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Atlanta’s unified Host Committee model offers template for other US host cities

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JANUARY 28: A general view as the New England Patriots talk with the media during Super Bowl LIII Opening Night at State Farm Arena on January 28, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

  • Core group organising three major events in as many years at Mercedes-Benz Stadium
  • Super Bowl LIII staff have taken key learnings from 2018 college football title game at venue
  • A ‘conservative’ $200m expected to be generated to the local economy in new net spending

After Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium was awarded three major sporting events in as many years – including Super Bowl LIII this Sunday (February 3) – an innovative Host Committee model was created to serve as a potential template for other US cities to follow.

In January 2018, the $1.5bn (€1.3bn) venue staged the College Football Playoff national championship between Alabama and Georgia; this weekend, it is hosting the NFL’s showpiece event between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams; and in April 2020, it will welcome the Final Four of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

To help organise three marquee events back-to-back-to-back, the Atlanta Sports Council – a division of Metro Atlanta Chamber – established the Championship Hosting Division. The body contains three Host Committees – one for each event, comprising local leaders in the business, sports and tourism industries – with a core staff working together on all three projects over a five-year time period, from 2016 to 2020.

It means the Super Bowl Host Committee is well-acquainted with the various logistical issues it has encountered – including public safety, security, transportation, hotel commitments, ancillary events, parking and fundraising – having faced similar situations, and dealt with many of the same people, at the College Football title game last year.

General view of Mercedes-Benz Stadium during the College Football Playoff National Championship game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Alabama Crimson Tide on January 8, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

Hosting major sporting events in close proximity to each other is not new for US cities but Atlanta’s committee model is novel. Minneapolis’s US Bank Stadium, for example, hosted the Super Bowl in 2018 and is staging the Final Four this year but the events have two entirely separate Host Committees.

“So many cities will form a Host Committee and they will work together for two years and then go away,” Carl Adkins, Atlanta Super Bowl LIII Host Committee executive director, tells SportBusiness.

“The fact that we started building ours in the summer of 2016 and will be together through the end of June 2020 has been phenomenal because a lot of the groundwork for Super Bowl we did in preparation for the college championship. Coming out of this, the relationships, the understanding, the knowledge– across the city, state and all of our partners – it just becomes so much easier to produce the event.

“Minneapolis…took an entirely different approach and had two different host committees, which seems a little odd to me because they were both out in the community doing fundraising efforts. To me there were a lot of efficiencies that could have been gained by just consolidating the two and incrementally increasing staff sizes as necessary for either event.”

Should the Mercedes-Benz Stadium be awarded a major sporting event in the near future – such as a semi-final at the 2026 Fifa World Cup – the Championship Hosting Division will be reformed.

“We’re getting a lot of interest in this model and how’s it’s effective. It will be interesting to see how it plays out going forward,” Adkins adds.

Super Bowl LIII to cost $48m – and bring in $200m
Atlanta’s Super Bowl week is expected to cost $48m to put on, which will be covered by public and private funds. Two dozen local businesses donated a combined $20m to the Host Committee; $16m will come from a city hotel-motel tax designated for major events; and $10m comes from a sales-tax exemption on tickets.

The extra $2m will be spent on reimbursing the NFL and the teams for any local or state taxes they pay in connection to the Super Bowl. This was an enhancement the Atlanta Host Committee agreed to as a sweetener to secure the event.

According to Adkins, fundraising has been the toughest challenge, but he said that local companies rallied round the event, even those who are not allowed branding opportunities at the Super Bowl, such as Coca-Cola and UPS.

“A lot of our major corporations really stepped up and pitched in even when a lot of them have no rights for sponsorship or advertising because a lot of primary competitors are league sponsors,” he says. “Atlanta is a Coke town and Pepsi is a sponsor of the NFL. Coke is not really allowed a presence associated with events that the Host Committee does. UPS is also stationed here but FedEx is a league partner.

“Even in spite of those limitations that are put on our Fortune 500 companies, they have all stepped up and contributed to our bid effort in order for us to be able to put on a world-class Super Bowl. One of our board members said it best: ‘they are paying their civic rent’.”

The Host Committee received the right to purchase 750 tickets from the NFL as part of the city’s bid to stage the game. Most have been used in sponsorship deals with Atlanta-based companies who helped fund the costs of hosting, while the likes of Coca-Cola and UPS have been rewarded for their efforts as well.

The Host Committee predicts that the Super Bowl will generate $200m in local economic activity. This is far less than the $370m that Minneapolis claimed was netted last year, though many economists question the figures given by Host Committees, saying their estimates are inaccurate or overblown. Adkins says the independent professor hired to project Atlanta’s economic impact had been “very conservative in his approach”.

Adkins says the main difference between Atlanta’s Super Bowl week and those in other cities, is the proximity of events, which are being mainly staged in a confined downtown area at Centennial Olympic Park, State Farm Arena, the Georgia World Congress Center and Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

This presents both opportunities and challenges. “Of the 15 official NFL events – and this doesn’t include the NFL-sanctioned events that are on the periphery or what I call the tertiary type of events which are private parties which spring up everywhere – 13 of them are on our campus,” Adkins says.

“So any decision made in one facility or transportation plans has a domino effect out on the others. But the core of the bid is the walkability – that we have 15-20,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of this campus and the majority of the facilities that anyone could want or need are right here.”

The Host Committee is a private, non-profit organisation so all the funds it raises must be plowed back into events and other related items. “At the end of the day we don’t expect to make a lot of money, we want to break even and whatever we make spend it towards the event: be it transportation, accommodations whatever,” Adkins says.

“Our role is about being able to welcome the guests, have them have a good time, spend their money and leave here with a lasting memory of Atlanta being a wonderful place to visit and hopefully want to come back. We just want to present Atlanta in the best light possible and to have everyone walk away, saying ‘Wow!’.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during a press conference during Super Bowl LIII Week at the NFL Media Center inside the Georgia World Congress Center on January 30, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

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