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What’s In a Bid: How Cities Land and Prepare to Host the College Football Playoff National Championship Game

Years of preparation culminate in a week-long celebration of college football, the fans, and the best teams in the country.

Adam White

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Miami-South Florida will host the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship (Photo via the CFP)

Hosting the College Football Playoff National Championship takes a coordinated effort across host committees, cities, teams, and organizers, and although the festivities last just over a week, the preparation for the biggest game of the college football season begins years in advance. From Miami-South Florida and Indianapolis to Los Angeles and Houston, host committees for the 2021-2024 national championship games have put months, and sometimes years, into scoring the big game for their community.

How do they do it? What does the process look like? Come with us as we take a look inside what it is like to go from Request For Proposal (RFP) to being awarded a game, and what it means for the city.

The RFP Process

Arguably the most strenuous part of the process is the RFP. From collecting the correct amount of data, to being able to use that data to pitch a city as the best to host the game is a challenging endeavor.

“For a mega event like CFP, there is an extremely comprehensive request for information on just about every facet of the community, from venue information to accommodations to public safety and everything in between,” said Janis Schmees Burke, CEO of the Harris County – Houston Sports Authority. “The challenge comes, not from collecting and articulating that information into a proposal, but rather doing it a way that truly tells the unique story of the community you represent and then matching the region’s attributes to the specific needs of the event.”

Not only does the process require immense amounts of data and sometimes even years of planning, but rallying the support of the city is paramount for the bid to have any chance of success during the RFP process.

“We also try to find ways to connect our community in a tangible way and leave a lasting legacy as a benefit of hosting,” said Burke. “We work years in advance on some bids, while other ones are a quick turnaround.”

Luckily for many of the communities, having previous experiences with big games can pay dividends during the RFP process. Miami-South Florida, the host of the 2021 game, has a long history of hosting Super Bowls, New Year’s Six bowl games, and national championships, something the host committee says played a part in being able to earn the opportunity to host another game.

“With the experience of participating in previous CFPNCG bid efforts, we patiently awaited the next opportunity to submit the bid for this cycle,” said Michael Chavies, Chairman of the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship Game Bid Committee. “Although we had a shorter period of time (approximately six weeks) to put our response together, our proactive preparation and organization were crucial to our ability to finally succeed.”

During the process, getting feedback from the College Football Playoff is key to the overall success of a bid and the timely nature of a submission. Led by Kathryn Schloessman, President of the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission, for the team out of LA, it was this kind of feedback that they believe allowed them to submit the best bid possible.

Los Angeles will host the 2023 CFP National Championship (Image via the CFP)

“What was good about this process is that we were getting feedback on what we were doing, what we needed to do, what we needed to change, so we weren’t guessing on what they were looking for, we were getting specific feedback into what they wanted so we could change our bid.”

As tedious as the RFP process can be on host committees, the ability to bring a marquee event to their city is well worth the time. For the selected communities, the work is just beginning.

Being Awarded the Game and Planning for the Future

With the RFP in the past, and host cities now beginning to gear up for games that are only a few years away, the extra lead time can provide major dividends for the committees and their constituents.

“Having five years to prepare is a wonderful advantage, as it will allow us to have discussions with the CFP to determine if there are adjustments or additions they would like to make for the event,” said Susan Baughman, Senior VP of Strategy & Operations at the Indiana Sports Corp. “We believe it also gives us the opportunity to work with the CFP to develop programs with deep ties to the community.”

Indianapolis will host the 2022 CFP National Championship (Photo via the CFP)

Beyond pure logistics, much of the preparation goes into educating communities about the event and what it means for the city, as well as making sure that the city’s constituents are provided with benefits beyond just having the eyes of a country on you.

“Our biggest goal is to educate the marketplace so everybody knows what the College Football Playoff National Championship is, given that it’s only in its fourth year,” said Schloessman.

It is this education that provides the foundation for making sure the best event possible is thrown.

