Atlanta plans to submit a bid within two weeks to host the Champions Bowl, a new college-football postseason game between teams from the SEC and the Big 12, but might be an underdog in the competition.
The SEC Championship game is played here annually, raising questions about whether the SEC would put back-to-back marquee events in the same city and whether the Big 12 would favor putting the new bowl on what could be considered an SEC home field.
“Certainly, you could speculate that hosting the SEC Championship game puts us at a disadvantage,” said Gary Stokan, president of the Chick-fil-A Bowl and a leader of the local group pursuing the Champions Bowl. But he said such speculation would not dissuade Atlanta, one of 10 cities invited this week by the SEC and the Big 12 to bid for the game, from submitting a proposal.
“First off, we were extended an invitation to bid, and out of respect to the SEC and the Big 12, we want to do that,” Stokan said. “Next, we think this city makes sense for the Champions Bowl. … We want to put our best foot forward.”
A major appeal of the event is that it is guaranteed to host a national semifinal in the upcoming college football playoff four times in 12 years. Stokan said that “if for whatever reason” Atlanta does not land the Champions Bowl, the city will continue to pursue a berth in the semifinal rotation, as well as bidding to host the national championship game.
Other cities that received a request for proposal (RFP) on the Champions Bowl are Arlington, Texas (site of Cowboys Stadium); Houston; Jacksonville; Nashville; New Orleans; Orlando; Phoenix; San Antonio; and Tampa. Bids are due by Aug. 22, an unusually fast turnaround. The bowl begins in the 2014 season.
Arlington is considered a strong candidate because of the Cowboys’ lucrative stadium and the fact that both the SEC and the Big 12 have schools in Texas (the SEC one and the Big 12 four). New Orleans also is considered a prime contender because of the Sugar Bowl’s stature as a postseason destination and the SEC’s long relationship with that game.
“We think Atlanta makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons, but it is a bid and that means competition,” Stokan said. “I have a lot of respect for my colleagues in other cities. It will be fiercely competitive, that is for sure.”
Asked whether the gay-marriage controversy surrounding Chick-fil-A, title sponsor of Atlanta’s bowl game since 1997, could affect the bidding, Stokan provided a prepared statement addressing the issue.
The statement, issued in the name of Peach Bowl Inc., the corporate entity that has managed Atlanta’s bowl since 1968, noted the game’s roots as the Peach Bowl and its history of philanthropy.
“Our corporate mission is to positively impact people’s lives by celebrating college athletics, through best-in-class events and activities that create charitable donations, scholarships, economic impact and memorable experiences,” the statement said. “… We appreciate the contribution that Chick-fil-A is making, and will continue to make, to our events, as well as their long-standing commitment to helping the student-athletes who benefit from them.
“Our desire is to continue in our industry-leading efforts to support charity and scholarship in our home community and those of our partner conferences and teams.”
The SEC declined to comment on the Chick-fil-A controversy and the Champions Bowl bidding process.
Economically, the Champions Bowl will differ from most bowl games, including the Chick-fil-A Bowl, in major ways. The SEC and the Big 12, rather than the bowl itself, will control and sell the TV rights and the corporate naming rights.
That will leave non-title sponsorships and ticket sales as the main revenue sources for local organizers, who will have to decide how much of that revenue to offer the SEC and the Big 12 in the bid proposals.
The SEC and the Big 12 see the bowl as their answer to the Pac 12-Big Ten alliance in the Rose Bowl. The SEC and Big 12 champs will meet in the bowl except when they are obligated to play national semifinal games elsewhere, as often figures to be the case in the four-team playoff that begins with the 2014 season. At such times, other teams from the SEC and Big 12 will be chosen for the bowl.
The Big 12 currently does not have a conference championship game.
– Tim Tucker, AJC