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John Stephenson’s day on this humid August morning started much like every other day, with Stephenson standing in front of a group of well-heeled Atlanta executives explaining why they should visit the new College Football Hall of Fame.
The questions that came back from this group of Duke alums at the Buckhead Club ran the gamut. Some wanted to know if the hall could make money — halls of fame are notoriously bad businesses. Others asked how many Blue Devils are in the College Football Hall of Fame.
The $68.5 million project opens this Saturday in Atlanta.
Photo by:Byron Small
“People tell me all the time how lucky I am to work in college football,” Stephenson, the hall’s CEO and president, said with a smile. “What I’ve been doing the last 2 1/2 years literally has nothing to do with college football. I’m trying to get a building built.”
Stephenson is almost able to see the final results on Marietta Street in downtown Atlanta, just across from Centennial Olympic Park, the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola.
The college hall spent the past 17 years in South Bend, Ind., but the National Football Foundation, which owns the rights to the hall, decided four years ago to accept an offer from Atlanta organizers. That group, led by Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl President Gary Stokan and Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy, helped secure the commitment, providing the NFF with a greater platform for its hall and more visibility for the foundation’s scholarship and charitable causes.
Stephenson, formerly an attorney for Atlanta firm Troutman Sanders and a native of the city, took the baton in 2012.
The new $68.5 million building will open on Saturday — on schedule and on budget.
He’s especially proud that only $1 million of public money was used. The rest of the building’s cost has been raised through sponsorship dollars and private donations.
“That’s unusual for an attraction like this,” he said, having already ditched the tie from his morning speaking engagement in favor of an open-collar blue shirt and navy jacket.
The hall is down to its last two major pieces of sponsorship inventory, and when those are sold, the attraction will have the commitments it needs to pay off the 94,256-square-foot building.
Now all the hall needs to do is get people inside of it.
Visitors entering the College Football Hall of Fame will encounter a wall of helmets that’s visually overwhelming. The eyes don’t know where to focus. A touch-screen board enables visitors to find a school, touch an image and light up the helmet.
Visitors are greeted by a massive wall of helmets from every college football program.
Photo by:Byron Small
The hall has worked with helmet-maker Schutt to secure all of the helmets. Two hardworking interns had the chore of putting decals on the side of the helmets.
There’s little question that the wall delivers the wow factor that any attraction hopes for.
“This breaks the mold for sports halls of fame,” said Patrick Gallagher, president and founder of Gallagher & Associates, the Washington, D.C.-based firm that serves as the exhibition designer. Gallagher’s work can be found in any number of museums and exhibits, from the Baseball Hall of Fame to the University of North Carolina’s basketball museum.
The College Football Hall of Fame projects 500,000 visitors a year, an ambitious number compared to the halls for other sports, where 200,000 to 300,000 a year is the norm.
Stephenson looks across Marietta Street and sees more than 2 million people a year visiting the Georgia Aquarium and more than 1 million going to the World of Coca-Cola, so he believes his goal is within reach. The College Football Hall of Fame is right in the middle of all that traffic and the building is literally attached to the Georgia World Congress Center, meaning fans could walk indoors from the hall to the Georgia Dome.
Ticket sales are projected to account for 60 percent to 70 percent of the hall’s estimated $10 million in annual
The hall also receives a share of gross revenue from room rentals, catering, retail sales and parking in the adjacent deck.
Omni, the hotel next door, is the catering partner, while California-based Event Network Inc. will operate the hall’s retail store. Event Network also runs the store inside the Georgia Aquarium.
ESPN, while not officially a partner, worked with the hall on connectivity throughout the building.
“Where does the fiber need to run? Where should the camera plug-ins be? Those are the areas where ESPN really helped us,” Stephenson said.
As visitors advance up the stairs to the second floor, they are greeted by a 52-foot-long touch-screen display, where fans can find their favorite teams, players and moments.
A staff of 35 full-time fan ambassadors and 35 more part-timers will browse through the exhibits, looking for opportunities to show guests how certain interactive displays work.
The galleries are a blend of historical artifacts, like the trombone from the Stanford band that was trampled during “The Play,” mixed with the latest in interactives.
The hall brought in Cortina Productions to create a variety of interactives, enabling visitors to virtually paint their face, diagram Xs and Os, sing the fight song or call the play for memorable moments. Photos and other keepsakes can be accessed through the hall’s official website, cfbhall.com.
Southwest Airlines sponsors a tunnel that leads to a 45-yard playing field.
Photo by:Byron Small
Olecki primarily has been responsible for integrating the hall’s sponsors into the displays, either through branding or product placement, without it becoming too overwhelming. Founding partners AT&T, Chick-fil-A, Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Coca-Cola and Kia have their brands tastefully etched in brushed stainless steel around the second floor.
