SBJ/Aug. 19-25, 2013/In Depth

Playoff organization faces lengthy to-do list

Bill Hancock hands out two business cards these days — one for the Bowl Championship Series and one for the College Football Playoff.

Even though college football’s first playoff is only one season away, Hancock, the executive director of both the BCS and the CFP, hasn’t fully turned his attention to next year. He still has one eye on the BCS and making the finale as good as it can be. But he also must start moving forward on creating what he calls “a major iconic national sporting event,” the first playoff championship game in January 2015.

The to-do list is lengthy and includes determining everything from a selection committee to a model for corporate hospitality and weekend entertainment.

“It’s a remarkable position to be in because this is a championship that has to be born full-grown,” said Hancock, a former NCAA and Big Eight Conference executive who has overseen the BCS as executive director since 2009.

Bill Hancock (right), Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott (center) and SEC Commissioner Mike Slive announce the name and structure of the playoff system at a news conference in April.
Photo by: AP Images
“We’ve had several hot stove conversations speculating about when the last mega sporting event was started from scratch,” Hancock said. “You could make a case that it was the Super Bowl. But that’s how we’re approaching this — we’re birthing an iconic event. The BCS gives us a bit of a track record, but this is going to be different.”

Despite the dual focus, the process of creating the College Football Playoff is well underway. A CFP office has been established in the Las Colinas area of Irving, Texas, about halfway between the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and Love Field. Within shouting distance are the offices for the Big 12 and Conference USA. The new American Athletic Conference has been looking in that area as well.

The handful of CFP employees moved into a new office earlier this month. Hancock and COO Michael Kelly have hired a CFO, Reid Sigmon, who has experience on three Super Bowl host committees. Other hires include Ken Elder, senior director of marketing and strategic partnerships, and Gina Chappin, senior director of communications and brand management. Elder has worked directly or consulted on sales and marketing for six Super Bowl host committees. Chappin came from the Rose Bowl.

Hancock is continuing to hire and will have the staff up to 12 by early 2014. Expenses for the office are being subsidized by the 10 conferences that support the CFP.

“They’re going to come from event business, they’re going to have backgrounds in conferences, universities, bowls, Super Bowl host committees, the NCAA,” Hancock said of the hires. “We’re going for utility infielders. They all have specialties, but they can play any position. But it’ll still be a small staff compared to the pro leagues. That’s just the way we want to go for now.”

Hancock’s to-do list remains daunting, even now that he has some help.

They will work with the conference commissioners to create a selection committee that will pick the four playoff teams next year. They must determine which design company will create a new trophy. The crystal ball will be awarded just once more with this final edition of the BCS, and then it will be, like the BCS, defunct.

Dr Pepper owned the naming rights to the BCS trophy, a deal that will expire this season. ESPN, which owns all of
the broadcast and marketing rights to the playoff, just as it did to the BCS, will sell the rights to the CFP trophy as part of its sponsorship inventory. Included in that inventory are all six bowl title sponsorships. The marketing rights and inventory in the new CFP contract is much the same as the old BCS.

The network is not commenting on sales, but industry sources believe the cost will increase from the high teens into the low-to-mid $20 million range. There will be no title sponsor on the championship game.

ESPN retains all the rights for field wraps and signage.

Meanwhile, Hancock’s staff also is beginning to work through exactly what the stadium, the game and the ancillary events will look like. Hancock said the Final Four provides something of a blueprint because the CFP championship game will be on a Monday night, just as the title game for the basketball tournament has been on Monday night for more than 30 years. That lends itself to a weekend of concerts and other festivities leading up to the playoff title game.

Unlike the BCS championship game, which is run by the host bowl, the CFP title game will be a stand-alone event managed by the CFP office, not a bowl. The intent currently is to manage the championship game in-house with the staff that Hancock hires.

“By planting our flag on Monday night for the next 12 years, it lends itself to a full weekend with a fan fest, music, lots of entertainment, all of the things that people have come to expect from a top-flight event,” Hancock said.

The semifinal games will be run differently. They will still be managed by the bowls. For example, a semifinal game at New Orleans will be called the College Football Playoff at the Allstate Sugar Bowl. At Pasadena, they’ll call it the College Football Playoff at the Rose Bowl presented by Vizio.

That assumes, of course, that those sponsors strike deals with ESPN to retain their title sponsorships. ESPN is into deep discussions with those six incumbent sponsors — Allstate, AT&T, Chick-fil-A, Discover, Tostitos and Vizio.

Other items on the to-do list include how to manage corporate hospitality and the CFP website, which is currently in a rudimentary form and being edited in-house. Hancock said his staff will be working on a plan for corporate hospitality in the coming months, during which time they will determine whether to outsource it to a third party or handle it in-house.

And then there’s the final edition of the BCS. Hancock said he and the conferences are thinking through a special tribute for the last round of the BCS, but they’re not sure how that will come off.

The CFP has been careful not to plow old ground as it has decided its name, its trophy and other elements of the new championship. There is little to no evidence of the BCS anywhere in the new CFP format because the commissioners don’t want any of the negative residue from the BCS filtering over.

But Hancock, whose job it has been to promote the BCS, still has a soft spot in his heart for the expiring system.

“History will view the BCS fondly,” Hancock said. “History will look back and say, ‘Wow, look at how the game grew, look at the regular season.’ I’m proud of it.”

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