The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game expanded to three games for the first time in 2020. Three games in eight days was already an ambitious logistical challenge.
Now the coronavirus pandemic has added to the complexities, forcing game organizers to come up with myriad options for Florida State-West Virginia and the other matchups in Atlanta.
“Our contingencies have contingencies,” president and CEO Gary Stokan told the Osceola on Friday. “We’ve been modeling a lot of different scenarios, whether it has been capacities, whether it has been budgets, whether it has been protocols. There are a lot of different scenarios, a lot of different moving parts.”
Those moving parts should fall into place in the coming week or two weeks as the ACC, SEC and Big 12 will solidify their plans. Then we will start to see the puzzle clearly. Will the season start on time? Will the leagues play teams only within their respective conferences? How will traditional out-of-conference rivalries be handled? How many league games and out-of-conference matchups will be played in the regular season?
FSU is set to open up the regular season in 50 days, facing off against West Virginia on Sept. 5. Whether that matchup can be played as scheduled or delayed will be decided and will allow for game organizers to work with the schools. Stokan said he and his staff are working on various capacity options for the games at the 71,000-seat Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“We’ve modeled for 25, 30 and 50 percent because all of those have ramifications to our budget because we only get revenue from tickets and sponsorship,” Stokan said. “With less capacity you are going to have less sponsorship money come in. It’s a challenge.”
Game organizers are able to be nimble this year as mobile ticketing will help make adjustments for fans based on various capacity options. The stadium has also gone cashless for games involving the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, MLS’ Atlanta United and college football.
Stokan said a number of decisions have already been made. There will not be a team walk into the stadium on game day, fan zone or VIP reception with fans. The field-level patio areas will also be closed. Marching bands won’t perform on the field and cheerleaders won’t be allowed on the sideline as the team’s box for coaches, players, trainers and staff will be expanded from the 15-yard lines on each end of the field.
The game time for FSU-West Virginia as well as the other two games, Georgia-Virginia on Sept. 7 and Auburn-North Carolina on Sept. 12, have not yet been set. When asked if there is a fly-in, fly-out scenario for teams looking to avoid an overnight hotel stay – potentially establishing a 3:30 p.m. kickoff – Stokan said that is an option if TV networks were in agreement.
FSU was set to earn $4.25 million as part of a guarantee that is largely tied to the sale of 30,000 tickets at a total of $4.575 million. That guarantee would decrease incrementally based on the capacity allowed on game day.
“With scaled capacity going way down, the revenues are less and therefore the payouts need to be less,” Stokan said. “And the ticket guarantees will need to be less. And that’s a negotiation we’ll have to have once we get cleared that we are able to play the game and our negotiation with Mercedes-Benz Stadium on the cost and the schools and payout on tickets.”
If the ACC and Big 12 allow schools to play an out-of-conference opponent but want to delay the start of the season, there are options to move a game like FSU-West Virginia to later on the calendar. Stokan said he has received assurances that he will have three dates on the calendar around the schedules for the Falcons and United. It’s possible FSU-West Virginia is added to the back end of the Seminoles’ and Mountaineers’ conference schedules, perhaps moving the game to December.
One big consideration in conversations among the ACC, SEC and Big 12 in the coming weeks, Stokan said, is whether they will try to fit in one out-of-conference game or two. In the case of just one game, matchups like FSU-Florida and Georgia-Georgia Tech would be preserved. Stokan said that would mean they would likely lose FSU and Georgia, instead matching up West Virginia vs. Virginia and keeping the North Carolina-Auburn game.
Of course, Stokan hopes the leagues will be able to keep two out-of-conference games in play so the organizers can push forward with all three matchups, whether they are played in September or later in the year.
“We don’t know what we don’t know right now,” Stokan said. “We’re just modeling and preparing for a lot of different scenarios.”