Coke sponsors a gallery on game-day traditions. Kia brought in a specially designed car with a drop-down TV and built-in grill for tailgating. Chick-fil-A, the hall’s presenting sponsor, has its name on multiple elements.
The two major spaces remaining without a sponsor are the 150-seat theater and the 45-yard field with a goalpost.
Stephenson and Olecki spearhead sales, with an assist from Fishbait Marketing’s Rick Jones.
The hall wouldn’t comment on the value of specific deals, but the 15 sponsorships sold so far went for a wide range, starting in the mid-to-high six figures for official partners to more than seven figures a year.
Founding partners have significant integration and product placement throughout. Other official partners had the opportunity to put their name on pieces of the building, like the Southwest Airlines Touchstone Tunnel, which leads from the lobby to the 45-yard playing field.
“The designers really let the partners have a voice as they were going through the process, which I think is unique,” Olecki said.
‘Our building is a big show’
The final flight of stairs ascends to the third floor, which is reserved for the actual hall of fame. The stone floors,wood walls and light hum of white noise send the message that this floor is different from the other two.
Rather than the busts that are so often associated with halls of fame, this one lists each class year-by-year.
Huge 6-foot-tall video displays show images, highlights and stats for the hall of famer selected, and the display swivels, enabling the visitor to see multiple angles as images of the player come to life.
Hall organizers thought the more contemporary displays fit the theme of the building more so than the traditional busts.
“This is the nicest room in the building,” Stephenson said as he proudly walked the hall of fame room.
The hall of fame is the room of reverence for the game’s greats, but it is, after all, just a segment of the overall project.
Hall of Fame CEO and President John Stephenson is eager to get down to business.
Photo by:AP Images
“I’m building a big stage for the hall, which is the NFF’s deal,” Stephenson said. “My job is to build this building and start this business.
“We’re not just in the hall of fame business, we’re in the attraction business. We’re in the entertainment business.
Our building is a big show. We’re going to sell you a ticket to see something you can’t see anywhere else. Yes, the hall of fame is in our building, but most of the building is an attraction on par with what is around us.”
Organizers of the $68.5 million College Football Hall of Fame learned from the mistakes Charlotte made with its NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The $200 million NASCAR building, at 130,000 square feet, is too large, said John Stephenson, president and CEO of the college hall. Projections of more than 800,000 visitors in the NASCAR hall’s first fiscal year (2010-11) proved to be out of reach. The NASCAR hall lost money its first three years, including a $1.6 million deficit in fiscal 2013, and annual attendance registered below 200,000 in fiscal 2012 and 2013.
THE HALL OF FAME NUMBERS GAME HALL OF FAME LOCATION TOTAL REVENUE TOTAL EXPENSES REVENUE FROM ADMISSIONS Hockey Hall of Fame Toronto $13,706,523 $13,129,913 NA International Tennis Hall of Fame Newport, R.I. $10,583,672 $6,879,039 $616,619 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Springfield, Mass. $5,815,209 $6,215,706 $1,394,348 NASCAR Hall of Fame Charlotte Loss of $1.8 million in 2012* NA NA National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum Cooperstown, N.Y. $8,333,831 $11,393,224 $3,115,821 Pro Football Hall of Fame Canton, Ohio $12,974,627 $11,332,244 $2,543,948 NA: Not available
* According to published reports
Source: 2012 Form 990, Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service; Charities Directorate of the Canada Revenue Agency
Atlanta’s college hall, which opens Saturday, expects to benefit from major differences in its process.
Charlotte became involved in a hyper-competitive bid process for the NASCAR hall with other cities. That led to inflated numbers. The college hall had no such competition. The National Football Foundation, which owns the rights to the hall and licenses it to Atlanta Hall Management, committed to go to Atlanta four years ago after 17 years in South Bend, Ind. But Atlanta’s organizing group first had to crunch the numbers.
“If we can’t do something, with this subject matter, that at least breaks even, then let’s not do it,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson formed a building committee of Atlanta Hall Management board members and real estate, legal, civic and engineering executives. They decided on a 94,256-square-foot building, with an estimated 500,000 visitors in the first year.
“We treated it like a real estate development project,” Stephenson said. “A lot of due diligence went into it to make sure the numbers made sense.”
Bill Hancock’s goal is to keep the College Football Playoff as simple as possible. No complicated computer formulas, no RPI rankings, no math whatsoever. But that doesn’t stop the never-ending stream of questions that confront Hancock, the CFP’s executive director, wherever he goes.
“My sense is that many people just don’t understand how simple the playoff will be,” Hancock said from his CFP office in the Dallas suburb of Las Colinas. “Obviously, the coaches and others want to know the criteria the selection committee will use. That’s the most common question. The answer to that is common sense.”
