The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is the nation’s longest-running kickoff game and has reshaped the opening weekend in college football.
Over 17 games since 2008, the game has regularly hosted the nation’s top teams and has drawn 1.1 million fans, 87.4 million television viewers, distributed $101.3 million in team payouts and created an additional $498.5 million in economic impact.
Gary P. Stokan is CEO and president of Peach Bowl, Inc., a position he has held since 1998.
Under his management, Peach Bowl, Inc. events have generated an economic impact of $1.299 billion and $79.34 million in direct government tax revenue for the city of Atlanta and state of Georgia since 1999.
Stokan has positioned the Peach Bowl as one of the best bowl game organizations in the nation, and earned the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl a position as a New Year’s Six bowl game in the College Football Playoff (CFP) and will host future CFP Semifinal games in 2022 and 2025.
Stokan also inked contracts with Mercedes-Benz Stadium through 2025 and with Chick-fil-A to continue its title sponsorship of both the Bowl and Kickoff Games through 2025.
Follow Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Facebook.
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Atlanta Business Radio, brought to you by on pay. Built in Atlanta, on pay is the top rated payroll and HR software anywhere. Get one month free at unpaid. Now here’s your host.
Stone Payton: [00:00:32] Welcome to this very special edition of Atlanta Business Radio. Stone Payton here with you this morning. Football season is just around the corner. I cannot think of a better way to bring it in. Please join me in welcoming to the broadcast CEO and President of Peach Bowl Inc, Mr. GGary Stokan. Good morning, sir.
Gary Stokan: [00:00:53] Stone How you doing? Thanks so much for having us.
Stone Payton: [00:00:56] Well, it is absolutely our pleasure. Delighted to have you on the show. And we’re going to get a chance to talk a little bit about the upcoming Chick-Fil-A kickoff games.
Gary Stokan: [00:01:07] Well, it’s a great time of the year with college football right around the corner, and we do it in a big way here in Atlanta. We kick off with three of the four teams that we’ll have in our two Chick-Fil-A kickoff games in the top ten in the country.
Stone Payton: [00:01:20] Wow. All right. So lay it out for us, man. Who are we going to get to see?
Gary Stokan: [00:01:24] All right. So we got Georgia who’s ranked number three versus number ten. Oregon, who’s favored along with Utah to win the PAC 12. And Georgia, obviously, with Alabama is favored to win the SEC. And then on Monday night, we open the ACC season with Clemson, who’s ranked number five playing against Georgia Tech, both in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, both on national TV. The Georgia Oregon game on Saturday will be at 330 on ABC. And then Monday night, Labor Day night, you can settle in after desserts and reunions and picnics and everything else. And the dessert will be Georgia Tech and Clemson at 8:00 on ESPN.
Stone Payton: [00:02:06] So what’s the origin story of the history on these Chick fil A kickoff games, man? How did it all start?
Gary Stokan: [00:02:12] Well, it’s interesting. Stone We made a bid for the BCS national championship game that they were going to add in 2006. And they decided to go to a double host model where the Rose Sugar, Orange and Fiesta would play their bowl game in January. And then two weeks later, they would rotate the national championship between those four bowls. So out of adversity comes positivity. And we just we had in 2007 the NCAA added game to the football schedules. And so I went to my board and I said, Well, if they’re not going to let us in the BCS on the back side of the season, we’re going to start the BCS on the front side of the season. And so I got Alabama and Clemson to come and play in Atlanta. Chick fil A became our title sponsor, and I called it the Daytona 500 of college football. And I got a cease and desist letter from Daytona 500. But that’s basically what we were doing. We were starting a bowl game on the front side of the season. And, you know, ever since then we’ve had high ranked teams come in like we we have this year. And it’s really changed the face of college football on the front side of the season.
Stone Payton: [00:03:33] What incredibly rewarding work you must find this. I’m sure it has its challenges. How in the world did you find yourself in a in a situation like this to to to be in this line of work?
