And that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s only concerned with what happens on the court each night.
“It’s got to be something people enjoy going to,” McGarity said about the relationship Georgia’s football-heavy fan base has with its long-suffering basketball program.
What McGarity is trying to do with the events that surround basketball games is to make it easier for fans to come to the game, have a good time, and get home fast and safe. (He’d also like the basketball team to win – but he can’t control that on a game-to-game basis.)
From his seat neighboring the Bulldogs’ bench on the scorer’s table, McGarity has watched events unfold the entire season. During those games the new athletic director has tried to figure out how best to market Georgia’s rising basketball program to a large fan base that stretches from Athens to Atlanta, Chattanooga to Valdosta, Columbus to Augusta and all places in between.
It is a challenge.
McGarity spoke at length with Dean Legge about this and other challenges in the athletic department during a one-on-one interview earlier this month. The interview is the focus of the March edition of Dawg Post the Magazine that is available at newsstands around the state and is delivered to Dawg Post annual subscribers.
“It’s got to be the thing to do,” McGarity said of the basketball games at the recently renovated Stegeman Coliseum. “Football, here, has become more an event surrounding the game – pre-game, post-game- six weekends a year – all on the weekend.”
McGarity admits that events surrounding a basketball game are different from football in many ways.
“Basketball, for the students, shouldn’t matter,” he admitted. “But let’s say a portion of our ticket base is in Atlanta. We’ve got games that range anywhere from 7 PM to 9 PM on a weeknight. Those that work – if the game is over at 9 PM then I’ve got a little bit of traffic - I won’t be back until midnight. It’s not as easy. There are probably 18 home games also. So unless you are here in the proximity of Clarke County or within a 30-mile driving distance, that makes it tough on that family.”
McGarity said because of the heavy travel burden on the Atlanta crowd that the athletic association needs to make an effort to strengthen basketball fandom in the Athens area.
“Again, it has to be the thing to do (in Athens),” he reiterated.
But he didn’t stop there. McGarity said he wants to make certain that fans that make an effort to come to Georgia’s basketball games have an easy in-and-out experience. Right now, he said, the athletic department is figuring out how to streamline the process for fans – including asking a lot of questions.
“What you have to make sure of from a fan’s perspective is what I call the door-to-door evaluation,” McGarity said. “What’s the experience like from the time you leave your driveway to the time you get home? Where can I park? How far do I have to walk to the stadium? How easy is it to get into the stadium? Do I have good concessions? Do I have fun at the event? Is it easy to get home? Are there people out there after the game directing traffic? By the time I get home I can say: ‘I really enjoyed going over the Coliseum to the game.’”
That’s the goal. The team, for their part, is doing what McGarity needs. The Bulldogs play hated Florida Tuesday night for first place in the SEC East. The product on the floor has not been a problem this season.
“There are evaluation tools out there we will start doing, really, with all of our sports. Especially football and basketball,” McGarity said. “The door-to-door experience is up to us to make sure that it is as simple as it can be. Basketball is one thing where, obviously, you have to have a good product on the floor. It has to be something that is consistently winning.”
The Bulldogs have been doing that of late. But McGarity argues that basketball, in many ways, is and can be more compelling than football for a number of reasons.
“In football, you can’t (see faces). You are so far removed – student-athletes have helmets on,” he said of the gridiron.
“Fans can feel it. They can touch it. They can see emotions. They see facial expressions. They see body language,” he continued. “When you go to basketball you can sometimes hear the coaches. You are much closer to the action, and in our venue there is not a bad seat in the house.”
The new athletic director and his staff will focus on what will make the basketball games more appealing for fans. He’s hoping to make driveway-to-driveway experience easy enough for Stegeman to be sold out more often than not.
“So what can we do?” he said. “Can we do things to make technology better? Can we create better scoreboards and make sure our sound system is popping? How is the fan experience? That’s where the driveway-to-driveway experience is something we are going to be evaluating this year.”