“It is very important. Getting the legs of support and getting support behind how this is good for the city and the financials behind it is key and the lead-time helps,” added Schloessman. “You don’t want to have too much lead time, but for us to get all our ducks in order by 2023 to make sure we are in the best position financially to throw the best CFP event yet is critical.”

Having three to six years of lead time allows the selected cities the ability to continue to build community interest, education, and make the right adjustments so come January of their chosen year, the game can go off without a hitch.

Importance of Local Relationships

While having a compelling storyline and sales pitch for your city is great, as these host committees know, their bids wouldn’t have been selected without the backing of key constituents in each of their cities.

“We were lucky in the fact that we had done all the groundwork when it came to looking at all these ancillary venues and evaluating where the best places to put things would be,” added Schloessman when talking about why the bid process for LA went smoothly. “We had already made our inroads with all the particular people we needed to get in touch with.”

For Miami, a city built on big events, entertainment, and tourism, the backing, while expected given their track record, is still the most important part of the bid.

“When preparing a bid response for College Football Playoff National Championship, relationships with local officials and constituents are tremendously important and absolutely key to a successful result,” added Chavies. “In a monumental effort such as this, everyone has to be fully dedicated and on the same page in order to succeed.”

Houston will host the 2024 CFP National Championship (Photo via the CFP)

Even though getting the backing of key stakeholders is key, for cities like Houston, the support of the community and the residents living there is just as important.

“So much of the success that Houston has experienced in hosting sporting events is a true testament to the comprehensive support that our community provides,” said Burke. “It includes every resident of the Greater Houston Area which flows down from the immense level of support that our elected officials have provided over the years, as well as the local citizens that volunteer and show up in a big way.”

From volunteers all the way up to elected officials, events like the College Football Playoff National Championship wouldn’t go on without an immense amount of backing, and it is this support that can make or break a city’s bid for a marquee event or game.

What Being Awarded the Game Means for the Cities

When it all comes down to it, being awarded an event like the College Football Playoff National Championship comes with great responsibility, but also the opportunity to showcase your city and the best it has to offer to the thousands of people who make the journey and the millions watching on TV.

“The College Football Playoff National Championship will have a significant positive impact to residents and businesses while putting Indianapolis on a national stage as a great place to live, work and visit,” said Baughman. “National events like the CFP provide unique experiences through volunteer opportunities or once-in-a-lifetime experiences as a fan in your hometown, as well as building great civic pride as we entertain a nation of college football fans.”

Outside of the opportunity to showcase the city on a national scale, the economic impact for an event like the College Football Playoff National Championship extends far beyond just game day.

“An event of this magnitude and prestige provides our community with not only a great sense of civic pride, but also a tremendous economic boon to the area,” added Chavies. “Tourism is vital to our economy, and this provides an incredible opportunity to showcase our region and attract visitors from all over the country and provide them with every reason to return.”

Hosting the game also allows football-crazed areas like Houston to be the pinnacle of the season, something that community leaders believe is one of the greatest benefits.

“Houston is football crazy, whether it’s our professional team or the multiple universities in town, we live and breathe football,” explained Burke. “Having an entire college football season culminate in its pinnacle event right here in our own backyard is a powerful experience that our community has embraced with arms wide open.”

And for areas like LA that typically see a slowdown in traffic during the winter months, hosting the national championship game gives the city a chance to throw its collective weight at an event of this stature.

“It is a great opportunity for us to bring a massive audience to the area at a time of year that it is so slow because of the fact it is so close to the holiday season, so this is one of the windows of the year where we want events like this,” said Schloessman.

Although it only lasts close to 4 hours, preparation for the College Football Playoff National Championship begins months, if not years, in advance to accommodate the thousands of fans and hundreds of media members that descend upon the cities of choice.

It is this preparation, along with the coordinated support of the CFP, its partners, and the community partners of the event that have allowed the game to grow in stature and prestige.

So to Miami-South Florida, Houston, Indy, and LA, the floor is yours. Let’s see what you got.

Adam is the Founder and CEO of Front Office Sports. A University of Miami Alum, Adam has worked for opendorse, the Fiesta Bowl, and the University of Miami Athletic Department. He can be reached at adam@frntofficesport.com.

