Peach Bowl exec Strokan on Georgia-OSU: ‘We couldn’t have written a better script’

In Ohio State football history, the Buckeyes have appeared in 54 postseason bowl games. OSU has played in 13 different bowl games and seen postseason action in 15 different cities.

But a new bowl will be added to the list on Dec. 31 as No. 4 Ohio State faces No. 4 Ohio State in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl at Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium, a game that is one of two that will serve as a College Football Playoff national semifinal site this season. No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 TCU will meet in the other semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., also on Dec. 31.

The Buckeyes are obviously walking into a tough environment, with Georgia’s campus in Athens just 75 miles from Atlanta. Bulldogs fans estimate that as many as 78,000 are expected for the Peach Bowl.

The Peach Bowl began in 1968 and was previously played at Georgia Tech’s Grant Field, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and the Georgia Dome before Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened in 2017.

The Ohio State men’s basketball team participated in the 2007 NCAA Final Four, which was held at the Georgia Dome. The Buckeyes defeated Georgetown in the national semifinals before falling to Florida in the national championship game.

Before the arrival of the College Football Playoff in 2014, the Peach Bowl usually hosted the ACC and SEC runner-up teams. In the previous Bowl Championship Series format, there were only four bowls – Fiesta, Rose, Orange and Sugar. An expanded CFP and New Years’ Six rotation allowed the Peach and Cotton Bowls to join the rotation. The Peach Bowl has hosted the national semifinal games in the 2016 and 2019 seasons and will do so again in 2025.

The Peach Bowl is the ninth oldest in college football history. The last 17 Peach Bowl games have been sold out, as has this semifinal between Georgia and Ohio State. Over the past 20 years, Kauss has donated more than $60 million to charity.

The Peach Bowl is part of an expanded 12-team College Football Playoff that begins with the 2024 season. It is expected that there will be two quarter-final matches and one semi-final match during each three-year rotation. Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosted the 2018 CFB Playoff Championship Game and is a leading contender to host the CFP National Championship Game in future seasons. It also hosted Super Bowl LIII in February 2019.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a modern domed stadium in downtown Atlanta. It opened in 2016 at a cost of $1.6 billion. It’s the home of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, and in addition to the Peach Bowl, it’s also hosted a pair of Chick-Fil-A-sponsored first-weekend neutral-site college football games in recent seasons. It has also been the annual host of the SEC Championship.

The stadium’s signature feature is its retractable roof, which features a wheel of eight translucent triangular panels. Each of the eight panels runs on two straight parallel rails; one here is responsible for moving the panel while the other stabilizes the panel.

Under the roof is Halo, a 58 x 1,100 ft (18 x 335 m) ring-shaped video board around its edge. At 62,350 square feet (5,793 m2), manufacturer Daktronics described it as “three times the size of the current largest single display board in the NFL” installed at EverBank Field in Jacksonville (also built by Daktronics).

Atlanta is the capital of the state of Georgia. The city is part of a larger metropolitan area with just over six million residents, making it the eighth largest metropolitan area in the United States.

Ohio State fans have plenty to see and do in Atlanta, especially in and around the Mercedes-Benz Stadium area. Other sites worth checking out include the Atlanta History Center, Georgia Aquarium, Centennial Olympic Park, World of Coca-Cola, Six Flags over Georgia, Zoo Atlanta and the College Football Hall of Fame. The Peach Bowl Fan Festival will be held at the Georgia World Convention Center.

On game day, there will be a parade downtown and the teams will walk through the grounds with fans congregating at the Home Depot Backyard next to the stadium. Click here for attractions and here for a schedule of Peach Bowl events.

We had the opportunity to talk about Peach Bowl, Inc. with CEO Gary Stokan, who will be in Columbus this week to meet with OSU officials and address a press conference on campus. He shared information about what OSU fans can see and do when they come to Atlanta.

Here are excerpts from our Q&A with Gary Stokan.

Q: What is the expectation for Ohio State coming to Atlanta for football for the first time?

