Bye weeks are never fun for me.
Sure, I don’t have to spend half my day in a press box or racing against deadline, but with teams on their bye usually holding fewer media sessions and focusing on getting healthy, there’s usually not much to write about.
I thought that’s where this week was headed, and then along came the promotions wing of Georgia State.
I awoke Tuesday morning to find a picture in a group chat of a card promising free tickets to any Georgia State home game this season. Within minutes, messages started flying in that the promotion worked and that my friends were claiming free seats right behind the Georgia Southern bench for the Eagles’ Nov. 24 game in Atlanta.
As the morning gave way to afternoon, I watched on Georgia State’s interactive seating chart as hundreds of seats went from available to claimed.
By the middle of the afternoon, Georgia State had realized the catastrophe (of its own doing) that it had stepped into. It didn’t surprise me that the promotion was pulled within hours, but Georgia State then made the bold move to void all tickets that had been claimed through the promotional code that had been used by Georgia Southern fans.
Georgia State hasn’t had much to say on the matter, both literally and figuratively.
The ticketing department said that it had no comment when contacted by the Statesboro Herald. When I called as a fan instead of a sports editor (because, yeah… I claimed two free tickets) and said that I was calling because of the ticket cancellation email I had received, the line immediately went dead.
Over the last 48 hours, Georgia State has maintained its silence on the matter. The one peek behind the curtain came from an anonymous source in an SBNation.com article that painted Georgia Southern fans as ruining what was meant to be a fun promotion for the school.
But here’s the thing. Georgia State ruined it for itself. I knew it as soon as I saw the promotional offer.
Since starting up its football program, attendance has been a constant problem for the Panthers. Numbers haven’t risen over time and the school is perpetually flirting with the NCAA’s mandate of keeping a 15,000 per game average over a two-year rolling period.
So of course it makes sense to get people in the seats, no matter the cost. And I won’t blame them for taking the drastic step of just giving away seats.
But Georgia State really dropped the ball on this one and has only made things worse for itself since Tuesday. Every one of those tickets (the anonymous source claims less than 300, but my own eyes saw at least 500 seats go in just the sections directly behind the GS bench) was legally claimed in the exact way that was intended by Georgia State.
The school cites that the promotional cards were handed out in a neighborhood adjacent to its stadium, but there was no restriction stating that only residents of that neighborhood could claim the tickets. And the run on tickets didn’t stem from Georgia Southern fans finding some loophole or workaround in the ticketing system, Georgia State simply offered the free tickets to any unique email address that used the same promotional code.
It’s as if the owner of a restaurant supplied his friends with a secret word to tell the server in exchange for a free steak and didn’t think that the word might get out. Just because the Georgia Southern fans aren’t your friends doesn’t mean they can’t cash in on your free steak.
Georgia State was well within its rights to void all of those free tickets - it was just wrong to do so. The Panthers own all of those tickets, even after purchase, and can take them back at any time with a full refund (which would be nothing in this case).
But what about the local residents who also used that code? Their free tickets are now just as void as mine. And Georgia State can cry foul all it wants, but the anger and public relations flak that they might take from State fans who are angry about their tickets disappearing has nothing to do with Georgia Southern.
As for the Eagle fans whose tickets were revoked, I have a suspicion that most will still make their way into a baseball stadium to watch a football game.
In the end, it all boils down to money. Georgia State knows it has a payday every two years in the form of Georgia Southern supplying most of the crowd for a game that nearly doubles the attendance number of most other home tilts for the Panthers.
Through an extremely short-sighted and poorly-executed promotion, Georgia State failed to see that it was letting in for free the fans of the one team that travels well to its stadium. The school panicked, voided everything in order to make money off of the sales that will eventually come in for that game, and then turned to either clamming up about the situation or insinuating that Georgia Southern fans were to blame for the whole mess.
...And Georgia State has apparently learned nothing from this.
Less than 24 hours after the tickets were voided from Tuesday’s ticket run, Georgia State canceled another promotion that was offering ‘buy one, get one’ seats that Eagle fans again pounced on.
To Georgia State’s credit, all tickets bought before the promotion was pulled seem to still be valid, dealing another financial blow to the Panthers, who would have surely received full value from GS fans for those tickets if not for a promotional campaign that made the same mistake twice.
I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to hearing of a new plan for a ticket drop following the Panthers' game against Western Michigan this weekend.
Enjoy the bye week, Eagle fans. And only 64 days until kickoff in Atlanta.