Local organizers of college football championship dialing down to finer details

A group of nearly 100 people gathered virtually or in person at Lucas Oil Stadium last week to begin discussing the finer points of Indianapolis’ turn hosting the College Football Playoff National Championship next January.

The group, which included individuals from more than 20 organizations including the Indianapolis Host Committee, focused much of its time on evaluating security and logistical needs, public events, space use and contingency plans for the Jan. 10 spectacle at the stadium.

The game is expected to bring about 100,000 people and $150 million in economic impact to the city.

The Indy Championship Fund, which was chartered in 2019 to raise money for the football game, the since-delayed NBA All-Star Game and the 2021 NCAA Men’s Final Four already has met its goal for the event, although that figure has not been made public.

“It makes it nice for us to be able to do the planning because we’re not nail-biting on a budget situation,” said Susan Baughman, president of 2022 Indy College Football Playoff Inc., the host committee’s formal incorporated entity. “We’re figuring out the best use of investments and living up to our big commitments.”

In years past, hosting the CFP National Championship has cost host cities between $10 and $20 million for planning and execution—a figure Baughman said the committee expects to be within.

The host committee already is committing to a raft of event spaces and activities. The so-called “Championship Campus” is expected to include Championship Tailgate Plaza and will host media day, the Extra Yard 5K walk/race and the Taste of the Championship food market.

Playoff Fan Central will inhabit about 200,000 square feet inside the Indiana Convention Center. The family-friendly space will include games, clinics, pep rallies, band performances, special guest appearances, autograph signings and exhibits celebrating college football and its history. There also will be a multi-day free concert series called Playoff Playlist Live!

Baughman said the committee has been working with CFP staff to incorporate ways to best showcase the city and the city’s history to ensure it has a positive impact on the teams, but also fans and residents.

“The CFP staff seems very open to the ideas we’re putting forward,” Baughman said.

The College Football Playoff Foundation also is continuing to raise funds for legacy projects and other philanthropic efforts tied to the game, most of which are tied to education and teaching needs in host cities.

The Foundation, which receives funds through matching grants, donations and official Playoff merchandise, plans to spend at least $3 million on local initiatives ahead of the championship game and in the months that follow.

Britton Banowsky, executive director of the foundation and former commissioner of Conference USA, said it’s hoping to raise $1.5 million locally to pair with 1-to-1 donation matches.

The foundation has already made investments in the Indiana e-Learning Lab, a startup digital platform that provides resources to Indiana teachers, as well as through a partnership with Teach Indy to bring more teachers into the community.

“What we know about teachers, generally, is that they don’t get the appreciation they deserve and the recognition they deserve for the really important work that they do,” Banowsky said.

As planning continues, local leaders are looking at the city’s success in hosting the entire NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament earlier this year.

That event and other major sporting events like the 2012 Super Bowl provide the city with a wealth of experience, despite never before hosting college football’s title game, said J. Mark Howell, board president of the Indianapolis host committee.

“We create a catalog of those things which work well and optimize fan experience, as well as the city’s exposure,” he said. “So we’re going to leverage those, and our challenge is to inject new creativity and innovation into how we host this major championship.”

He said planning will continue for the next several months, including through in-person and virtual discussions between host committee members, its partners and the College Football Playoff staff.

The game will likely be the largest indoor event held in the city since the pandemic began—which Howell said should contribute to the excitement on and off the field.

“This is going to be one of the biggest events in our country post-pandemic,” he said. “We think the value of the event, exposure of the event and the amount of engagement in the event are actually going to be even higher than we expected.”

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