More than a decade ago, spurred by the success of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Peach Bowl, Inc. was looking for other avenues to extend its reach. CEO and President Gary Stokan saw an opportunity to reinvent the “Kickoff Classic” model with a greater national scope when the NCAA added a permanent 12th game to team schedules. Schools were able to schedule an additional regular season contest, paving the way for Peach Bowl, Inc. to captivate the college football audience on opening weekend.
Just like that, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game was born.
“The concept for the Kickoff Game grew out of a strategic planning session,” Stokan explained. “We were first looking to stage another bowl, but the more we looked at it, the less appeal that had.”
“We looked at creating an event to celebrate the start of the season for the whole country, and now have the nation’s longest-running kickoff game.”
Peach Bowl, Inc. has mastered the Kickoff Game formula over the past decade, delivering exciting matchups and the opportunity for teams to start their season in a bowl-like atmosphere on a national stage.
“It’s like starting your season with a bowl game. I really believe it helps you be a better team,” said former Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer.
Since its inception in 2008 with its inaugural game between Clemson and Alabama, the game has hosted teams with rankings of No. 1 (twice), No. 2, No. 3, No. 5 (twice), No. 6 (twice), No. 7, No. 9 (twice), No. 14, No. 16, No. 18 (three times), No. 19, No. 22, No. 24 (twice) and No. 25 (three times).
Alabama’s Nick Saban is also quick to point out the value of this game. “I think playing in these games in 2008 and 2009 did as much to kick-start our program as anything we ever did. We got a tremendous amount of exposure. We played Clemson and Virginia Tech, who were ranked teams, and we were able to beat them both. I really think that helped kick-start our program to become what it has become,” Saban said.
Always the innovator, Peach Bowl, Inc. is constantly working to create new, competitive matchups across conferences. The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game will return this season with its 11th SEC vs. ACC showdown when Duke and Alabama face off in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Blue Devils will make their inaugural Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game appearance, while the veteran Crimson Tide will look to capture the program’s sixth victory in the game.
“We have worked extremely hard as a program to put ourselves in a position to be in a game like this,” said Duke head coach David Cutcliffe.
The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game has redefined college football’s opening weekend by creating a bowl game atmosphere that includes tough matchups to start the season. As the nation’s longest-running kickoff game, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game has elevated opening weekend and placed a focus on the scheduling of competitive out-of-conference opponents in a neutral setting.
“Our goal is to continue to build the entire weekend into a celebration of college football. Our sport deserves a signature event with nationally significant teams squaring off in the first weekend and we’ll continue to meet that need,” added Stokan.
For the city of Atlanta, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is more than just a football game; it’s a landmark event that attracts tens of thousands of fans to the city. Since its inception in 2008, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game has drawn 965,635 fans to the city and generated $430 million in economic impact for Atlanta.
The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game also provides fans with a traditional bowl atmosphere and experience at the start of the season with events like Tailgate Town built by the Home Depot and individual team tailgate parties. All told, tens of thousands of fans enjoy game day at the various events before the game even starts.
In the College Football Playoff era, neutral-site games like the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game will continue to take on an even more significant role as strength of schedule remains an integral part of a team’s national championship run.
With the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game paving the way for a surge of neutral-site games during the opening weekend, along with the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl’s hosting of the College Football Playoff Semifinal this year and it’s recent contract extension to remain a New Year’s Six bowl through the 2025 season, the future is bright for both Peach Bowl, Inc. and the city of Atlanta.