December 7, 2013 - Atlanta, Ga.: Auburn running back Tre Mason, center, runs through a hole made by the offensive line during Auburn's 59-42 win over Missouri in the SEC Championship Saturday night in Atlanta, Ga., December 7, 2013. JASON GETZ / JGETZ@AJC.COM
Photo: Jason Getz / AJC
Photo: Jason Getz / AJC

Falcons land long deal for SEC title game in new stadium

The Atlanta Falcons plan to announce Tuesday a 10-year deal for the SEC Championship football game to be played in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, ensuring that one of Atlanta’s signature sports events will remain here long-term.

Neither the Falcons nor the SEC would comment, but people familiar with the plans told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the agreement calls for the game to be played in the new Falcons stadium annually from 2017 through 2026, an unusually long contract for such a marquee event.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey will join Falcons owner Arthur Blank for Tuesday’s announcement at the College Football Hall of Fame. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed also are expected to participate.

The SEC has played its football championship game at the Georgia Dome annually since 1994 under a series of contracts of generally five years or less. But some in the local hospitality and tourism community had been concerned that other venues, such as the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, would attempt to lure the event away as Atlanta transitions to a new stadium.

The event is particularly prized by city and state officials and the hospitality industry because, with the exception of the years the Georgia Bulldogs play in the game, most attending fans come from out of state and pour money into local hotels and restaurants.

The SEC’s 2015 and 2016 title games will be its last two in the Georgia Dome, which will be demolished after Mercedes-Benz Stadium — under construction on an adjacent site — opens in 2017.

The $1.4 billion retractable-roof stadium will bring a management change from how the Georgia Dome is operated, something the SEC had to be comfortable with before agreeing to a long deal. The Falcons will operate the new stadium, whereas the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, a state agency, operates the Dome.

A 24-page draft of the long-in-the-works agreement among the Falcons, the SEC and the GWCCA, obtained by the AJC, states that the SEC will pay a fee ranging from $450,000 in 2017 to $587,148 in 2026 for use of the stadium and Congress Center for the game. By comparison, the SEC will pay $372,948 for this year’s game at the Dome.

The contract draft, which was not the final version, said the SEC will have the option to extend the agreement for up to two successive five-year periods beyond the 10-year term. It said the Falcons’ stadium company will retain revenue from in-stadium food and beverage concession sales at the games and the SEC will retain revenue from ticket sales.

Some tickets to the SEC title game will be made available for sale to Falcons personal seat license holders, according to the document. That will include 1,000 lower-level club seats to be sold to what are described in the document as “VVIP” personal seat license holders, presumably meaning those with the priciest seats. An additional 5,200 tickets in unspecified locations will be available for sale to the Falcons’ “non-VVIP” club seat license holders.

“Such additional tickets will be distributed throughout the (stadium) in the SEC’s discretion taking into consideration that such (club-seat PSL) holders have made a significant investment in the (stadium),” according to the document.

Personal seat licenses are one-time fees required for the right to buy season tickets to Falcons games in the new stadium.

The SEC Championship game began in 1992, matching the first-place teams from the then-new Eastern and Western divisions. It was played in Birmingham, Ala., for two years before moving to the Georgia Dome in 1994. The game has sold out every year in Atlanta except 1995.

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