College Athletics

Rutgers Draws From Fyre Festival to Celebrate Football Milestone

Rutgers drew inspiration from an unusual source to market the upcoming 150-year-anniversary of the first-ever college football game.

Mike Piellucci

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Photo Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

At first blush, it’s the oddest of pairings – a 150-year-old brand and an event that failed spectacularly enough to become a pop culture sensation. Yet as Robert Roselli, Assistant Athletic Director of Marketing at Rutgers, kicked around ideas to celebrate an important football milestone on campus, he couldn’t get the Fyre Festival out of his head.

On November 6th, 1869, Rutgers hosted the first-ever intercollegiate football game, where it defeated the College of New Jersey – today known as Princeton – six points to four. It makes Rutgers the “birthplace of college football,” a designation it wields proudly. With the 150th anniversary of the game drawing near, though, Roselli came to realize that the university had a problem on its hands: A sizeable portion of the student body has no idea exactly how deep the school’s football roots run.

So Roselli decided to launch a brand awareness campaign to remedy that. To do so, he ripped a page out of the Fyre Festival’s playbook. In execution, the so-called “luxury music festival” was an unmitigated disaster. The marketing strategy behind it, however, was cutting edge. The crown jewel was an Instagram influencer campaign in which 400 models posted an image of a bright orange tile with the hashtag #fyrefestival. The idea was to promote the event in a heavily saturated way that nevertheless avoided coming off as canned. Simple visuals trumped complicated text, and hashtags were kept to a minimum.

READ MORE: How The 2019 Masters Revived ‘The Tiger Effect’

“I think I always had it in the back of my head ‘Wow, that was a pretty bold strategy, it generated a lot of buzz. How can we potentially mimic something?” Roselli says.

In early March, he tasked Sophia Tian, Rutgers’ executive marketing intern with finding out. The goal was to increase awareness of the phrase “birthplace of college football” ahead of Rutgers’ spring football game on April 13th. From there, she says, “this became my baby for the next month-and-a-half.”

“Obviously we don’t have Instagram models [or a] tropical lifestyle here at New Brunswick,” she says of her challenge. “How can we make students fear missing out and how can we catch their attention at first?”

The showcase item was a grey giveaway t-shirt to be given away at spring game, which, naturally, read “The Birthplace of College Football” in alternating red and white text. Later, a red tile was added to mirror Fyre Festival’s orange look. She then reached out to 20 friends to serve as her own Instagram influencers and eventually expanded the group to better reflect the student body’s diversity. Student-athletes were approached, too, in the name of adding further star power.

Tian rolled out the campaign in three waves on the 11th, two days before the game. The first came at 7:00 p.m., with the influencers posting pictures of themselves in the shirt – cut or styled any way they chose so long as the words were visible. The second, also at 7:00, was a wave of Instagram stories with the red tile and – “in obnoxiously small font,” Tian notes – the words, “The Birthplace of College Football.”

But the coup de grace was the third wave, in which Tian personally distributed the shirts to bartenders and doormen at some of Rutgers’ most popular student bars in time for the 10:00 p.m. Thursday night rush.

“Right after you see it all over your social media, you get ready to go out and go out and then you see the shirt again,” Tian says. “It’s basically haunting you.”

All told, Roselli and Tian consider the initiative a resounding success. According to Roselli, while student attendance at the spring game mostly mirrored that of the year before, growing that number was always considered an “’icing on the cake’-kind of thing.” Instead, they focused on buzz and measurable trends. To that end, Roselli proudly points to the Google search metrics during the hours of the campaign, which saw an explosion in the number of “The Birthplace of College Football” queries.

The larger future of the project has yet to be determined. For Roselli, it’s not only a successful test of his initial hypothesis, but something that opened his eyes to the possibilities that come from a whole new style of marketing.

READ MORE: 3X3U National Championship Puts a College Spin on Three-on-Three

“I’m confident that had we done this same exact campaign that only focused on our coaches and our different team accounts — what I would call official spokespeople of Rutgers Athletics — it simply would not have created the same buzz, the same coolness factor,” he says.

