College Football Hall of Fame excited for return of SEC Media Days

Everybody at the College Football Hall of Fame is excited about hosting SEC Football Media Days this week, but nobody is more genuinely joyous than Kimberly Beaudin.

Beaudin is the president and CEO of the downtown Atlanta attraction. Particularly noteworthy of her story is the fact that she was appointed to that role in 2020, just four days before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the Hall of Fame as well as virtually every other business in America in 2020.

To say her first couple of years on the job have been a challenge would be an understatement.

“Yeah, I signed my offer letter on March 16, we shut down on the 19th and I furloughed all but six people shortly after that. So, that was not fun,” said Beaudin, who previously had been the Hall’s vice president of sales and marketing.

Another casualty of that unfortunate year was the College Football Hall of Fame also was set to host SEC Media Days for just the second time in Atlanta history. At the time, no one was sure if or when the country’s largest preseason football convention would come back.

Thanks to the cooperation of the SEC and other cities, it has returned just two years later. Originally scheduled to be hosted in Nashville in 2021, Media Days instead returned to Hoover/Birmingham last year. Nashville has agreed to host in 2023, opening up Atlanta to host this year.

“They’ve been great,” Beaudin said of the SEC. “We’ve been working with them since then to find the right time, and 2022 just came together. So, we’re really excited about it.”

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As a result, about 1,000 sports journalists from around the country will fill the Hall’s expansive facility on Marietta Street downtown to hear what SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, the league’s 14 head coaches and 42 marquee players have to say about the upcoming season and the future of the sport. It’s just the second time in the event’s 37-year history Media Days has been held somewhere other than Birmingham, which is where the SEC office is headquartered.

College football fans will be able to get involved as well. As it did when the event last was hosted here in 2018, the Hall’s quadrangle entryway will serve as a “blue carpet area” where the public can gather free of charge to see and possibly get autographs from their favorite players and coaches at their team’s respective interview times. The first groups will come through around lunchtime Monday.

Credit: College Football Hall of Fame

Credit: College Football Hall of Fame

Also, Hall curators have created an “Evolution of the SEC” exhibit. It features displays that tell the football stories of the schools that make up conference membership. And, yes, Texas and Oklahoma are represented but not to the extent of the current 14 members. The two Big 12 programs have been approved to join the league in 2025.

“We stay out of anything controversial,” Beaudin said. “Just telling the story of Southern football using the facts. Everybody should be able to find something that they are intrigued with.”

Just having the College Football Hall of Fame back in full buzzworthy form is an intriguing prospect in itself. The nonprofit facility will celebrate its eighth year of existence in August.

The Hall survived what was a 3 ½-month shutdown in 2020, but it has struggled to get back to full speed in the two years since. Beaudin said the facility is back to about 70% of its pre-pandemic operation capacity, but that business is trending upward.

The Hall of Fame hosted an NIL Summit last month and always enjoys peak attendance during the week of the SEC Championship and the Peach Bowl.

“We’re coming back strong,” Beaudin said. “Events like this help tremendously. From a staffing standpoint, everybody is struggling to hire good people now; it’s definitely a job seeker’s market. But we have been able to staff consistently as business comes back, and we’re excited for the future, and this has given us a tremendous opportunity to plan and continue to imagine and reimagine the experience.”

My team is very excited about it. When I look back to when we last hosted this in 2018, I think there's maybe seven of us that were here. This is significant for maybe some new people to be able see this and be a part of it and experience it."

- Kimberly Beaudin, president and CEO of the College Football Hall of Fame, on hosting SEC Media Days

Beaudin, a Central Florida graduate, is as enraptured as everybody else about the storylines that will be covered during the week. Though intimately involved in the planning, she said she had nothing to do with separating the appearances of Alabama coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher.

“I will tell you, though, that was the first thing I checked when the schedule came, whether or not they were on the same day,” Beaudin said of the feuding SEC West coaches. “They weren’t, but that whole topic is fascinating, and it will be interesting to hear the different ways coaches are approaching (NIL).”

High-brow discussions and team-bragging rights aside, SEC Media Days signifies that the start of football season is just around the corner. The College Football Hall of Fame is fired up to be set up as the 2022 starting line.

“This is something to be celebrated,” Beaudin said. “My team is very excited about it. When I look back to when we last hosted this in 2018, I think there’s maybe seven of us that were here. This is significant for maybe some new people to be able see this and be a part of it and experience it.”