The SEC, which has played its football championship game in the Georgia Dome for two decades, is operating under the assumption that the marquee event will shift into the proposed new Falcons stadium in 2017.
“Assuming everything goes according to plan, we certainly have every expectation that we will just seamlessly move from the Dome to the new stadium,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The SEC’s contract with the Georgia Dome, most recently extended in February 2011, runs through the 2017 game. Coincidentally, that is the year the new stadium is slated to open and the Dome to close. The contract states that the SEC Championship game can be shifted into a stadium built to replace the Dome — provided the SEC finds the new facility acceptable.
The Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which runs the Dome, and the SEC also have had discussions about extending the contract to keep the game in Atlanta beyond 2017. Neither party would comment on those talks. Asked if the SEC expects to complete an extension, Slive said only: “We like Atlanta.”
The SEC, which has not expressed dissatisfaction with the Dome, has been kept informed of new-stadium developments over the past year by the GWCCA and has had input into plans.
The AJC obtained, under the Georgia Open Records Act, a two-page list of “requirements and recommendations” for the proposed stadium submitted by the SEC to the GWCCA. Among the items on the SEC’s list:
- A minimum seating capacity for the SEC Championship game of 75,000, including temporary seats.
- “SEC to have control over retractable roof” for the game.
- “Prohibition on NFL games played in (the) stadium on Thursday preceding the SEC Championship game.”
- A 360-degree “ribbon” video board in the seating bowl.
- “If naming rights of the facility are considered, the SEC would request that such sponsor be in good taste — i.e. no alcohol, tobacco, gambling or potentially offensive entities.”
The Atlanta City Council, the GWCCA and the city’s development authority approved a series of agreements in March and April that call for Atlanta hotel-motel taxes to partly fund the stadium. Watchdog group Common Cause Georgia has announced plans for a petition drive in an effort to put public funding of the stadium to a referendum on the city’s November ballot.
At the SEC spring meetings last week, Slive several times referred to Atlanta as the “permanent” home of the league’s football championship game. He cited the game’s success as the impetus for SEC athletic directors’ unanimous vote to seek a regular home for the league’s men’s basketball tournament.
“I think our athletic directors began to think about football and how successful we’ve been by going to Atlanta every year,” Slive said. “People get comfortable. They know when it is; they know where it is; they know where they’re going to stay; they know what they’re going to eat; they know where the seats are.”
Although the GWCCA, a state agency, would own the new Atlanta stadium, the Falcons would run it. However, a provision in the stadium deal between the Falcons and the GWCCA is designed to ensure that events such as the SEC Championship game would continue to function in a new facility largely as they do in the Dome.
According to the agreement, the GWCCA would continue to manage “Georgia Dome legacy events” — 15 non-Falcons events, including the SEC game, that are regularly held in the Dome and are expected to move into the new stadium. The GWCCA would “maintain and control the primary relationships” with those events’ organizations, would “manage and direct” the staging and production of the events, and would negotiate contracts for them, according to the agreement.
Other Georgia Dome legacy events include the Chick-fil-A Bowl and Kickoff games, the Atlanta Football Classic, and Georgia State and Georgia High School Association football games.