It’s past time for an upgrade of UGA’s iconic Sanford Stadium

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Sanford Stadium is one of the nation's most beautiful facilities, but it badly needs updating. (University of Georgia)
Sanford Stadium is one of the nation's most beautiful facilities, but it badly needs updating. (University of Georgia)

Sanford Stadium is one of the nation’s most beautiful facilities, but it badly needs updating. (University of Georgia)

The walk out of Sanford Stadium after the last home game of the season would have been bad enough because of the Dawgs’ disappointing overtime loss. But it was made worse by having to gingerly step through a pool of fetid water in middle of the concourse of the north side’s lower level, apparently the result of some sort of overflow from one of the outdated and overwhelmed restrooms sitting adjacent.

To my left, someone wearing Georgia Tech colors looked down at what we were walking through and sneered, “Ah, the stench of Sanford Stadium!”

There was nothing I could say. It was embarrassing, but, unfortunately, all too typical of a facility that frequently fails to live up to the standards of the football program that calls it home.

Making a game more comfortable for fans is a good way to keep the stands full. (University of Georgia)

Making a game more comfortable for fans is a good way to keep the stands full. (University of Georgia)

Sitting in a natural creek valley between the northern and southern campuses and with those iconic hedges, UGA’s stadium is one of the most beautiful football facilities in the country, college or otherwise — which is why it pains me to see it run in a second-rate manner.

There are a lot of things that need improving at Sanford Stadium, but the dingy concourses and squalid restrooms in the older part of the structure should be sitting atop the athletic association’s to-do list, right alongside Mark Richt’s request that they upgrade the players’ locker room.

After all, it’s the patrons who have to use the stadium’s subpar facilities who provide much of the funding on which the athletic program runs.

The Reed Plaza area is an example of what an upgrade can look like. (Bill King)

The Reed Plaza area is an example of what an upgrade can look like. (Bill King)

While the restrooms added in the Reed Plaza area of Sanford Stadium a few years ago are fine — utilitarian and certainly not deluxe, but at least clean and functional — the ones in the older part of the stadium are flat-out disgusting.

And it’s not just that they’re old; they’re not properly maintained. At the first game of the season against Clemson, just a few minutes after the gates had opened, the men’s restroom nearest to my section (104) already was filthy, apparently never having been cleaned during the offseason. That’s just bad management.

That might explain why the restrooms in the old part of Sanford stink. And because of that, the concourses smell bad, as a first-time visitor to UGA’s stadium noted after this year’s Auburn game.

It strikes me as funny that they went to a lot of effort to improve the concourses of Stegeman Coliseum and yet the concourses of Sanford, UGA’s flagship athletic facility, still look terrible, besides being smelly. Even after they tore down the walls behind the seats this year to let more light in, they’re dim and unattractive, just bare concrete corridors.

It seems like the athletic administration could have some murals painted or put up some plaques or pictures of past Bulldogs heroes or something to dress them up a bit. And fixing the bathrooms would fix the smell. Basically, a thorough renovation of the older part of the structure is needed.

The narrow concourses also are dangerously crowded, since they were built for a stadium that seated about 50,000, not the current 92,746. As was the case with crowding in the student area early this past season, that can lead to dangerous pushing and shoving and frayed tempers. I’m not sure there’s much that can be done structurally about opening up those areas, but perhaps removing concession sales from the concourse area (which results in lines blocking the concourses) would help.

There are other, cheaper improvements that could make attending a game more pleasant and perhaps head off the sort of decline in attendance that some other schools already are experiencing as many fans choose to watch games in the comfort of their own home on their big flat-screen TV.

Among the most common complaints I’ve heard from fans, besides the state of the concourses, is the public address system.

The volume of the PA for music is excessively loud, at times painful. Worse, the sound quality is not good. The announcer sometimes breaks up and frequently the officials on the field can’t be heard. Meanwhile, the amplification of the Redcoat Band in the stands seems to be an off-and-on proposition and is generally insufficient.

It wouldn't cost much to dress up this drab concrete wall. (Olivia King)

It wouldn’t cost much to dress up this drab concrete wall. (Olivia King)

The interior of most of the stadium (not counting the club level and deluxe boxes) also is kind of drab. Plus, there is hardly any of UGA’s football history/heritage represented in the main part of the stadium. The mascot cemetery is about it. There should be recognition of heroes and championships past, and more use of the school colors.

The power G symbol in the Reed Plaza area is nice, but why not line the walls of the plaza with busts or plaques of Bulldog greats? And there’s that big, ugly blank wall down at the east end of the stadium. A mural there would look great, or if that’s too expensive, how about a banner listing championships?

Unlike a lot of other schools, UGA for some reason doesn’t make that big a deal of its titles, bowl wins and All-Americans inside its stadium. The small flags at the top of the east end zone are about it. Of course, most of the space that could be used for such reminders has been sold to advertising in recent years, including on the scoreboard. Still, there are ways for the program’s history to be more evident. More use of the school colors in the concourses would help, and banners on the stadium walls would be a good way of reminding visitors of UGA football’s rich history.

A lot of these changes would not be super expensive and would make attending a game a more pleasurable experience.

What happens behind the hedges matters, too. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

What happens behind the hedges matters, too. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

Athletic officials do at least appear to be cognizant of the fact that, in making patrons happier, it’s not just what happens Between the Hedges that matters, but behind the hedges as well.

As the introduction to an SEC football fan survey sent out to UGA season ticket holders at the end of the season put it: “We understand that your football team’s performance is a significant part of the overall gameday experience. However, we also know how important it is to continue improving other areas of the stadium experience in order to make it more enjoyable for you. We look forward to using data from this survey to build on our conference’s reputation of having the best gameday experiences in the country.”

Unfortunately, they have a long way to go to make that the case at Sanford Stadium.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

Junkyard Blawg mugBill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.


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