Bill Hancock attended four football media days held by conferences, including the Big 12.
Photo by:Icon SMI
The other is to get the word out on how the playoff will function.
“I suppose, as a former newspaper guy, it’s a no-brainer for me personally to be as transparent as possible,” said the former newspaper editor in his hometown of Hobart, Okla.
So Hancock and his staff hit the road in late July to attend all 10 conference football media days. Hancock personally went to four — the SEC, Conference USA, Big 12 and American Athletic. It’s a ritual Hancock brought over from his days at the old BCS, which he directed from 2005 through its final season last year. He started attending conference media days in 2006, and in the past went to as many as six in only a few weeks. They’re like family reunions, he said, where you see old friends and catch up.
He has a larger staff at the CFP now, so he doesn’t have to be a one-man traveling band.
During the three days of the SEC media days in Birmingham, Ala., Hancock did 41 interviews, 35 of which were radio. So many brushes with the media help him explain the CFP procedures while also understanding what questions the media and the public have about the new format.
“I did encounter a lot of people who just don’t know yet how it will operate, which is understandable,” Hancock
The vast majority of those questions have to do with the selection process.
Four primary criteria were established at the very beginning: strength of schedule, head-to-head results, common opponents and whether the team won its conference championship.
But then there’s this: “And, of course, any other factors any committee members want to use,” Hancock added.
That’s what makes people nervous.
“I think the curiosity is a hangover from the BCS days when there was a hard and fast metric,” Hancock said of the old BCS system, which employed computer rankings to help determine the two best teams. “The transition to the more subjective human decision-making will naturally spark curiosity. … I think fans will welcome the simplicity of this once they get comfortable with it.”
The other question he hears the most is when the playoff will expand. That one makes him laugh because the CFP is about to start its first year of a 12-year agreement among the conferences, and its broadcaster, ESPN. He even heard the expansion topic brought up in a meeting with ESPN executives, talent and producers during a visit to Bristol, Conn., earlier this month.
“People ask me how long until it goes to eight. You know my points on this — a big playoff at some point will diminish the regular season,” Hancock said. “It will change the bowl experience as a whole. I’m talking about everything from Pasadena to Nashville to Shreveport to Mobile to the Bahamas. It will change if there’s a big playoff.
“That point was brought back to me by the coaches at the American and Conference USA. They made it very clear — please don’t do anything to take the bowl experience away from our athletes.”
Hancock doesn’t see expansion on the horizon. “It’s really a moot point because there is no talk in our group about it.”
Hancock’s schedule won’t slow down in the coming months. When he’s not attending college football games, he’ll be continuing two other fall traditions.
For the last 10 years, he’s been going to high school football games with his two grandsons in Shawnee Mission, Kan. Hancock works out of his Dallas office during the week, but he and his wife kept a home in the suburb just outside of Kansas City.
But by Oct. 28, the Tuesday when the first CFP rankings are released, Hancock will be neck-deep in the process of selecting the four teams that will play in the first college football playoff.
“A lot of people think I have a vote, but no, the staff does not vote,” Hancock said.
The 12-person CFP staff will operate much like the NCAA does during the selection of the 68 teams for the basketball tournament, something Hancock knows well from his 16 years at the NCAA.
“Our job is to keep the trains running on time, understand the process, make sure there’s thorough discussion, and then order lunch,” he said with a laugh.
Opening this fall
Tenant (conference): Baylor University (Big 12)
Estimated cost: $260 million
Contractor: Austin Commercial-Flintco
Note: The stadium is named in honor of former Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane and his family, who in 2012 provided the seed money for the project.
Photo by:University of Houston
Tenant (conference): University of Houston (American Athletic)
Estimated cost: $120 million
Capacity: 40,000, expandable to 50,000
Architects: DLR Group; Page
Contractor: Manhattan Construction
Note: The venue has 22 luxury suites, 200 loge box seats and club seating for 650.
Tenant (conference): LSU (SEC)
Estimated cost: $80 million
Capacity (previous): 102,321 (92,542)
Contractors: Brasfield & Gorrie; The Lemoine Co.
Note: The expansion included the addition of 1,500 upper deck seats, a 3,000-seat club level, two levels with 66 suites, and a 400- to 500-person standing-room-only area.
Davis Wade Stadium
Tenant (conference): Mississippi State (SEC)
Estimated cost: $75 million
Capacity (previous): 61,337 (55,082)
Architects: 360 Architecture; LPK
Contractor: Harrell Contracting Group
Note: The expansion included the addition of 22 suites, bringing the stadium’s total to 72.
Tenant (conference): Tulane (American Athletic)
Estimated cost: $60 million
Architects: Gould Evans; Lee Ledbetter & Associates
Contractor: Woodward Design+Build
Note: The stadium is named after Richard Yulman, the former chairman and owner of Serta and a Tulane board member, and his wife, who together donated $15 million toward construction. The stadium’s field will be known as Benson Field, after New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans owner Tom Benson and his wife Gayle, who jointly gave $7.5 million.
