By Jon Sauber | @JonSauber
Sports Capital Journalism Program
ATLANTA – Taking in the weekend of a College Football Playoff National Championship can be an intense experience.
Consuming it to try to improve it?
That’s exactly what Susan Baughman was here to do.
Baughman is the Senior Vice President of Strategy and Operations for Indiana Sports Corporation, the organization responsible for bringing the 2022 game to Indianapolis. She has also become President of the 2022 College Football Playoff Host Committee.
Three years ago, when the inaugural championship game was played in Arlington, Tex., Baughman was part of a delegation from the Sports Corp that studied the operation in an attempt to determine whether Indianapolis would bid for a future title game. This past weekend, not long after the surprising fast-track process that led to a successful Indianapolis bid, she was here as part of the early stages of preparation for the highest-profile football game Lucas Oil Stadium will host since Super Bowl XLVI in 2012.
Hours before the Georgia-Alabama game for the national championship, Baughman said that the charitable aspects of the weekend had gotten her attention. The College Football Playoff Foundation utilizes the Extra Yard for Teachers brand “to elevate the teaching profession by inspiring and empowering quality teachers” according to the College Football Playoff.
“I have to tell you it was one of the nicest things I’ve ever seen in terms of non-profit outreach [events] that we do,” Baughman said.
Baughman added that the program will be an important aspect of the fundraising effort as a host city.
“I think it will help us raise money from companies who want to put their money toward something like [Extra Yard for Teachers],” Baughman said, “They might rather sponsor something that’s charitable in nature and good for teachers and education versus putting their money into the event support.”
The College Football Playoff National Championship will take place in Indianapolis less than a year after the city hosts the National Basketball Association All-Star Game and the NCAA men’s Final Four.
Baughman was Vice President of the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee and Executive Director of the 2010 NCAA Men’s Final Four.
According to Baughman, Michael Kelly, the Chief Operating Officer of the College Football Playoff, called the Indiana Sports Corp to say there was interest in having Indianapolis hosting the game and the surrounding events.
The only catch was that the organization needed to submit the formal bid quickly. Very quickly.
“From the time of the call to the main bid submission was about three weeks, and the whole process was about six weeks,” Baughman said recently. “I don’t know if we’ve ever done a bid in six weeks.”
Mark Howell, the Chair of the 2022 Indy College Football Playoff Committee, laughed when he recalled the short amount of time to complete the bid.
“Three weeks is unreasonable,” he said. “It’s herculean.”
After the organization received the call, there was a meeting to discuss the opportunity.
“There was great excitement and optimism that Indy would be the best place for the student-athletes to play and to create a vibrant atmosphere for the fans,” Baughman said.
The process evolved quickly from the initial excitement to a discussion of what needed to be done.
“When we met to discuss the opportunity, [there was] an immediate push to start the research and conversations necessary to complete the bid,” Baughman said.
“Now there is a fork in the road. On the logistics side, we are determining who we will work with on our committee to have a good diverse representation of the community…We’ll be working with the CFP office to become more familiar with what they want specifically.”
She continued, “But then we have an important job to do with fundraising, so a lot of our attention will be focused on that in the next few months.”
Howell said that the city’s previous experience hosting other major events will help when dealing with any potential issues.
“There are areas that we’re responsible for worrying about,” he said. “There are weather and contingencies. You’ve got safety issues and crowd management. But the beauty of the (next) four years and the experience of all of the other major events we’ve had will put us in the best position to manage those successfully.”
Baughman focused in on one key element that is considered vital.
“We’re most focused on shaping the events into our city in a way that is really representative of our community and our spirit,” she said.
Both Baughman and Howell said that they hoped that this doesn’t become a one-time visit for people that come to Indianapolis in 2022.
While Baughman and Howell are hopeful that the college football playoff will have a large tourism impact, they also believe that the impact within the Indianapolis community will be very positive as well.
“The anticipated economic impact is in excess of $150 million,” Howell said. “I think we’re going to have 100,000 people in the Mile Square for four or five days who are there to have a great time.”
The community involvement, including a volunteer effort that has become a signature of the Sports Corp for decades, is expected to create a fan-friendly environment. Baughman compared it to the Super Bowl experience in 2012, saying that the week in Indianapolis had less of a corporate feel than games in other cities.
Howell said that the culture of Indianapolis will create a more festive atmosphere for the title game.
“I think the reason [the Super Bowl] felt more fan-based and more personal isn’t because of events that took place here, but because it took place here,” Howell said, “The people of this city adopt the event, regardless of who’s competing in the game.”
He continued, “They’re here to welcome people, they’re here to show people a great time, and to open up the city whether it’s the restaurants, the hotels, the stores, (or) the shopping. While the CFP dictates what events we hold, there will absolutely be a distinct feel to those events in Indianapolis.”
Those opinions extend beyond the walls of the Indiana Sports Corp, and even beyond the state of Indiana to the College Football Playoff itself. Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff explained why his organization chose Indianapolis.
“It’s a great city to host events like ours,” he said. “It has the infrastructure, the people, and the proven track record with all of the Final Fours and the Super Bowl,” Hancock said.
Hancock said that the city’s hosting of the NCAA Final Fours in 1980, 1991, 1997, 2000, 2006, 2010 and 2015 had the largest impact. “We’re a college event,” Hancock said, “and we want to be in the cities that cherish college events, and Indianapolis certainly does.”
Hancock said that Indianapolis was chosen as the first northern city because of the compact nature of what he called the city’s footprint.
“The proximity of the stadium and the hotels and the convention center was the best of the cities that we looked at,” he said.
Hancock also said that the city’s previous experience hosting the Big Ten Football Championship each year starting in 2011 had an impact. The College Football Playoff experience includes events similar to ones that take place before the Big Ten Football Championship.
All of that experience became a decisive factor when the decision was made to consider a northern location.
“I think the biggest thing is that we were thinking about future cities and the topic of northern tier cities came up,” Hancock said. “We all looked at each other and said, ‘Why not?’ It was a great opportunity for us to take the top level of college football to places it hadn’t been before.”
A northern location creates concerns with the weather. On the morning of this year’s championship game, Baughman said the cold conditions in Georgia had provided a reminder that the elements can affect the fan experience throughout the weekend.
While the weather during the game would not become a factor with the stadium roof closed, travel for teams and fans could be affected. Hancock was not concerned.
“You know, I don’t even think about the weather much for next week, much less for 2022,” Hancock said with a chuckle. “We study the weather so we know what we’re looking at. But we’re just not even looking at the weather, frankly.”
Baughman, Howell, and Hancock agreed that the people of Indianapolis would make a difference in the creation of a successful event.
“It’s hard to define why we’re different, but we are different, and [events like] this are part of the reason why,” Baughman said. “….We’re competitive, and always want to be the best.”