high-five, no kid to throw your gloves to. You come to the realization that we're going to have to do a lot of this ourselves, generate a lot of the energy ourselves."

Especially in such a trying environment, football teams all around the country and especially in Georgia must be happy to see that their fans believe in them and are willing to put their money where their mouth is, supporting their teams. Looking to the future, it’s still uncertain whether 2021 will be any better for fans or football players in terms of being able to play live, attend events, and enjoy the atmosphere of a full-capacity football game once again. But no matter what the case may be, it’s clear that Georgia’s football team has the full support of its fans both on and off the field.

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