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Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game: Gary Stokan On 'The Capital Of College Football'

Gary Stokan, overseer of the Chick-fil-A Bowl, College Football Hall of Fame and just about everything else Atlanta sports, spoke with SB Nation Atlanta as Georgia and Boise State prepare to play in the Chick-fil-A College Kickoff.

ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 04:  A general view of the Georgia Dome during the game between the LSU Tigers and the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on September 4 2010 in Atlanta Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 04: A general view of the Georgia Dome during the game between the LSU Tigers and the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on September 4 2010 in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Georgia Dome is preparing to hold one of the very few big games of college football's opening weekend, Boise State vs. Georgia. This, and so many other things, is thanks in large part to Gary Stokan, who gave SB Nation Atlanta a few minutes of his time this week.

SB Nation Atlanta: How exciting is this year's game for you?

Gary Stokan: Certainly it's exciting for anybody with any interest in college football. The significance of it is that college football season is here, and it's a wonderful time of year.

The matchup itself is exciting. This is a special game because both schools are set up to go on to do something special, whoever wins. So that's the exciting part of it for us.

This year's matchup is kind of a departure for a game that's usually put SEC and ACC teams against each other. What made you want to branch beyond the Southeast?

We started strategically with knowledge that, financially, ticket sales are the most important revenue stream. Maximizing that makes it worthwhile for teams to participate. Because of ticket revenue, title sponsorships and other sponsors we've gained through growth, we're able to make it more open to teams outside the ACC and the SEC. The only caveat is that, in our mind, we need either an ACC team or an SEC team on one side because of ticket sales.

Secondly, we got away from SEC-ACC because, as we move forward, when we open the College Football Hall of Fame, we'll start to look beyond the region, more to the Big 12, the Pac-12, the Big Ten, the Big East. The overriding factor is we want the best game. We'll also want to keep SEC and ACC teams involved as we grow.

Speaking of good games, Georgia-Boise State is up against another really good game this year. Do you think competing with the Cowboys Classic will be good for Atlanta's game?

You'll see people follow us like the Cowboy Classic did.

We brought this concept back into existence once the NCAA legislated schools could play 12 games in a season. I think from our side, being the originator of it, even though it existed prior to 2001, being the re-originator, for lack of a better term, we think others will follow what we've done.

But as we move forward in 2013 and on to have enshrinement ceremonies and to have the College Football Hall of Fame open, to have two games in 2012, two games in 2014, along with other ancillary events, the Kickoff Cookoff, team walks, FanZone, Bulldog and Bronco bashes, along with a concert in the park, and in the future we'll be able to add a Hall of Fame parade and golf tournament.

I don't think anybody has that kind of schedule. I know the Cowboy Classic doesn't. Nor in the future will they be able to.

Did the fact that other cities are adopting the model help drive the decision to create a 2012 doubleheader?

No, we had had N.C. State and Tennessee signed three years ago. Then this past year we had the opportunity to add Clemson-Auburn, after they played [the 2008 Chick-fil-A Bowl] and they liked it. The only time they had to do it was in 2012. So we took advantage of our relationships and their interest in playing in this game to add another game to make two in one weekend.

In all effects, we were the first city to double-host bowl games before the BCS did, with the Chick-fil-A and Sugar Bowl in 2006. We didn't look to host the Sugar Bowl, they moved up here, but we held them and it happened in the same city two days apart. In between there was a Falcons game, so we had three sellouts in four days.

We hope to duplicate that in 2012, with two sellouts.

It's got to be cool for a N.C. State alum to be able to see his team in a game like this.

Yeah, obviously it's exciting, particularly with N.C. State being a top 25 team last year, and I think this year they'll duplicate that. I think both them and Tennessee are programs on the rise that will be ranked next year, as do I believe Clemson and Auburn will. It's exciting in that case, seeing an ACC team like N.C. State get to where all of us who are in the bowl business need them to be.

You've helped bring a Super Bowl, March Madness, the College Football Hall of Fame and even WrestleMania to Atlanta ... which achievement means the most to you?

They all do. They're all special. They were able to do so many things for the city, whether economic impact or state sales tax or city sales tax, to help promote the city and state through the national media that each of those events draw, and that's your job to do that. You're happy for each of your involvements with anything positive like that.

With a lot of people involved, whether it's a Super Bowl or Final Four or Chick-fil-A Bowl, you have to work together to make something happen. Rather than each individual event, what gives me more joy is seeing people work togethr in this city to make each of those come into fruition. That's not easy. Other cities are envious of us in this city because we've been able to put a team together to work to provide opportunities.

You've talked about enshrinement ceremonies linking the Hall of Fame and the Chick-fil-A game. How else do you see those two working together?

The College Football Hall of Fame is going to differentiate Atlanta from anybody that follows, as well as leave no doubt in anybody's mind that Atlanta is the college football capital of the world. No one will be able to put together what we have in Atlanta.

To have the College Football Hall of Fame, the Chick-fil-A College Kickoff, the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the SEC Championship, a great HBCU game -- the Bank of America Classic, and then you put on top of that the amount of corporate money that's spent sponsoring college football between the likes of Chick-fil-A, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, AT&T, AFLAC, and I'm probably missing one or two from the corporate side.

Then you look at the growth of the game, nobody has growth like we have with Georgia State just starting a program, Kennesaw State and Mercer both creating programs, then the tradition of Georgia and Georgia Tech that have both won national championships.

Then you talk recruiting. Georgia per capita is No. 1 in the country and No. 4 overall in the number of recruits that end up playing college football. It's a recipe for Atlanta being the college football capital of the world.

Well, I'm sold.

Well, good. As long as I've sold one person. Hopefully I can convince your readers to agree.

I don't think too many of our readers would disagree. Last question for you: you've also been involved in trying to bring MLS and the World Cup to Atlanta. With Arthur Blank pushing for a new stadium and Kasim Reed sort of promising Thrashers fans something to replace their team, how is that coming?

In chairing for the World Cup, I felt that if US had won, that we would have been the lead city in hosting the international broadcast center and we'd have been in the mix to host at least first and second round matches, which I think would've really spurred great growth in soccer in the US and Georgia.

Obviously I think the MLS has huge interest. We had meetings with MLS eight years ago, and they were very interested even back then when we brought them down to talk about having a franchise here. I don't think that's diminished, I think it's been exponentially increased because of Atlanta and its status as a top-10 market and the Hispanic growth in our marketplace.

What we lack is a facility, and hopefully Arthur's successful in getting a new facility built, similar to the one Seattle's done. I think there will be an integration of MLS to this city, and they'll have a place to play in the new Falcons stadium.

Thanks to Mr. Stokan.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.