UGA athletics’ not-so-secret weapon: A devoted Bulldog Nation

UGA's fans are ranked among the most engaged in the nation. (Perry McIntyre Jr. / UGA)
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UGA's fans are ranked among the most engaged in the nation. (Perry McIntyre Jr. / UGA)
UGA's fans are ranked among the most engaged in the nation. (Perry McIntyre Jr. / UGA)

UGA’s fans are ranked among the most engaged in the nation. (Perry McIntyre Jr. / UGA)

Whether we’re fretting over the myriad mood swings of a bunch of teenage recruits, arguing over whether another 10-win season is reason for being satisfied or demoralized, debating the handling last season of the Todd Gurley situation, or getting excited over the prospects of the coming season as we write checks to the Hartman Fund so we can get those season tickets, there’s no denying one thing about Georgia Bulldogs fans.

We’re definitely engaged with the University of Georgia’s athletic programs.

In fact, according to USA Today, UGA has one of the most engaged fan bases in the nation.

The paper ran a Fan Index throughout the recent college football season, basically a data-based ranking of America’s most engaged fan bases. USA Today says it’s “the only digital index that combines social media activity and fan voting to determine the ultimate college football fanbase.”

The paper further explains that the Fan Index is “determined through social aggregation and online polling across weekly editorial themes such as best tailgates and best traditions. The index is then measured based on social activity of each school’s fanbase, including sharing photos and videos, as well as the voting results of the weekly polls asking fans to determine which schools offer the best experience.”

UGA placed 10th overall in the final Fan Index after having risen as high as No. 3 twice during the season. In the related polls on various aspects of fandom (best tailgate, best uniforms, etc.) Georgia won best mascot.

This isn’t by any means the first national notice paid to the fact that UGA has one of the most engaged fan bases despite the fact that it’s been nearly 35 years since the school’s last football national championship and nearly 10 years since the last SEC title.

Last summer, College Spun presented its own countdown of the most loyal fan bases in college football. Georgia placed fifth.

Said the site: “In a feature we wrote last month, we named Georgia supporters the ‘most tortured’ fan base in college football. You can’t be tortured if you don’t care, right? UGA fans have been waiting for that breakthrough season for what seems like an eternity. In the meantime, they’ve been coming down to watch their Bulldogs play ‘between the hedges’ in droves. Georgia’s home attendance for Sanford Stadium has averaged over 92,000 fans per game the past few seasons — second in the SEC behind Alabama. UGA also posted the fourth-highest spring game attendance for an SEC team in 2014 — over 46,000 came out to see what the Bulldogs will look like this fall.”

Mark Richt addressing fans on national signing day. (Associated Press)

Mark Richt addressing fans on national signing day. (Associated Press)

That’s also why you’ll see a full house of fans gathered at Butts-Mehre next week when UGA’s new football recruiting class is unveiled.

A bit more on the empirical side is the annual ranking of college sports fan bases by Emory Sports Marketing Analytics.

The Emory University-generated listing is data and statistically driven, looking at how fans support their teams after controlling for how well the team performs on the field, the market it plays in, and school characteristics. For the fan equity analysis, they built a statistical model using publicly available data from the last 14 years that predicts team revenues as a function of metrics related to team performance such as winning percentage, bowl participation, and other factors such as number of students, stadium capacity, etc. They then compare actual revenues over the last few years to what is predicted by their model.

In the 2014 rankings released just prior to the most recent football season, UGA ranked third overall in the nation, behind Texas and Notre Dame, and, for the second consecutive year, was ranked first in the SEC.

For those who are wondering why Georgia ranks ahead of Alabama, researchers Mike Lewis and Manish Tripathi of Emory’s Goizueta Business School explained: “Over the period of our study, both Georgia and Alabama averaged between 9 and 10 wins a season. However, Georgia averaged 12% more in revenues per year than Alabama.  Alabama also had a couple of years in the beginning of our sample (2002 & 2004) where the home games were not all filled to capacity. Thus, over the period of our study, when we control for team performance and other institutional factors, the Georgia fan base is just a bit more loyal and devoted.”

In other words, Emory found that Georgia fans were the most loyal to their team of any SEC program regardless of how well their team performed.

Fans swarm the UGA Bookstore for Bulldogs merchandise. (John Kelley / UGA)

Fans swarm the UGA Bookstore for Bulldogs merchandise. (John Kelley / UGA)

That’s also evident when you see that the IMG/Collegiate Licensing Company’s annual list of top-selling institutions in the field of licensed college sports merchandise. In the rankings representing royalties reported July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2014, on all collegiate merchandise sold on behalf of company-represented institutions, UGA ranked fifth overall and second only to Alabama in the SEC.

That’s a lot of red and black T-shirts, caps and sweatshirts. Top that off with the fact that UGA, with the exception of the student section, so far has avoided having too many empty seats at its football games and has a very strong, stable football season ticket fan base, and it’s no surprise that, last September, in a ranking of the most profitable college athletic departments, UGA ranked fifth, with total revenue of $77.5 million and net revenue of $51.2 million. (Admittedly, it can be argued that a factor in the latter figure has been the UGA athletic administration’s aversion to spending money like, say, Alabama, but as we’ve discussed recently, even that seems to be changing.)

So, while national and conference championship trophies are one major indicator of an athletic program’s success, they’re certainly not the only one. Or even the most financially advantageous one.

When it comes to loyalty and devotion to their school, it’s hard to beat UGA’s fans, who continue their support of the Bulldogs even when there isn’t a new trophy being added to the case.

Take a bow, Bulldog Nation.

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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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