Stokan: “I talked to (OSU athletic director) Gene Smith and (Clemson coach) Dabo Swinney. We’ve had Clemson in a bowl game more than any other team. We’ve never had Ohio State. Every year I’d see them at the beginning of the football season and say, ‘This is the year we’re going to put you in the CFP.” They’re both in the CFP almost every year. We’ve been for nine years and never had a playoff game with Clemson or Ohio State.

“I just saw Gene in Las Vegas and we hugged. I had seen him at the Wisconsin game and I said maybe Ohio State will be in Atlanta this year. We’re excited about the Ohio State brand and all the fans. People down here think Georgia is going to bring a lot the people they bring.

“But I said, ‘Wait until you see how many people from the state of Ohio flock to Atlanta, whether they have a ticket or not.’ We couldn’t have written a better script to get a No. 1 against a No. 4 and two Heisman Trophy players and a lot of future NFL players — not to mention Ryan Day and Gene Smith, who are first-class guys to work with. .”

Q: Ticket distribution, do schools get the same number of tickets? How does it all work?

Stokan: “Each school gets 13,000 tickets from the 50-yard line and beyond. Five hundred of those go to the band, so they have 12,500 for the fans. Obviously, there’s a secondary market. We sold out in July. I know there’s going to be a lot of red.”

“Georgia wears red and Ohio State wears white and gray. There’s a lot of red at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on New Years.

Q: Ticket costs seemed pretty reasonable, with face value between $150 and $300. It’s not outrageously priced, it doesn’t seem.

Stokan: “Yeah, our deal with the CFP, we all sat down and talked about the allocation of tickets and what would be a fair price. We don’t control them in the secondary market. The original face value of the ticket is definitely easy to digest, for lack of a better term.

Q: What do you say to Ohio State fans who are worried about Georgia fans piling on them and getting outnumbered three or four to one? It may seem like the game is being played on the Athens campus, and OSU fans may be harassed by the large number of Georgia people in attendance.

Stokan: “I really don’t think it’s going to happen. Between our sponsors and ESPN and the conferences and the CFP and then the two allocations of tickets, I think it’s just a matter of tossing around in the secondary market who’s going to buy the tickets. We’re not going to allocate more tickets to Georgia than Ohio State I don’t feel like it is.

“I know Ohio State has a huge graduate population here in Atlanta and the Southeast. I see a lot of them rushing to the game in big numbers as well.

Q: What are some big attractions for Ohio State fans coming down for several days after Christmas to see and do in downtown Atlanta and the metro area?

Stokan: “Atlanta is a great place to be during the holiday season. There are few people in the city center, so it’s nice to walk around. Ohio State is staying at the Omni (a hotel) located next to the College Football Hall of Fame, which is a must-see.

“It’s 100 yards from the world’s largest aquarium, which is another must-see. Centennial Olympic Park is a nice walk. It’s right across the street from the Omni. There’s the Civil Rights Center and the CNN Center. Those are all the things to do. Shopping is great and Atlanta has great restaurants.

“During game day, there’s a parade that goes around Centennial Olympic Park, the Omni, and the Georgia World Convention Center. We’ll probably have 35,000 people there for a fan festival with all kinds of activities and games. The bands will be there, both Ohio State and Georgia, along with the cheerleaders.

“Then we walk out of there to the Home Depot Backyard two hours before the game. The teams get off the buses and walk through the fans to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Then kickoff is at 8 p.m. It’s a great time to be in Atlanta. There are great things to see within walking distance.

“People staying at the Omni can literally walk to the game. It’s only about 200 or 300 yards from the Omni to the stadium and the Georgia World Congress Center and the Home Depot Backyard.

Q: It all seems to flow from one thing to another there downtown.

Stokan: “Yes, one of the things we’re blessed with in downtown Atlanta is that we have 13,000 hotel rooms downtown. We have three interstates that intersect downtown, and we have the largest airport in the world. People can easily travel here from anywhere. You can stay downtown or need a rental car and just walk and everything is close, not only the sights but also the facility where we play.

“The same goes for the restaurants. It’s a walk-through experience. The best way to position it — I’ve been in sports for 44 years, been to Indianapolis for a lot of Final Fours — it’s similar to Indy in terms of hotels and walkability. But we have a lot more attractions than Indy. We’re just bigger city ​​and has many more restaurants, it’s a great trip for people to come to Atlanta this time of year.

