College Football Kickoff: An Old Idea Rekindled

Atlanta is the unofficial home to this weekend’s College Football Kickoff between Clemson and Alabama. It’s the first year of an idea the CMO of the Chick-Fil-A Bowl hopes to turn into an annual weekend long event in the coming years. So far, so good. Many experts say it’s the toughest ticket in Atlanta sports history. Proving again that football is king in the Southeast, considering many Braves World Series games failed to sell out, while a college football opening game is garnering such interest.

Ticket sales aside, the vision is to mimic hat the NFL has done with opening weekend, create an event around the football game. This year Atlanta has a Fanfest at Centennial Park and two perfect teams for the region. Their goal is to expand it to a full weekend with a big college game at the start and end, a high school on the Friday night, a concert mixed in, with full fanfest activtivies, similar to a bowl game, or opening weekend version of the Final Four.

A few stumbling blocks exist. First, teams need to give up a home game. Gary Stokan, mastermind behind the event, solved that problem with a structure that generates similar returns to home games for big schools. The next two problems are not as easy: will big teams risk losing a neutral field game so early in the season and will teams outside the region create as much buzz for an Atlanta-based event. Stokan wants to target the Ohio State’s and Texas’ of the world. Those teams typically travel well, but can they carry an entire weekend of activity in Atlanta. College football is do-or-die almost every week, with one loss possibly eliminating championship aspirations, so some big name teams prefer not to play another top team this early in the season and risk losing right off the bat. Further, scheduling takes place a few years in advance so its hard to guarantee the teams playing will be good, though a few programs are almost always a sure bet to create the “big game” feel.

Conceptually, its a great idea with big revenue potential. Chick-Fil-A is on board as the sponsor,  complete with logo and all, which creates new merchandise. The game has brought in a number of other big sponsors through both ESPN and the bowl game. Tickets sold before even going on sale. ESPN has the Gameday crew on site, generating additional buzz. If the entity becomes similar to a bowl, it could feasibly sell media rights to a network to yield additional revenue.

The revenue potential is inarguable. College football popularity warrants holding the event. THe biggest stumbling blocks are the college scheduling format (12 games), the BCS format that magnifies each loss, and if Atlanta, or any city, can serve as a national college hotbed, or if it’s truly a regional draw. Having an SEC team involved and holding it in Georgia will always guarantee a sell out.

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