Early Tuesday, the morning after college football’s national championship game, fans leaving Tampa will get a glimpse of the future: billboards advertising next season’s title game in Atlanta.
The digital billboards, ordered by Atlanta’s host committee, will signal that preparations are underway for the College Football Playoff championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Jan. 8, 2018.
As soon as Monday night’s Alabama-Clemson game ends at Raymond James Stadium, “we are on the clock,” said Atlanta Sports Council President Dan Corso, who also is president of the Atlanta Football Host Committee board of directors.
About 40 people affiliated with the Atlanta committee are in Tampa this weekend at the CFP’s invitation for a behind-the-scenes look at how the championship game operates.
“I think it’s a good educational process,” said Falcons President and CEO Rich McKay, a member of the Atlanta committee’s board. “I think this is a good way to make sure cities and facilities are not surprised when the game shows up on their doorstep.”
Atlanta is accustomed to hosting major sports events, of course, but this is a relatively new event as the College Football Playoff is in only its third season. Unlike the semifinals, the championship game is played outside the bowl system.
Played in Arlington, Texas, and Glendale, Ariz., the past two seasons, the championship game is considerably more than a game. Tampa Bay’s four-day lineup includes a free concert series, fireworks shows, a fan zone of interactive games, a 5K road race, corporate and fan parties and other events.
Members of the Atlanta delegation are studying all aspects of the spectacle — stadium set-up and operations, security, marketing, branding, signage, volunteer programs, hospitality programs, media operations, ancillary events, you name it.
“The CFP does a great job of engaging future hosts,” Corso said. “When you’re the next city up, they really provide great access. You get a chance to take a look at all the ins and outs of the event.
“We’ve got our ideas of what works in Atlanta, but it’s always good to go to another market hosting the same event and see how they do it.”
It’s an opportunity, McKay said, to “see what is being done at the game before you, figure out what you can improve upon and then go from there.”
The delegation includes Atlanta host committee executive director Carl Adkins and representatives of the Atlanta Sports Council, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, Georgia World Congress Center Authority, Georgia Tech, Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Mercedes-Benz Stadium and others.
At a news conference Tuesday at the Tampa Convention Center, the Tampa Bay host committee will officially hand off the host-city rights to its Atlanta counterparts. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Corso and McKay are scheduled to participate in that event.
“Tampa is the first city in the southeast to host this championship, and we look forward to carrying that forward in obviously the hotbed of college football in Atlanta,” Corso said.
The Atlanta host committee plans to aggressively promote the event over the next 12 months, beginning Tuesday morning when billboards go up in both Tampa and Atlanta — at least two in Tampa and more in Atlanta, Corso said.
In Tampa, the boards will read “ATL, YOU’RE NEXT.”
In Atlanta, they’ll read “GAME ON” and include the date of next season’s championship game.
“We’re looking to have about 10 or so billboards in Atlanta,” Corso said. “Two will be active all year, and eight will rotate.
“We’ll have a year-round marketing and promotion campaign in Atlanta and will work to rally the community and generate a buzz and excitement about hosting the game. We’re not going to wait until next football season to do it.”
Planning for the event is in the early stages. The host committee’s staff, working from space in the Georgia World Congress Center, officially began operating in September.
The championship game is the first of several mega-events already committed to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It will be followed by the Super Bowl in February 2019 and college basketball’s Final Four in April 2020.
“We tried to design the stadium with three anchor tenants in mind: one is the Falcons; one is Atlanta United; the other is the big events,” McKay said. “Everything we did, we tried to do with the idea of the big events and how they would work.”
Falcons parent company AMB Group announced Friday that the $1.5 billion retractable-roof stadium — under construction next door to the destined-for-demolition Georgia Dome — will open July 30 with an Atlanta United soccer match. Multiple events are planned for the new stadium in August, including a grand-opening celebration event late in the month, AMB Group said.
The stadium will have been open less than six months when college football’s championship game arrives.
But McKay said the building will have been well-tested by then by hosting two Chick-fil-A Kickoff games (Alabama-Florida State on Sept. 2 and Georgia Tech-Tennessee on Sept. 4), 10 Falcons games (including two in the preseason), an SEC Championship game, a Peach Bowl game and Atlanta United games.
“The stadium will have been used a lot and will have been used in full capacity on a number of occasions,” McKay said, “before we get to the championship game.”