In the more immediate term, though, it’s a launchpad for their ongoing campaign. The official 150-year anniversary of the first college football game is still more than six months away, and neither Roselli nor Tian wants to let the momentum gained from the influencer marketing campaign slip through their fingers.

“I think raising the awareness now sets their student body up for what’s to come next year,” Tian says. “We are celebrating the 150th anniversary and we also want to capitalize on that message this whole year, this upcoming season. We want to make sure everyone knows that this is where it all started.”

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3X3U National Championship Puts a College Spin on Three-on-Three

The Dos Equis 3X3U National Championship takes place on Final Four weekend and joins events like the Olympics and BIG3 in growing three-on-three hoops.

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Photo Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Paris Collins was reeling after a disappointing early exit from the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament last March. It was an unceremonious end to the career of the senior guard from Jackson State, and he wanted nothing to do with anyone. But as he wallowed in his apartment, his phone rang. A strange number flashed on the screen. He didn’t answer, but a voicemail dinged.

It was Intersport Vice President Mark Starsiak, who called to invite Collins to be part of the inaugural Dos Equis 3X3U National Championship, a three-on-three basketball tournament for college seniors. Collins accepted and, following several standout performances on the court in his hometown of San Antonio, he was invited to five NBA workouts. He ultimately bounced around the NBA G-League before ending up in Mexico.

“It changed my life,” Collins said. “A lot of people saw me, saw the SWAC has good players.  That tournament is the only time in my life I wasn’t judged by the school on my chest.”

READ MORE: How Dos Equis’ Basketball Tournament Is Following in Hulk Hogan’s Footsteps

Now the tournament is back, with the second-annual 3X3U National Championship beginning Friday at the Mall of America in Minneapolis featuring a grand prize of $150,000. With one year in the books, Intersport believes they are much better prepared to organize the best event possible, something that should have a direct impact on the players’ futures.  Of the 128 players in last year’s 3X3U National Championship field, nearly 90 signed professional contracts this past year. This year, the rosters might be even more loaded with potential pros.

“One of the things we learned last year was [to] get ahead of it,” Intersport Executive Vice President Drew Russell said. “Especially for the small conferences trying to get as much exposure as possible. Last year we couldn’t get in touch [with players] or they made spring break plans. These are guys that have been in programs for four years, and if they have a taste of freedom, they’re gone.

“Last year, we had to go deeper into rosters. This year, we got pick of the litter.”

Case in point, prior to the Sweet 16 games in the NCAA Tournament, Starsiak had already filled all but 11 of 128 roster spots in this year’s event, with each Division I conference represented by a team of four seniors. At the same point last year, he didn’t even have 40 in place. As they picked through teams no longer in the postseason, Starsiak said plenty of all-conference players have signed on hoping for one more pre-draft showcase. Likewise, conferences were eager to help connect the best players to the event.

“The more chances they have to get their players and conferences exposure is a good thing,” Starsiak said. “The conferences have really embraced it.”

With the conferences on board and the players being willing to vouch for the tournament, Russell expects the event to continue growing beyond this year. Along with pathways to the NBA and other leagues, Russell believes three-on-three is a growing career path for basketball players, one accelerated by the sport’s inclusion in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games as well as Ice Cube’s BIG3.

“We feel this is the top-level, premier event in the world but definitely in North America,” Russell said. “When we created this, we didn’t want to use gym rats. We wanted elite level basketball players that would go on to continue playing basketball. We wanted to give them one last time to put on the jersey, compete at a high level and have fun.”

The professional ranks have taken notice, too. According to Starsiak, five NBA teams had a scouting presence at last year’s tournament even without the league reaching out to NBA staffs. This year, to better drum up interest, Intersport sent a one-sheeter to the NBA’s director of scouting, who then passed it on to each team.

“It should bring in way more than five,” Starsiak said. “It’s the biggest aggregation of draft-eligible talent. Guys who are scouting [the Final Four] will also be at our event, full of late-first- to second-round talent that could eventually change a franchise.”

