Atlanta scores with football doubleheader

The city of Atlanta is expected to score big with this weekend’s doubleheader Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games.

Last year, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game accounted for a $30.5 million economic impact in Atlanta and $1.3 million in tax revenue. Tonight’s matchup between North Carolina State and Tennessee is the first of the two Kickoff Games, which organizers expect will have a $65 million economic impact on the city. More than 130,000 fans will be at the games, and the region will get exposure from a horde of media attending the games: 553 credentials have been issued, compared to about 250 to 270 for the Chick-fil-A Bowl game.

“Our concept is unique,” said Matt Garvey, vice president of communications for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. “The back-to-back concept is unique. As far as we can tell, it’s never been done before by one organization at the same venue and with teams of the same magnitude.”

For four years, the Kickoff Game has matched Top 25 teams. This year, only Clemson, which will play Auburn Saturday night, is ranked in the AP’s Top 25, but both games will feature teams from the SEC and ACC, all of which have strong alumni bases in Atlanta.

The math makes sense for the schools as well from an exposure standpoint. Overall, $8.1 million will be divided between the four teams, although not exactly equally.

Based on their ticket sales, Auburn’s contract calls for a payment of $2.3 million, slightly more money than it made when it last hosted Clemson in Auburn. Tennessee, which can sell more tickets at home because of a larger stadium, won’t make as much as it might make from a marquee home matchup, pulling in instead about what it would make when playing a school like Georgia State, for example.

Like Auburn, Clemson senior associate athletic director Katie Hill also says her team will net $2.3 million.

“This is a good game financially, but the Saturday night Chick-fil-A season opener exposure is just as important as any additional revenue,” says Hill.

Chick-fil-A Bowl President Gary Stokan says he put himself in the position of an athletic director when he structured the games and tried to ensure the games made financial sense.

“If you’re an ACC school with 50,000 to 60,000 seats, we can do better than you can net for a home game,” Stokan says. “If you’re at 90,000 to 100,000, it’s hard to beat that net, but we can get close.”

Stokan says the games should be an easy sell to coaches.

“The athletic director can go to coach and say, ‘You’re in the No. 1 recruiting base per capita in the country and No. 4 overall: Georgia. You get great recruiting exposure.’ People talk about this after the season, through spring ball and summer workouts, all the way up to the first game of the year.”

Coaches buy in for another reason, too, says Stokan.

“We didn’t sell this originally, but what we learned from [Frank] Beamer, [Les] Miles and [Nick] Saban was that off-season workout intensity level goes to whole a new crescendo because student-athletes are competitors, and they want to compete.

“When they know they’re competing on national television against a ranked opponent they get real focused. Those coaches who have played in this have found they don’t have to do too much to get the student-athletes energized. The coaches love this game.”