Gary Stokan: [00:03:46] Man Well, it is rewarding. Stone And I’ll talk about that in a second. But to your back end, to your question of how I got here, I played basketball in North Carolina State and then coached there for three years after playing there and then got to decide to get out of coaching and went to work for Adidas and moved to Atlanta, opened up Adidas Southeast office and was with Adidas about seven years, then went to Converse, then started my own sports marketing company and sold it to a company from London who wanted to get into the Atlanta market for the 96 Olympic Games, then went back to work for Adidas and then in 1998 had the opportunity to kind of move back home in a little bit of ways because I was traveling so much with those other jobs on the corporate world that I was able to come after serving as a volunteer board member to run the Atlanta Sports Council and to run the Peach Bowl. And so I’ve been blessed since 1998. This will be my 25th Bowl game. And and on the first side of your question, rewarding in that they’re very blessed to have given $60 Million away to charity since 2002 by running these these three kickoff games are to kick off games and the bowl game.
Gary Stokan: [00:05:14] And then we also do a challenge golf tournament with the coaches like Kirby Smart from Georgia and Nick Saban from Alabama and so forth, to give money away to charity. So that’s our that’s our mission to be the most charitable organization in the. Country out of all 44 bowls. And we we humbly do that. We’ll give $6 million away this year to charity and most recently gave $20 million to children’s health care of Atlanta to find cures and help to eradicate childhood cancer. Because only 4% of the National Institute of Health’s budget goes to childhood cancer. And we’re humbly proud and working with children’s health care of Atlanta’s doctors to have now seven trials from neuroblastoma to leukemia that has 12 kids in it. And it’s tough to get these trials started because you have to first, the doctors have to test the medicine through animals. Then it once it is positive there, then they have to go through adults because of the toxicity levels to make sure that they can then finally bring kids into the trials. And now we have 12 kids in seven trials. So hopefully in the not too distant future, we find a way to help a kid live another day or in another year or maybe his whole life by eradicating some form of childhood cancer.
Stone Payton: [00:06:46] Well, I got to say, with a title sponsor being Chick-Fil-A, I’m not completely surprised that there’s this focus on serving others and providing for charities. And I got to say in the same breath, I’m very, very surprised at the numbers. Wow.
Gary Stokan: [00:07:03] That’s a lot. Yeah. To be a nonprofit like we are, we were started in 1968 by the Lions Lighthouse as a fundraiser for them. And we continue to give money back to the Lions. Lighthouse is one of our charities that we give to, but we take giving back very, very serious. It’s part of our, as I said, our mission and Peach Bowl does it in a lot of varied ways. And so we basically used football to find a way to give back to the communities that we serve.
Stone Payton: [00:07:34] All right. So there are the games themselves, but there’s a lot of fun, cool stuff happening in around it as well. What are some gameday activities that we can expect?
Gary Stokan: [00:07:44] Yeah, Stone, we as we said, we try to create a bowl type atmosphere. So Friday night we hold a reception in the College Football Hall of Fame where we host our guests to provide them some Southern hospitality. Whether it’s this year will be Phil Knight from Nike to Governor Kemp to Mayor Dinkins to ESPN, who will be in town, the ads and presidents from the universities. And so that kicks things off. And then on Saturday, about 4 hours, 5 hours before the game, we’ll have our tailgate town in International Plaza right next to Mercedes-Benz Stadium presented by PNC. And it’ll have all kind of sponsor activations, music, food, drink screens to watch the games previous to our game and all kinds of activation going on. So a great way to kind of kick off the season. People get ready for the the game and then 2 hours before the game we actually have the teams pull up in their busses and led by their mascot, their bands, their cheerleaders, the head coach and the players will actually walk through the fans in Home Depot backyard and into Mercedes-Benz Stadium and into their locker room. So and then we’ll kick off on Saturday at 330 and then on Monday we’ll kick off at 8:00 on Sunday between the two games will also open up the College Football Hall of Fame and close down Marietta Street next to Centennial Olympic Park and have really a festival of college football.
Gary Stokan: [00:09:28] And we’ll have Hall of Famers out there and cheerleaders and activation and open the Hall of Fame for people to come in and see the Hall of Fame and then kick off Monday with our tailgate town, again with Georgia Tech and Clemson 4 hours before the game. And then two, two teams will walk through their fans again 2 hours before the game and then kick off at 8:00. So it’s really a celebration on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. And then we’re adding something this year to give back the National Down Syndrome. We’re creating a dinner for them on Thursday night. We’ll honor four people with Down syndrome and we’ll also honor the four schools Oregon, Georgia Tech, Georgia and Clemson, because all four schools have education programs for the disabled. So so Thursday night will be a dinner that will honor the four schools will donate 50,000 back to the. Down’s Syndrome Consortium, again, giving back to those a little less fortunate than than the rest of us.
