In 2014, the University of Georgia athletics program made a deal with Notre Dame resulting in two football games — one in South Bend, Indiana, and the other in Athens.
The Bulldogs beat the Fighting Irish in 2017 during the teams’ first match up since the 1981 Sugar Bowl. This Saturday, the teams will meet for a third time for an eagerly awaited historic game.
But UGA agreed to the match up in Sanford Stadium before knowing if it could even pull it off. When brokering the 2014 deal, Georgia agreed to 8,000 tickets for the Fighting Irish fans, therefore expecting 500 more visitors than the stadium’s visitors seating area can handle.
"We accepted the 8,000 seating block, knowing that the additional 500 tickets would be very beneficial to UGA in 2017 — and knew we would have to create 500 additional seats when Notre Dame returned in Athens in 2019 to reciprocate," said UGA Director of Athletics Greg McGarity in an email.
This Saturday, Sanford Stadium will need to accommodate 93,246 people, compared to its normal capacity of 92,746. So, athletics had to get creative.
Visitors will be sitting in the traditional visitors seating section, with 500 additional seats being added to that section by “shifting” section 144, Deputy Athletic Director for Operations Josh Brooks said in an email.
In addition, temporary aluminum bleachers are being erected in the west end plaza underneath the scoreboard, behind sections 139-143. These will create an additional 500 seats meant to accommodate overflow from the student section. As always, the lower section of the student section will be first come, first serve.
A big game
Brook said the athletics department isn’t expecting any major complications on Saturday, even with the influx of people on campus and in town. The Sanford Stadium team is, however, “prepared for all scenarios,” Brooks said.
“We are bringing in additional staffing to assist with security, ingress, keeping campus clean, etc.,” Brooks said.
Sanford has been over capacity before. For the 2016 G-Day game — kicking off head coach Kirby Smart’s first season as coach — more than an estimated 93,000 people filled the stadium. That was without any additions or ticket sale deals.
Though sold out, the Notre Dame game is seeing tickets being sold for more than $1,000 at some of the best seating options on multiple resale ticket websites. In addition, many Athens residents have plans to vacate their homes or rental homes for the purpose of extra income, with some homes going for over $2,000 a night during the game weekend.
Sanford Stadium has undergone renovations in the recent past that included a modest increase in seating. In 2017, the Georgia Athletic Association’s Board of Directors approved a $63 million project to renovate the west end zone. In addition to creating a 5,400 square foot locker room for Georgia players, areas were added to relieve pressure from the entrance gates, McGarity told The Red & Black in 2017.
These renovations added 14 seats to the stadium, not nearly enough to accommodate a growing number of enrolled students at the university. The last major increase in stadium seats was during the addition of SkySuite and upper-level seating between 2000-2004, where the amount of seats grew from 86,520 to 92,746. In 2015, seats in the student section decreased from 18,000 to 16,000, where they now remain.
Based on 2019 enrollment, the student section can hold about 54% of the undergraduate student body. Though not every undergraduate applies for or is awarded student ticket packages, many students have expressed concerns regarding crowded student seating.
Erin Schilling contributed to this article.