Q: You have been at Mercedes-Benz Stadium since 2017. What is remarkable about this stadium?

Stokan: “It’s a great facility and it’s fan-friendly. The cost of concessions is really cheap. People can go in there and buy a Coke for I think a dollar and have it refilled. They can eat for five bucks. It’s not one of those places where you you get in, just $20 for a coke and $25 for a hamburger.

“Give (Falcons owner) Arthur Blank credit. He’s made the fan experience and facility for all fans.

Q: The Peach Bowl moved to New Year’s Six in 2014. The natural bowl and city seemed to join the rotation as the four bowls to six. It seems you have picked up the ball and run with it. What has this resurrection meant for the Peach Bowl?

Stokan: “We were founded in 1968 and are the ninth-oldest bowl game. Unlike some other bowls formed for tourism, we were created to give back to charity. This year, with two Chick-Fil-A games and the Peach Bowl, we will provide $100 million in economic impact to the city of Atlanta.

“I started here in 1998. Our first game was Georgia-Virginia. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution here called us a ‘third-tier bowl game.’ In 2006, we made a bid for the BCS national championship game, but it went to the rotation model of the four existing BCS bowls.”

“Also in 2006, the NCAA made the 12th regular season game permanent. I said, “Well, if they don’t put us in the back half of the BCS, we’re going to start the BCS season on the front.” We opened with Alabama and Clemson. the first year. I called it the Daytona 500 of college football. Before that, people gave non-targeted schools their first three games and they were killer games and the TV ratings were terrible.

“We started with Alabama-Clemson and it just skyrocketed from there. Changing the face of the college football schedule with those opening games was important. Second, we brought the College Football Hall of Fame from South Bend, Ind., to Atlanta in 2011. I think that changed our perspective on college football.

“We had built a strong reputation. We worked hard to build strong relationships and when we had the opportunity to join the CFP (in 2014) … we had worked hard to bring the Super Bowl and the Final Fours and Wrestlemania, we had brought a lot of events to Atlanta. And that was in addition to being the host of the Olympics in 1996. With all the support from our company, it all became a great recipe to become what many people consider the capital of college football.

“We’ve worked hard to do that and worked strategically. We’ve also maintained our mission to be the most charitable organization of the 44 bowls, giving $60 million to charity since 2002, probably twice as much as the other bowls combined.

Q: Obviously, the CFB Playoff in 2024 will have 12 teams. How does the Peach Bowl and other top bowls fit into this rotation?

Stokan: “The early transition to the 12-team playoffs starts in 2024-25. That’s all we know right now because the contract runs through the 2025 season. In 2024, we’ll host a quarterfinal game. Then in 2025, we’ll host a championship game in 2024. Then we will organize a national semi-final match in December 2025.

“That’s what we know from the existing contract. As we move forward, the committee’s proposal was to have six New Year’s six bowl games over two years in a quarterfinal tournament and then a semifinal every third year.

Q: With so many neutral site games coming into the playoffs, was there any pushback or did you think about pricing for the average fan? I know the bowls are just one component along with travel and hotel expenses. But how do you make these games affordable for the average fan? How can people afford a neutral site for the conference championship and then maybe three more neutral site games for the playoffs? Is there a potential you’ll end up with half-empty stadiums?

Stokan: “Well, one of the unintended consequences of the playoff movement is that players are given an NFL draft card and a $20 million signing bonus to play for a conference championship and three playoff games. It can be so tough.

“But also for all the fans of these games, Christmas is between all of them. It definitely has to be factored in with ticket prices and everything. We’re doing it for student-athlete participation, but we’re also doing it for fan participation.

“College football is the second most popular sport in the U.S. behind the NFL. We need to maintain that relationship with the fans who are so important to the game.

Q: What can Ohio State fans expect in late December weather?

Stokan: “It’s usually in the 50s, but it can be warmer. We have been in the 60s for four of the last five years. I’m telling you it’s 72 degrees inside the closed-roof Mercedes-Benz Stadium. People don’t have to worry about that.”

Q: Can fans bring golf clubs to try a round?

Stokan: “Oh, yes, you can play golf here this time of year. Then we’ll still be playing golf here.”

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