With World Cup secured, Atlanta pursuing other sports mega-events

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

The World Cup may not be the only sports mega-event headed to Atlanta later this decade.

As local sports and tourism officials celebrate landing 2026 men’s World Cup matches, efforts continue to bring three other huge sports events to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Those include, in chronological order, the College Football Playoff national championship game in January 2025, the Super Bowl in February 2028 and college basketball’s men’s Final Four in 2029 or 2031.

Where those pursuits stand, according to several people familiar with the efforts:

-- Negotiations are in progress for the College Football Playoff Championship game at the end of the 2024 season. An announcement could come this summer. Atlanta would become the first city to host the CFP title game twice, having also done so in January 2018. There is no other known bidder for the game at this point after Las Vegas was ruled out because of a scheduling conflict with a major convention. The Atlanta Sports Council deferred comment to the CFP, which essentially has declined to comment.

-- Falcons owner Arthur Blank expressed interest last fall in bringing the 2028 Super Bowl to Atlanta, and since then preliminary work has begun on that possibility. The NFL hasn’t set Super Bowl sites beyond 2025 and hasn’t set a timetable publicly for doing so. The league has streamlined its bid process so that only one finalist is presented to the league’s owners for a vote, rather than multiple finalists as in the past.

-- The NCAA is considering Final Four sites for 2027 through 2031, and Atlanta is focusing on 2029 and 2031 because of scheduling conflicts in the other years. NCAA officials are expected to make site visits later this summer, and a decision tentatively is expected in November. Atlanta “will be given every consideration” after losing the 2020 Final Four to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA’s top basketball executive has said.

The combination of some or all of those events with the World Cup would create one of Atlanta’s best stretches of marquee sports events.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium had a similar run lined up with the College Football Playoff Championship game in January 2018, the Super Bowl in February 2019 and the Final Four in April 2020. But the latter was canceled in the early days of the pandemic. At that point, the Final Four already had been committed to other cities for 2021 through 2026, creating a long wait for Atlanta to try to get back in the rotation.

“We’ve always said that we wanted to make another run at the major sporting events as we got into the back half of the decade,” Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO William Pate said last week. “We do want everything. We want to try and get as many of these events (as possible), and I think we’ve got a fantastic reputation for being able to execute them very well.

“These governing bodies, they want to come to Atlanta. Dan (Corso) and the Sports Council have done an excellent job positioning the city for these big events, and we’re looking forward to having the opportunity to bring some back.”

Corso, president of the Sports Council, said before the World Cup announcement: “It could be quite the mid-to-end of the decade, for sure.”

Atlanta has hosted the Super Bowl three times (1994 and 2000 at the Georgia Dome and 2019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium) and the men’s Final Four on four occasions (1977 at The Omni and 2002, 2007 and 2013 at the Georgia Dome).

Aside from the events still being pursued, Atlanta’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl already is booked to host a College Football Playoff semifinal game for the third and fourth times in the 2022 and 2025 seasons.

While Atlanta was announced last week among 16 North American cities that will host 2026 World Cup matches, including 11 cities in the United States, it may be another year before it’s decided how many games and what level of games each city will get. The Atlanta bid group hopes to land one of the two semifinals, as well as the event’s international broadcast center.

Five members of the Atlanta group – two from the Sports Council, two from the stadium and one from the ACVB – joined representatives of the other host cities at meetings with FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, in New York early this week to discuss next steps in planning for the 2026 event.