Georgia fans traveled en masse to see their team win, 20-19, at Notre Dame.
They took over Wrigleyville on Friday, basked beneath Touchdown Jesus on Saturday afternoon, and turned an Irish home game into a neutral-site experience. UGA head coach Kirby Smart estimated 40,000 UGA fans were in the 81,000-seat stadium, and it’s hard to tell how exaggerated that claim might be. The game was reminiscent of Nebraska fans turning Notre Dame Stadium into a sea of red, right down to the fact that the Irish again lost a tight game.
The natural response among many college football fans has been to mock Notre Dame fans for allowing their stadium to be occupied by another fan base. Our primal impulses cause us to frown upon groups that lose control over their territories. Plus, it’s just fun to mock Notre Dame.
In this instance, we should resist the urge for a pair of reasons.
It’s a compliment to Notre Dame that Georgia fans were so enthusiastic about seeing their team play in the House that Rockne Built.
Georgia does not tend to make a lot of interesting road trips. With an annual game against Georgia Tech and a neutral site game against Florida, there is usually a premium placed on home games with the remaining three non-conference games. On the rare occasions when the Dawgs go on the road, they take a lot of fans with them, as happened when Georgia went to Arizona State in 2008 and Colorado in 2010.
While going to the desert or the Rockies is nice, seeing one’s team play at possibly the most famous venue in college football is on a different level. Georgia fans responded to the opportunity as could be expected. They paid through the nose for tickets, bidding the price up to where Georgia-Notre Dame became the most expensive ticket in college football by a substantial margin. They bought up flights such that they ate the capacity of airlines on a heavily trafficked route between the two busiest airports in the country. They refused $3,000 offers that would still get them near South Bend only 24 hours or so before kickoff.
Sold!!!— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) September 8, 2017
This kind lady volunteered to get bumped.. for a 7pm flight tonight to South Bend.. for $4,000...
Not one fan wanted to get in late pic.twitter.com/gCOwFpz2Hf
And this is where credit goes to Notre Dame. It was not random that Georgia fans decided to pay four-figure sums for tickets and demand-inflated prices for airfare and accommodations. They REALLY wanted to see their team in South Bend because it is a bucket list experience. When there are a lot of Boston or New York transplants at Atlanta pro sports events, the conclusion should be that this is a compliment to Atlanta in that the city is an attractive place to live. Similarly, the fact that there were tens of thousands of Dawg fans in Notre Dame Stadium is a compliment to the Irish Holy Grail.
Additionally, the reaction of Dawg fans to the chance to travel to South Bend is a reminder that there is huge, untapped demand among big college football fan bases to see their teams play other elite programs on the road and not at NFL stadiums.
One way to illustrate this point is to look at how the most popular programs have never visited one another. Here are the top 10 in attendance from 2016: Michigan, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Penn State, Texas, Georgia, and Nebraska. There are 90 potential home-and-home combinations among those teams. In over a century of football, 33 of these matchups have never happened. That’s a bevy of road trips that big fan bases have never gotten to take.
It’s OK that Notre Dame fans sold tickets to visitors. Fans who are treated like consumers will act like consumers.
While the executives who run college football are not good at delivering what fans would really want (Michigan fans getting to visit Baton Rouge, Tennessee fans getting to go to the Horseshoe, etc.), they are adept at getting into the pockets of their most committed fans. One of the big changes in recent years has been that major programs have figured out how to monetize passion. Ticket prices have gone up, seat donations have become widespread, and revenue has exploded, thus making the case for not paying players even harder to make.
So if athletic departments treat fans as economic actors who illustrate rational choice theory, why wouldn’t fans repay the favor by selling their tickets when they have the chance to make four figures? Those who criticize Irish fans for selling their tickets assume they are acting in a disloyal manner, like they have betrayed their family.
However, a family does not focus on maximizing revenue from its members to begin with. When the face values of tickets for the Georgia game are between $95 and $300 and the cheapest season ticket is $1,150 for seven home games, Irish fans are well within their rights to behave like normal consumers. Rational economic actors will sell an asset when it appreciates in value.
Before the game, one Notre Dame fan at One Foot Down made the same case:
If I had a $300 Georgia ticket — which I don’t — and a Bulldogs fan wanted my ticket for 8.3 times face value, I’d sell it to him and have no second thoughts. As a dad of two and a husband, $2,500 would probably pay for most of a nice vacation to Disney World.
Yes, that makes me selfish.
Yes, that makes me greedy.
But I don’t feel that my obligation to fellow Notre Dame fans outweighs my desire to provide something nice for my family. I also happen to think “home-field advantage” is a nebulous term that can’t be quantified, which helps me justify my position because I don’t feel like I’m directly responsible for my team winning or losing. (Of course, 21,000 people thinking exactly as I do now is how we got the Nebraska scenario.)
Why make fun of Irish fans for behaving rationally? They were confronted with an opponent whose fans were willing to pay astronomical sums for the privilege of seeing South Bend. They had the opportunity to pay for their entire season ticket packages by selling one game. It’s the smart move.