READ MORE: NBA Associates Program Offers Former Players a Path Back to Basketball

For the seniors at the tournament in Minneapolis, it’s one last opportunity to wear a college jersey as well as one extra job audition. But after going through the process himself, Collins’ advice to this year’s crop would be to make sure to have a good time, too. 

“I was happy as heck to be there,” Collins said. “It’s a national tournament, still business talking to reporters, teams and people about what you do. But have fun, be grateful.”

Collins hasn’t stuck with an NBA team, but he’s had more opportunities than he ever thought would. He’s off to China in May for his next professional venture. By this time next year, he could run into another alumnus or two from the Dos Equis 3X3U National Championship along the way.

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Why America East Conference Continues to Put Focus on Mental Health

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The America East Conference is strengthening its efforts to be a leader in mental health among its athletes.

The conference last month announced its Board of Presidents adopted the NCAA autonomy proposal to improve student-athlete access to mental health resources. The proposal was originally approved by the Power Five conferences in January, and America East is the first outside the group to adopt the proposal, but Commissioner Amy Huchthausen said the conference’s efforts stretch back several years. Huchthausen also said it wasn’t a major lift to adopt the proposal because of efforts in the past.

Several years ago, the conference’s student-athlete advisory committee surfaced mental health as an area where it wanted greater attention on the campus and league level. The America East’s 4th Annual Health & Safety Summit will be held in May at UMass Lowell, with part of the summit focused on mental health.

“They had seen what we had done in diversity and inclusion from broader conference initiatives,” Huchthausen said. “We were very open to that, but recognized as league leaders and staff, we’re not educated on what we need to talk about.”

The conference then formed a mental health working group comprised of stakeholders ranging from athletic directors to psychologists and student-athletes to identify the major issues. From there, the focus has become to continue to destigmatize mental health subjects and to improve education and access to mental health resources.

READ MORE: NBA Working to Improve Player, Community Mental Health

“Even though there’s more visibility, people still don’t know what it means,” Huchthausen said. “They don’t have a good understanding of what to do next.”

A baseline report of campuses was performed by athletic directors and presidents, and now a standard of best practices will be implemented across America East campuses.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the interest in our athletic directors to spend time on this issue,” she said. “Their frustration and willingness to say it’s important, but don’t know how to address it — that was really encouraging. That’s helped us advance the conversation.”

The impact of college on students’ mental health is already a lot but add in the added pressures of being an elite athlete and those risks are compounded, said Tim Neal, head athletic trainer at Syracuse University.

Neal said one in four adolescent adults meet criteria of a mental health disorder, and athletes are not immune, no matter the pedestal they’re often put on. The stressors of student-athletes can exacerbate existing conditions or bring on new ones, he said.

“There are unique stressors to an athlete, under constant scrutiny and pressure in the classroom just to remain eligible,” Neal said. “One quarter of a newspaper is dedicated to sports; they’re often well-known on campuses; the psychology of injuries. There are a lot of dynamics most people don’t have to think about.”

Neal said an important factor in the improvement of how colleges, administrators and athletes think about mental health stems from the NCAA’s Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline, who has said mental health is the number-one issue in college athletics.

“He’s done more for the student-athletes than anyone else,” Neal said. “He’s made this a priority and is full-speed ahead in developing best practices.”

READ MORE: ‘Diet or Die’: Jesse Marks’ Story Shows Importance of Life Balance in Sports

At the America East level, Huchthausen said the initial reviews of the schools showed most weren’t far off from the pending guidelines, but it did help provide a solid base for standard operating procedures.

She said it’s now more about having a system in place and treated as a true program, rather than a discreet to-do list. Having the conversations also help connect all the resources on campus, that might otherwise be hidden from each other.

“This is an issue that really does touch almost every stakeholder,” Huchthausen said. “The message we want to send is you have to start somewhere. Even if you want a program that would require hiring extra people and adding resources, those might have a high price, even the ideal state, it shouldn’t prevent starting a conversation.

“You have to take the first few steps and that’s what we’re trying to do and hope other leagues follow.”

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