SBD/August 25, 2014/Facilities

College Football HOF's Tech-Heavy Exhibits Draw Big Crowds For Grand Opening

Officials limited ticket sales to less than 1,000 per hour for the opening rush
A crowd gathered outside the College Football HOF and Chick-fil-A Fan Experience in Atlanta "long before the doors opened" Saturday morning, and fans "of more than 150 different colleges" had entered the building by the end of the day, according to Tim Tucker of the ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION. The number is known because fans "are asked to specify their favorite team when they register their tickets at kiosks in the lobby, triggering that team’s helmet to light up on a three-story wall that displays the headgear of every college football team in the country." HOF President & CEO John Stephenson said that officials "limited ticket sales to less than 1,000 per hour for the opening rush to guard against over-crowding that would diminish the experience." Tucker noted visitors seemed "enamored with the interactive multimedia technology" at the HOF. Stephenson said, "The building is performing excellent. No major technology hiccups or anything." Rather than a traditional ribbon-cutting, dignitaries on stage "blew whistles to signal the opening." HOF mascot Fumbles then "ran through a banner in front of the entrance" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 8/24). Stephenson, National Football Foundation President & CEO Steve Hatchell, Atlanta Hall Management Chair of the Board Steve Robinson and a host of HOFers welcomed the first ticketholders to the facility. The 94,256-square-foot facility was designed by tvsdesign, developed by Cousins Properties and constructed by Brasfield & Gorrie. Exhibit designers include Gallagher & Associates, Pacific Studio, Tomorrow Pictures and Obscura Digital (THE DAILY).

MODERN MARVELS: The JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION's Tucker wrote in the part of the building where visitors "might expect to find plaques or busts -- a circular room on the top floor with rich wood walls and a reverential feel -- they instead will find 10 swiveling, five-foot-tall, flat-screen digital displays that can access far more content on each Hall of Famer than would ever fit on a plaque." In addition, the name, position and school of each inductee is "etched in lighted glass panels along the sides of the room, providing a permanent presence to complement the searchable displays." The departure from plaques and busts "underscores the philosophy that drove the business model of Atlanta’s new attraction: To be sustainable and self-supporting, it would have to be more than a museum." It would "have to be an interactive experience, too." The strategy "is intended to buck a trend among sports halls of fame around the country, many of which have suffered attendance declines amid complaints that they aren’t interactive enough" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 8/24).

BUSINESS PLANS: Stephenson in a Q&A said the HOF's break-even point "floats around 380,000 visitors a year." He said the projected annual attendance of 500,000 was targeted "in Year 4 because we’re pretty sure we won’t have as many people come to our building ever as we do in the first two years." He added, "When we did our business model, we looked at our level-off attendance. That’s the 500,000." Asked why he believes the attraction could outdraw all of the other sports HOFs in the U.S., Stephenson said, "We already know tourists and business travelers go to attractions around Centennial Olympic Park. … The model of a municipality building an attraction in an effort to draw tourism to their city is the total opposite of what we’re doing. We’re using a private enterprise -- a non-profit private enterprise with private money largely -- to build this attraction smack in the middle of an already very active tourism and business travel district." Stephenson said of the HOF's operating budget, "I’d use $11.5 million in revenue and $10 million in expenses. ... Before that spread, we have a 5 percent reserve off of gross revenue for major improvements." He said of revenue sources other than tickets, "It includes the retail store -- we outsource the retail and get a percentage off of their gross sales -- and concessions, events and catering. We have a revenue share with the Omni (hotel) for catering events. … We modeled about 50 events a year, and we’re going to beat that" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 8/23).

LONG & WINDING ROAD: The JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION's Tucker noted the HOF project "changed sites, leadership and timetables" prior to it reaching completion. The project "ran into the Great Recession and significant fundraising trouble." The state of Georgia spent $15M in taxpayer money on the HOF project "for an adjacent parking deck, road work and a connector into the adjoining Georgia World Congress Center." Stephenson said that the building cost $68M, which was privately funded except for $1M from the city’s economic development authority, "not including those expenses" covered by the state (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 8/23). Meanwhile, College Football HOF Curator & Historian Kent Stephens offers his list of "11 things a fan should not miss on a first visit to the attraction's new home in downtown Atlanta" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 8/23).
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