Over 40,000 visitors will descend on Atlanta this weekend — not for a convention or conference but for the Celebration Bowl.
The unofficial national championship for Historically Black Colleges and Universities kicks off college football bowl season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday (Dec. 21). The postseason game features the champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC).
But for many, it’s more than a game — serving as a sense of heritage and tradition. The
highly-anticipated contest is televised on ABC every year, putting HBCU football on a
national stage, and viewers are set to tune in for the fifth edition of the bowl game, which is owned by ESPN.
“This is the largest diversity initiative inside The Walt Disney Co.,” said John Grant, executive director of the Celebration Bowl. “The success of it has exceeded most people’s expectations in terms of what has been able to be delivered. And you can’t write a better script for the competitiveness of the game.”
North Carolina A&T (MEAC) looks to hold onto bragging rights when they take on Alcorn State (SWAC) in a rematch from last year. The Aggies edged the Braves 24-22 in the last meeting and another victory will strengthen MEAC’s grip on the series with a chance to win four out of five.
But regardless of which team is crowned champion, the real winner will be Atlanta. This year’s game is expected to generate $21.7 million in economic impact, according to data from Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. The four reserved hotels near downtown are also already booked.
“From a business standpoint, it’s just fantastic for the city,” said William Pate, president and CEO of ACVB. “In general, that’s one of the great things about sporting events is that they tend to happen on holidays and weekends when we don’t have conventions and business travels. One of the reasons why we’re always trying to bring sporting events to the city is because it tends to be incremental business for all the small businesses, hotels, restaurants and attractions around here.”
The Celebration Bowl specifically provides an opportunity for visitors to support the areas of the community where black- owned businesses reside. ESPN, which is owned by Disney (NYSE: DIS), partners with 100 Black Men of Atlanta every year to the manage the ancillary events throughout the week leading up to the big game.
“It speaks volumes for the residents in this city [and] the businesses in the city but also for us as a community,” Grant added. “To shine a light on the African-American community in a very positive way. At ESPN, we’re just thrilled to be able to do it.”
The Celebration Bowl, which replaced the Atlanta Football Classic, has had a strong boost from passionate local sponsors in The Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO), Delta Air Lines Inc. (NYSE: DAL) and Georgia Power Co. These companies, among others, look at this week as a chance to take advantage of the festivities while grabbing the attention of HBCU students and alumni.
Cricket Wireless LLC is also a major Atlanta-based sponsor for the game. The services company, which is owned by AT&T (NYSE: T), saw a long list of benefits in getting its name out in this space.
“We saw an opportunity to grow our brand awareness,” said Tiffany Baehman, chief marketing officer at Cricket Wireless. “In the African-American community, this is a tremendous opportunity to educate our audience about Cricket and what the brand
is about… In the HBCU community specifically with the students who are graduating and alumni.”
Atlanta organizers have billed the city as the sports capital of the South, hosting major sporting events every year and the Celebration Bowl is one of them. The game is expected to provide another solid precursor for the city’s tourism business before thousands of more fans return next weekend for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
“A week later it’s the exact same thing,” Pate added. “They’re playing the semifinal game on New Year’s weekend, not a lot of business getting done that time of year. So, there’s going to be another good incremental pop for the city before the end of the year.”