Sanford Stadium nearing completion of seating changes 10 days before football home opener | Sports

Noble Horvath

Red Georgia seatbacks are spread out and social distancing reminders are in place at Sanford Stadium, which is almost ready to welcome around 20% of its usual crowd at Georgia’s home opener on Oct. 3 against Auburn. Senior deputy athletic director Josh Brooks said the ultimate layout — designed to […]

Red Georgia seatbacks are spread out and social distancing reminders are in place at Sanford Stadium, which is almost ready to welcome around 20% of its usual crowd at Georgia’s home opener on Oct. 3 against Auburn.

Senior deputy athletic director Josh Brooks said the ultimate layout — designed to create six feet of distance on every side of a spectator — was his creation. A self-described math nerd, Brooks began crunching the numbers on stadium capacity in April. He said he had to take into account the height of an average spectator, the width of each row and other dimensions to maintain proper distancing. 

“At that point, we were in quarantine mode,” Brooks said. “So, I had some time on my hands.”

Donor and student seating

The layout consists of groups of four seatbacks, spaced out generously on each row and staggered moving up the stadium sections. UGA Athletic Association donors had to buy four tickets apiece to accommodate the model. No fan will have someone seated directly behind them. 

There are some groups of two seats, which Brooks said were for UGAAA staff, who are normally allotted two tickets each. The model allows for 500 away fans tucked in into the first-level corner behind the west end zone.

Student sections will remain intact for the 3,200 students, including the Redcoat Band, who can attend each game. An upper-level section behind the east end zone has also been reserved for students. Instead of seatbacks, red vinyl bleacher coverings will identify available student spots.

Brooks said that because it wasn’t possible to distribute tickets based on roommates or close contacts, it will be students’ responsibility to sit or stand with whom they feel safest.

“We’re asking them to do a good job of coming to the games with groups that you’re comfortable with, from your pod, your family, your relative, whatever it may be,” Brooks said. “And if you’re not [with a group], there’s going to be opportunities for you to be in smaller blocks as well.”

While the UGAAA wants to be conservative with student ticket numbers for the home opener, Brooks said if social distancing works well and space is available, more student tickets could be allocated, with a focus on seniors. 

Game day logistics

Brooks reiterated Georgia’s ban on tailgating in on-campus parking lots, which will only be available for fans with tickets. Fans may mingle around their vehicles with their party members, but the athletic association wants to avoid the staple inter-group pregame gatherings.

Once people begin filtering into Sanford, Brooks said stadium staff would focus on ushering people to their seats as quickly as possible. With a large staff and a smaller crowd, Brooks is confident that entering and exiting will run safely.

“As soon as those gates open to our first kick, we have to do a good job early on to where it doesn’t build up to something bigger,” Brooks said. “You want to stay on [spectators] from the very beginning saying, “Look, sir, look, ma’am … please go to your seatback that you’re assigned to. So, it’s just staying on top of it.”

Fans must wear masks when entering the stadium and moving around the concourses, Brooks said, but they can remove face coverings when in their seats. He said stadium staff would remind fans to stay distant and stay masked throughout the game. Other reminders, such as dots spaced six feet apart outside of concession and restroom areas, will aid with distancing outside of the stands.

UGAAA has increased its number of what Brooks called “serve and go” style concessions to speed up the flow of refreshment seekers. Yet Brooks said typical lines will still form in certain areas. In a similar vein, all concessions, restrooms and toilets will be available to limit fan buildup.

Undoubtedly, the fan experience will feel different during Georgia’s four home games this fall. It will be quieter, although Brooks said artificial crowd noise — boosted pre-snap at important moments — will help simulate the typical atmosphere. But the reduced capacity could make for a more intimate Sanford outing, Brooks suggested.

“This is really an opportunity for our staff … to go even further in on customer experience,” Brooks said. “Sometimes we’re running so fast on a normal game day that we don’t have time to do a really great job of providing that smile, that warm greeting. Now there’s no excuse.”

With some tweaks still to go, specifically in finalizing distancing measures in the student sections, UGAAA is on track for the gates of Sanford to finally reopen in 10 days.

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