Tenant (conference): Houston Baptist University (Southland)
Estimated cost: $13 million
Note: Houston Texans owner Bob McNair and his wife Janice donated $3 million to HBU to help complete construction of the on-campus football stadium.
SEU Football Stadium*
Tenant (conference): Southeastern University (NAIA Sun Conference)
Estimated cost: $6 million-$8 million
Architect: SCMH Architects
Contractor: Hunt Construction Group/NuJak Construction
Note: This is the Lakeland, Fla., football program’s inaugural season.
Stoffer Family Stadium*
Tenant (conference): George Fox University (D-III Northwest Conference)
Estimated cost: $7.2 million
Architect: Mackenzie Architecture
Contractor: Andersen Construction Co.
Note: This is the Newberg, Ore., football program’s inaugural season.
Photo by:Texas A&M University
Tenant (conference): Texas A&M (SEC)
Estimated cost: $450 million
Capacity (previous): 102,512 (82,600)
Contractor: Manhattan-Vaughn Construction
Note: As part of the expansion, Daktronics installed this summer a 47-by-163-foot video board.
Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium
Photo by:Florida Citrus Bowl
Tenants: Capital One Bowl; Russell Athletic Bowl; MLS Orlando City SC (beginning in 2015)
Estimated cost: $207 million
Capacity (previous): 61,348 (65,438)
Contractor: Hunt Construction Group
Note: Fifth Third Bank has purchased naming rights to the field for Orlando City SC matches. Its name during those events will be Fifth Third Bank Field at the Citrus Bowl.
Tenant (conference): Colorado (Pac-12)
Estimated cost: $156 million
Capacity (previous): 53,750 (53,613)
Note: The project will include the construction of an adjoining building that will house the athletic department and football offices, football weight room and a public sports center; an indoor football practice facility that will include an indoor 300-meter track; a separate weight room for CU’s Olympic sports’ athletes; and expanded academic facilities.
Tenant (conference): Kentucky (SEC)
Estimated cost: $110 million
Capacity (previous): 61,000 (67,606)
Architects: HNTB; Ross Tarrant Architects
Contractors: Skanska USA Building Inc./Congleton-Hacker Co.
Note: A separate $45 million football training facility will be built adjacent to the stadium and is scheduled to open in early 2016. Both projects are funded by existing university funds, such as student athletic fees.
Tenant (conference): Berry College (D-III Southern Athletic Association)
Estimated cost: $7 million
Architect: Cooper Carry
Note: The original proposed site received international attention due to some unexpected tenants: an eagle’s nest with hatching eaglets. Since last year, two cameras have streamed video of the parents and their new baby eagles 24 hours a day. The Mount Berry, Ga., school decided to build the new stadium on a site nearby, instead.
Dana J. Dykhouse Football Stadium*
Tenant (conference): South Dakota State University (Missouri Valley)
Estimated cost: $60 million-$65 million
Architects: Architecture Inc.; Crawford Associates
Contractor: J.E. Dunn Construction/Henry Carlson Co.
Note: Lead gifts helping to fund the project, totaling $12.5 million, came from Sioux Falls banker Dana Dykhouse and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford. The facility will be built on the site of Coughlin-Alumni Stadium, which has served as the home of Jackrabbits football since 1962.
■ Notre Dame Stadium ($400 million): Announced in January, the project will increase the stadium’s capacity from 80,795 to more than 84,000 by creating nearly 4,000 premium seats. Nearly 750,000 square feet will be added to house a student center, the anthropology and psychology departments, a digital media center, and music departments. Construction would begin next year at the earliest and would take nearly three years, according to the university. The architects are S/L/A/M Collaborative and Ratio Architects. Other consultants include Workshop Architects for the student center and 360 Architecture for the recreation, fitness and hospitality areas. The contractor is Barton Malow Co.
Photo by:University of Oklahoma
■ Colorado State University ($220 million): The conditional approval for the new stadium requires the school to raise at least half of the construction costs through private donations by October 2014. Icon Venue Group has signed on to oversee the project. Populous and Mortenson Construction are the lead architect and general contractor, respectively.
■ Sun Devil Stadium ($225 million): Arizona State announced in January a complete renovation of the stadium. Hunt Construction began removing the bleacher seats in the north end zone earlier this year. Enhancements include more legroom, seats and benches with backs, an increased number of restrooms, and an upgraded video board and sound system. A $132 million shade canopy, which was part of a proposed renovation several years ago, has been removed from the project blueprint.
* New stadium
Note: All schools play in an NCAA Division I conference unless noted.