Friday, July 20, 2018
Colleges

Tampa to host 2017 college football national championship

TAMPA — When the Tampa Bay Sports Commission lost out on its first bid to host the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship last spring, the organization saw it as a challenge to come back even stronger the next time around.

When the opportunity presented itself again in September, the group put together a presentation the college football committee could not pass up.

On Monday, Tampa was selected to host the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship game, college football's premier event.

The game will be held at Raymond James Stadium on Jan. 9. Tampa beat out the San Francisco Bay area, Jacksonville, Minneapolis, San Antonio and South Florida for the 2017 game.

Arizona was awarded the 2016 game. The inaugural game will be played in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 12, 2015.

College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock said choosing the sites was not an easy decision and called it "a very competitive process." Hancock said "we could have gone anywhere" but ultimately Tampa's facilities, community leadership and the proposals submitted were significantly better than the others.

"Frankly, they batted a thousand," Hancock said of both Tampa and Arizona.

For Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, the selection was the culmination of a project that spanned several years.

Higgins said his organization's winning bid was the result of "a deeper dive" into logistical details than that featured in the previous, unsuccessful bid to host the championship.

"We tried to get really specific," he said. "We created what we like to call a 'runway to runway' experience." Among other areas, he said, the bid offered a potential social media strategy to accompany the event.

The bid document, Higgins said, was 7,200 pages long and took up 13 binders.

"The attention to detail from Rob Higgins and the Sports Commission is in my opinion unprecedented," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, who worked closely with Higgins to prepare the winning bid.

Hagan said he expects the championship to be an economic boon to Tampa "in the range" of the Super Bowl, bringing somewhere between $250 million and $350 million to the area, along with approximately 1,700 to 1,800 full-time jobs.

"I think our community is on fire right now," Hagan told the Tampa Bay Times before a news conference late Monday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium, noting the string of internationally prominent events the city has attracted. Those include the 2012 Republican National Convention and the 2014 International Indian Film Academy's Weekend & Awards, better known as the "Bollywood Oscars."

"I've attended four national championship games in three different cities, and the energy and excitement surrounding this game is not dissimilar to the Super Bowl," Hagan said.

While the economic impact is significant, Higgins said there's another benefit to hosting the game that can't be measured in dollars and cents.

"For us it's so much about the social impact as well," he said. "That's why we really worked to paint a vision of an entire week-long celebration of activities, events, a lot of different festivities that everybody can really wrap their arms around it and make it truly a special event. It's not just the economic impact; it's the social impact of hosting a college football national championship game."

The game in Tampa will be played in the third season of the new college football format. Beginning with the 2014-15 season, the top four teams selected by the College Football Playoff Selection Committee will compete in two playoff games with the winners meeting in the championship game.

"The BCS championship has been the second most-watched annual sports event in the United States, trailing only the Super Bowl, and the playoff game will rise to a new level," Hancock said. "It's a real feather in the cap of the community that earns the right to host it. It shows the popularity of college football in general and the significant attractiveness of this new championship game."

USF athletic director Doug Woolard is a member of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission's board of directors. The university partnered with the commission to help land the game, including giving the playoff committee a campus tour when it visited the area. Woolard said he hoped USF can host ancillary events during game week.

"We are certainly happy," Woolard said. "I think it will be a huge opportunity and event for the entire area. We hope to support it by offering our facilities as needed. … I'm excited about the opportunity to showcase the entire university during what's going to be a festive week."

Jim McVay, the Outback Bowl CEO and president who annually brings college football to the area with the Outback Bowl, understands the importance of the game for the area.

"Being a part of that sporting industry, this is nothing but a big plus for our community to be able to host a national championship game for 2017," McVay said. "I think it's great news."

Raymond James Stadium will add additional seats and hold approximately 72,000 for the event.

"The Tampa Bay area has a long history of hosting big sporting events," said Bryan Glazer, Tampa Bay Bucs co-chairman. "We are thrilled that our community will once again be showcased in the national spotlight and share in the excitement generated by the NCAA National Championship Game."

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who was also at the news conference, said he credits the city's peaceful hosting of the RNC last year with helping turn the heads of College Football Playoff officials.

Some of the Republican convention's most memorable scenes were of calm streets and police officers delivering box lunches and water to protesters. Buckhorn said he does not anticipate as noticeable a law enforcement presence for the football game.

"It will be a tightly secured event, but not nearly what we had to go through for the RNC," he said.

Times staff writers Joey Knight and Greg Auman contributed to this report.

   
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