NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Fans heading to Southeastern Conference football games are hitting the ATM on the way and bringing their credit cards too.
Game day in the SEC is big business and the price tag for the experience can be steep.
Devoted fans are anteing up, shelling out millions on hotels, parking, clothing, food and drink to watch SEC football – an obsession in nine states and one that is nearly unrivaled in five of those where there’s no major professional competition.
On a given Saturday, crazed SEC fans spend up to $41 million in ticket sales alone.
Twenty years ago, Brian Harrison paid $45,000 to tailgate in one of about two dozen converted railroad cars called “Cockabooses” less than a hail mary pass from Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C. Now 43, he’s lucky he bought early – two suites for sale currently go for more than $200,000.
“There’s really no way to put a price on these things,” Harrison said, sweeping his hand across his view of the stadium and his two televisions showing games before his Gamecocks beat then-No. 1 Alabama last weekend.
“How could you find a more perfect tailgate experience? I have heat and air conditioning, a bathroom. And if it rains, I have a roof,” he said.
Tennessee fan Ryan McBee says fans are not being duped and that the SEC is worth the money. He shares five season tickets for Vols games and a parking pass with relatives.
“For me, this is my primary form of entertainment,” said the 28-year-old McBee. “A lot of people go to concerts or go to movies. I work all year to save up for football season. I grew up going to the games. … I think about the other things I could be doing with money, and it does get a little ridiculous. I guess I just try not to think about.”
The money can be dizzying.
The SEC just distributed $209 million – $17.3 million for each of its 12 members in the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31. About $150 million of that money came from football through television contracts, bowls and the league’s championship game.
Toss in ticket sales, concessions, souvenirs and parking with 10 SEC schools filling stadiums at least 95 percent, and it really adds up.