How Peach Bowl, Inc. made Atlanta the “Capital of College Football”
There can be little question that Atlanta is Capital of the South.
The city features the busiest airport in the world and provides access to nearly any international destination. It is the regional hub for commerce and banking, serving as headquarters for more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies. Technology companies love the educated workforce readily available throughout the city. Music, film and culture all have deep roots in Atlanta.
The accolades don’t stop there: Atlanta is also the “Capital of College Football.”
The city has developed a well-earned reputation for being at the forefront of development and promotion of college football. And the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl has been a major factor in pushing the city toward earning that recognition.
The organization is hardly a one-and-done bowl game event. It remains busy throughout the year, organizing the season-ending bowl game, the season-opening kickoff games and other charitable events. Peach Bowl, Inc. has become ingrained as part of the fiber of Atlanta and has become nationally synonymous with Atlanta.
The impact on the city’s landscape is remarkable. Since 2002, Peach Bowl, Inc. has donated $53.8 million to charity, the most by any bowl game during that time. Two months ago, it handed a check for $20 million to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to fund clinical trials to find a cure for childhood cancer.
One obvious reason that Atlanta is the “Capital of College Football” is geographical. Fans are rabid in support of their team, proudly wear their colors and raise their children to do the same. The Atlanta area boasts two Power Five members: Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the University of Georgia – an hour away, but with a tremendously engaged Atlanta fan base – in the Southeastern Conference. Georgia State University, also located in downtown Atlanta, competes in the Sun Belt Conference and will be making its third bowl appearance in the program’s young 10-year history. Morehouse and Clark-Atlanta represent the proud Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
But it goes deeper than simply the home teams. Because Atlanta has developed into a hub for business and industry, graduates of other distant schools – from Michigan and Ohio State to Stanford and Southern Cal — have migrated to town and brought their football passions with them. They set up shop, band together and form their own little alumni outposts. There’s hardly a bar in town that doesn’t host some sort of watch party for ex-pats from schools in faraway areas, one that caters to LSU fans on game day, another that rolls out the welcome mat for displaced Oklahoma Sooners.
Many of the changes that helped shift the influence of college football toward Atlanta finds its genesis with Peach Bowl, Inc. Hard to believe, but the bowl that was nearly left for dead has helped lead the city into the national spotlight.
It wasn’t always easy. The Bowl, first played in 1968, was on life support when it was taken over by the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce in 1986. The bowl began to gain momentum in 1992 when it was moved from Atlanta Fulton County Stadium to the new Georgia Dome. The change to an indoor location helped rid the game of its moniker as the “weather-plagued Peach Bowl.”
That also coincided with a deal that guaranteed a team from the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference would compete in the game. The game hit the fast lane in 1996 when Chick-fil-A became the first and only title sponsor. It began a beneficial, long-range connection between the popular restaurant and college football that continues to flourish today.
The status of the game continued to grow. In 2014 it was selected to be one of the New Year’s Six bowls that would host the semifinal and final for the College Football Playoffs. The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl hosted its first semifinal in 2016, and it will host a semifinal game again this year, along with 2022 and 2025. When not hosting a playoff game, the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl will continue to host top-ranked teams.
“It’s a better situation than the BCS (the old system used to determine a national champion). People enjoy it a lot more,” said Gary Stokan, CEO and president of Peach Bowl, Inc. “You get the top ten teams in the major bowl games and great TV viewership.”
This season, LSU will be playing in the Peach Bowl for the seventh time; the Tigers beat Florida State in the first game in 1968. Oklahoma will be competing in Atlanta for the first time and is the second Big 12 team to play in the game.
But the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl isn’t the only activity on the calendar to stoke fan enthusiasm.
The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl helped revive interest in a season-opening kickoff game between marquee opponents. The idea had originally worked at the Meadowlands, but that game went by the wayside in 2002 and the void remained until the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game began to host the glamor matchups in 2008. The first game saw Clemson play Alabama at the Georgia Dome to start the season on Labor Day weekend and officially launch the college football season. It wasn’t long before other cities began to copy the formula.
The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game was so popular that two games were hosted in 2012, 2014 and 2017. In 2020 there will be three games over a seven-day period. Two games are already scheduled for 2021 and 2022.
The effect of Peach Bowl, Inc. can also be felt off the field, as its influence grows throughout the business community and fields of philanthropy.
Peach Bowl, Inc. helped encourage the College Football Hall of Fame to move from South Bend, Indiana, to Atlanta in 2014. Peach Bowl, Inc. was the first organization to raise its hand with a donation and Chick-fil-A soon followed. Before long, other leading Atlanta companies fell in line and the project moved forward, finishing on time and on budget.
The new, 95,000 square-foot location features state-of-the art exhibits and interactive displays and breathes life into the museum. Located near State Farm Arena and Centennial Olympic Park, the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame has become a destination for Atlanta’s convention guests and a popular spot for local football fanatics.
Peach Bowl, Inc. continues to expand its sphere of influence by engaging in other areas, too. It conducts the voting and selection for the Bobby Dodd Trophy, given to the nation’s coach of the year. It operates the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Challenge golf tournament that gives schools an opportunity win money for their scholarship fund.
Peach Bowl, Inc. donated a record $21 million in 2019 to a variety of charities. They include the Peach Bowl LegACy Fund at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, which supports clinical drug trials for pediatric cancer research. Also included are an endowed scholarship program, an academic mentoring program and literacy initiative with the Atlanta Public Schools, the Georgia Lions Lighthouse and Red Cross Disaster Relief.
“We’re the most philanthropic bowl game in the country,” Stokan said. “We want to be the example of what a bowl game can be for its community.”