Survey shows most college football fans want health and safety measures

September 1, 2020

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By Ray Glier, For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“There are limits to the devotion of the college football fan, after all.

It was assumed there would be an insurgency if there were restrictions on crowd size or health and safety measures in stadiums, like requiring masks, due to the pandemic.

The Atlanta-based Aspire Group, which sells tickets to sporting events for 48 colleges, is conducting a survey of fans about going to games this fall and fans are cautious. Of the 4,000 fans who have so far responded —not a small sample size as polls go — 79% said it was extremely important/required for attendance that the stadium be sanitized. Seventy-seven percent want hand sanitizing stations, while 71% said it was very important to have masks for fans and staff, and 68% said social distancing was very important.

“They miss their teams, big time, but overwhelmingly, they won’t put their health potentially at risk to watch in person,” said Bernie Mullin, the CEO and founder of Aspire, and former president of The Atlanta Spirit. “Enough will come back, but only with sanitizing, masks, and social distancing.”

In the Aspire survey, one in four fans said they were not going or it was very unlikely they would attend a game this fall. When asked if they would attend if their school had robust health protocols in place, the number dropped from 25 to 15% who said they would not attend.

“There is a pretty high demand for these (health) protocols,” said Jack Luce, the Director of Strategy, Analytics, and Marketing for Aspire. “They would drive a 50% likelihood of attendance.”

Considering the Aspire survey, it is less surprising that more than 50% of University of Georgia donors opted to pass on buying tickets to all, or some, of the Bulldogs four home SEC games, as reported Thursday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. UGA understood the likelihood of opt-outs when it made its policy on season tickets for 2020. In other seasons, if season-ticket holders opted out of their tickets, they would lose their priority, but UGA waived that requirement this season.

Some Georgia fans will donate their ticket money back to the school for points needed to move up in ranking for seats in Sanford Stadium for the 2021 season.

James Williamson, a mortgage broker from Roswell, has been to a Georgia football game all 52 years of his life and the pandemic is not going to break his streak. Williamson, who has an undergraduate and graduate degree from UGa, has two sets of four tickets and has been approved for two games for one set of four.

“We’re going to mask up and go over,” said Williamson, whose father, Billy, was a Georgia tennis player in the 1940s and Bulldog booster who helped recruit South Carolina. “We’re not fearful and we’re not paranoid about the virus. The way my wife and I see it is we are wearing the masks more for other people than ourselves. Wearing a mask makes other people feel comfortable and that’s fine. We’ll take our own sanitizer and practice social distancing.”

The seating capacity for 92,746-seat Sanford Stadium will be cut to about 23,000 spectators for the four home games. Georgia Tech is capping attendance at 20% in 55,000-seat Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Pete Wellborn, an Atlanta attorney and Georgia Tech season ticket holder and former Tech player, describes the walk to the stadium on a street filled with fans on a given Saturday as an “out-of-body experience of joy and emotion.” Missing a game is heretical to him. But Wellborn said if Bobby Dodd Stadium resembled the picture of the Paulding County high school where students were jammed into a hallway without masks, he “probably” wouldn’t go.

“If Georgia and Georgia Tech were playing — and it breaks my heart they’re not — and they both were having good seasons, I would find a way to go inside a full stadium with the pandemic,” Wellborn said, “But that would mean me buying 11 tickets, so I could have five seats on either side of me empty for safety.”

The Aspire survey also asked fans about the 2020 season-ticket investments they have already made and 11% said if they are unable to attend a game they would donate that money to the athletic department. One third, Mullin said, want refunds and the rest want their buy rolled over to the 2021 season.

The 11% choosing to donate is significant because athletic departments across the country will have big holes in their budget because the pandemic is seriously impacting revenue. The athletic departments need the charity.

The survey covers the four geographic regions of the country, Luce said, and 95% of respondents related to football stadium attendance and 5% to soccer stadiums.

Georgia State is waiting until its schedule is set before surveying fans about whether they want to roll over their purchase to 2021, ask for a refund, or make a donation.

Luce said his big takeaway for schools is how to prepare for the coronavirus impact on the other moneymaker on campus, basketball, which is indoors, and where risk of spreading the virus is higher.

“We asked the same question to winter sports fans about indoor events and that number increases to 35% (of fans likely not to attend),” Luce said. “We’re pushing very hard for schools to think about those winter sports because those fans are concerned about those indoor venues.”

That 1 in 3 fans would not attend a basketball game without health protocols shrinks to 1 in 6 with health protocols is significant in terms of revenue for schools.

“There are costs to be had with hand sanitizing stations and maybe hiring a consultant to work on your seating manifest for social distancing, but there are gains to be made in terms of making fans feel comfortable,” Luce said.”

Read more from AJC here.

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