Way down in Athletics’ release announcing their partnership with AMB, et al. is a six item list explaining the reasons for moving more than a few home games to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. For those of you who prefer the Cliff’s Notes version, those reasons are, in order: branding, a modern gameday experience, recruiting, exposure, the partnership with AMB, and “revenue”. While much of the first five feel like maybe a bit too much positive spin (we’ll come back to that later), item number six comes through mostly unvarnished, and is the real reason we’re all here today. Money makes the world go round in the society we currently we live in, and Georgia Tech Athletics.... well, they’re in a bit more need for money than they’d likely prefer to be.
This is old news to most of you, but for those unaware, Georgia Tech Athletics is not in particularly great shape financially at the current moment. It should not come as any great surprise the department tends to run in the red more often than not — the vast majority of athletic departments do — but what sets Georgia Tech apart is how much debt it’s currently sitting on: almost $224 million, as of last June*. It’s a staggering amount and likely the biggest driving factor for Todd Stansbury hitting the bricks and raising capital through campaigns like AI2020. If you’re wondering where all that comes from, very little of it comes from things like paying people to coach anywhere but here; instead, the vast, vast majority of it comes from a time when the GTAA looked to finance facility construction and upgrades, rather than raise the cash themselves, as Stansbury is currently attempting to do with the Edge Center renovation (among other projects).
Further compounding things is the fact these debts aren’t scheduled to be fully paid off until 2043. So not only does the GTAA’s debt rank in the top ten for public power 5 schools, there’s about $150 million more to throw on that for interest, assuming things don’t get paid off early. It would behoove Stansbury & co. to jump on any sources of additional revenue that present themselves, and this partnership with AMB happens to be such a source, one that will give his football team a guaranteed number of appearances in one of the nation’s premier venues, with a lot more seats for people to watch and likely better TV time slots to boot. So the other stated reasons for entering the partnership ring true, even though we all know item number 6 is the true driving force here.
As an alumnus and a fan for going on over a decade now, I can’t say I am personally a fan of the move. If these were new games announced to be held at the Dome, I wouldn’t have an issue with it, but moving games originally scheduled to be played at Bobby Dodd rubs me the wrong way. (Similarly, I still don’t fully understand why Boston College chose to move their game vs. Tech a few years ago Dublin.) It means Notre Dame, which last graced the Dodd in 2006, won’t return until 2032 at the earliest. It gives Clemson — whose fanbase travels well and showed up in droves to Atlanta even when they weren’t winning national championships, or even division championships — a chance to make a “home” game feel even less friendly toward the “home” team. None of this is to knock Mercedes-Benz Stadium itself — I’ve been there plenty, and I think it is a fantastic venue, and certainly much better than its predecessor, the Georgia Dome. Playing there almost surely plays well to high school recruits looking to play in the “big time”. (Or #biGTime, as it were.) But calling these games “home games” won’t magically make them feel like home. Not yet, anyway.
But, who knows? There are five games to be played in the next six years, and they carry a lot of potential with them — and an equal amount of potential for disaster. If fans show out and the team scores some major victories (or at least looks honorable in defeat), it’s a major success for Tech, both for its reputation and its coffers, and the whole thing was worth it. Maybe it helps raise Tech’s profile in its own city. And maybe it becomes A Thing. If not, we’re all going to want to forget this ever happened, and Atlanta will continue to forget about Tech as much as possible.
* The source for this (and all other numbers cited) is the GTAA’s own financial report for FY 2017-18.