College Football Hall of Fame reopens with new challenges

The College Football Hall of Fame will reopen Wednesday, seeking to start its comeback from a 3-1/2-month shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The downtown Atlanta attraction will have new safety protocols in place, but faces major challenges in rebuilding its business.

Reopening "has been our focus, constantly adjusting our protocols and talking to experts … so that we can protect the safety of our staff and guests and still provide the same experience," Hall of Fame CEO Kimberly Beaudin said. "We feel we're there, we're ready, we're excited."

That said, she acknowledged it's a difficult situation, especially as a major driver of the Hall of Fame's revenue — Atlanta's convention industry — has been decimated by the pandemic.

“It is going to be challenging to come back from,” Beaudin said. “Our revenue projections are down. We’re expecting probably only 40% of the revenue we had hoped to achieve in this fiscal year (which runs through March 31, 2021).

“We have a gorgeous facility, but it does take a good bit to operate, so we’re trying to again assess where we can become more efficient and streamline operations. We are going to be reliant on fundraising to close the gap this year.”

The Hall of Fame furloughed 48 of its 57 full- and part-time employees during the closure, Beaudin said. All but three furloughed staffers have been brought back for the reopening, she said. Approximately 55 events that had been scheduled at the facility have been canceled.

“We still have events on the books in August, September, and are kind of holding our breath to see what some of these groups do,” Beaudin said.

The Hall of Fame will reopen on its pre-pandemic schedule of 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday through Friday and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. Guests over age 5, as well as staffers, will be required to wear masks. Guests and staff will have their temperatures checked as they enter. “Significantly enhanced cleaning measures,” additional hand sanitizing stations and social-distancing mandates will be in place.

“We have benefit of an extremely large facility and are pretty confident that at any moment in time we’re not going to max out on people we could have comfortably (under) current CDC guidelines,” Beaudin said. “We have plenty of space for social distance.”

Amid the continuing COVID-19, attendance is projected to be down sharply.

“I think we’re expecting it to be slow for a while,” Beaudin said. “We’re cautiously optimistic, but we’re budgeting attendance numbers down about 60% for July from the number we did last year and about the same (decline) for August.”

The glass windows across the front of the Hall were broken and the gift shop damaged when looters broke into the building May 29, but none of the museum's exhibits and artifacts were touched. The glass has been replaced and the retail store repaired.

Beaudin said the cost of the damage exceeded $250,000.

Among the events the Hall lost to the pandemic was the high-profile SEC Football Media Days, originally scheduled there in mid-July.

“That was very disappointing from an exposure standpoint, as much as from a revenue standpoint,” Beaudin said. “Obviously it’s a nice chunk of revenue, but think of the SEC coaches who were coming this year with the addition of Lane Kiffin (at Ole Miss) and Mike Leach (at Mississippi State). And (LSU coach) Ed Orgeron, the national championship winner. What a Media Days it was going to be.”

The SEC announced June 10 that Media Days will be held online this year because of the pandemic. The event is committed to Nashville, Tenn., in 2021.

“We certainly hope we’ll be able to get it back for ’22,” Beaudin said. “That will be the goal and the focus.”

A new exhibit on Historically Black Colleges and Universities will debut when the Hall reopens, featuring the history, traditions and legends of HBCU football programs. All of the building’s interactive features will be in operation, including a quarterback simulation experience that was introduced early this year.

The reopening will make fundraising conversations “easier to have” with foundations and corporations, Beaudin said, as the facility seeks to recover financially.

“It’s hard to have the conversations around ‘we need your help financially; we’d love to do this program or that program’ if our doors aren’t open,” she said.

In 2018, Chick-fil-A extended and expanded its sponsorship of the attraction, which amended its official name to the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame. The title-sponsorship deal runs through 2044 with options to extend for another 10 years; financial terms weren't disclosed. Separately, also in 2018, Peach Bowl Inc. extended its sponsorship for 10 years and contributed an additional $8 million.

The College Football Hall of Fame opened in Atlanta in August 2014, following a 2009 decision by the National Football Foundation to move the sport's shrine here from South Bend, Ind.

Beaudin joined the Hall’s staff in 2015 and this year was promoted from senior vice president of marketing and sales to chief executive. She was informed of her promotion March 12, four days before the building’s shutdown. She officially took over the CEO role from Dennis Adamovich on April 6.

As the interactive, high-tech facility reopens, Beaudin remains confident of its long-term prospects.

“We know what we can be,” she said. “We know where we were when this hit. We came through a pretty tough time shortly after opening to get where we were (pre-pandemic). So we’re going to dig in, and we’re going to come out the other side of this. It’s just going to be a little challenging.”