Stone Payton: [00:10:38] Man, a lot of moving parts. You must spend the entire year working around this, and you must have a crackerjack staff and volunteers and a in businesses and organizations rallying to support you all year long.
Gary Stokan: [00:10:51] Well, we really do. You mentioned Chick fil A. They’ve been our title partner for 27 years now, and they’re the longest running title sponsor in the organizations. And we meet on a monthly basis and we always start the meeting. How can we help you? And they say how they can help us. So it really is I call it a partnership rather than the sponsorship. But we have the best staff in the bowl business, great volunteers who really enjoy providing Southern hospitality. An outstanding board who is fantastic at leadership and support. So we’re very, very blessed at being the city we’re in with great stadium like Mercedes-Benz Stadium, great hotels and hospitality industry and great infrastructure from the airport to interstates that really can bring people into town rather easily. So you put all those things together in a recipe, put them in a spot, and we’re very, very blessed to what some people call Atlanta as the capital of college football now.
Stone Payton: [00:11:56] Well, it certainly is. And I’ve got to believe this must have a tremendous impact on the local economy here in the greater Atlanta area.
Gary Stokan: [00:12:06] Well, you’re right, Stone. It’s been huge for especially coming out of COVID because we’re able to fill the hotels and the restaurants and the bars with people coming in from out of town celebrating the Labor Day weekend. And then at the end of the year at our Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, during the bowl week, where there’s not a lot of people coming to town and hotels and restaurants and bars over Christmas to New Year’s. And so we fill the city up over Labor Day and during Christmas week to New Year’s. And yeah, we’ll probably do this year about $100 million of economic impact, which will translate to about $6 million in the city coffers for sales tax. But it’s great for the hospitality industry because as they start to get their feet about them and come back, we’re providing them the opportunity to create revenue for them. So it’s very impactful for the city. Our three events plus the SEC championship will be four of the six largest conventions that come to Atlanta this year. And and they come on an annual basis. You know, you may see a Final Four or Super Bowl once every 20 years. And we provide a huge economic impact, but ours is annual, and that’s something that really holds up the hospitality and tourism industry.
Stone Payton: [00:13:34] So or is it too late in the game to get tickets or there’s still tickets available or ways to participate and be involved in some way?
Gary Stokan: [00:13:43] Well, there’s tickets on the secondary market. We found now in sports, the secondary markets, almost the primary market. But the tickets we controlled, we have sold out the bowl game in December and the two Chick-Fil-A kickoff game. So we’re sold out of the tickets. But there are people that buy the tickets from us and sometimes they’ll put them on the secondary market. So Ticketmaster.com is probably the best source to go to to find tickets if they are on the secondary market. But we’ll have sellouts for all three games and that’s exciting when you’re the holder of the rights to put on the games when you can. Yeah, it’s a sellout.
Stone Payton: [00:14:22] So what can the local business community, that’s a large part of our listeners and guest and the folks who try to tap into the work that we do here locally. What can the local business community do to support your efforts immediately and maybe, you know, longer term or there’s some ways that we can get involved or or support you or the organizations you’re trying to serve?
Gary Stokan: [00:14:45] Well, it’s a great point. We’ve tried to reach out to the business community in providing opportunities to sit on our board of advisors if they want to get involved and also in volunteering. And then obviously, the hospitality industry has been someone that we’ve partnered with to make sure that they get taken care of. And the fans have a unique fan experience coming to Atlanta, whether it’s flying or driving and then staying in the hotels and the bars and restaurants. But we also are just very blessed in this city to have whether it’s Delta, Home Depot, IKEA, Georgia Power. I can go on and on with the great business partners that we have that not only sponsor our events but serve. On our board and get some of their employees to and team members to volunteer for our events. So the business community, as you know, this city runs with the great fortune that we have of having the the large amount of Fortune 500 companies that we have that really get involved and make this city work. So we’re very blessed in that way.
Stone Payton: [00:15:55] Well, you’re doing important work, Gary. We certainly appreciate you. And I know you’re an incredibly busy man. Thanks for taking the time to share with us what’s what’s going on. And maybe we’ll have you back sometime and kind of keep us posted on the unfolding story and maybe we’ll catch you a little a little earlier in your cycle next time around. And we give some folks a little bit more notice, but this is really been an interesting conversation and I’m looking forward to to these games.
Gary Stokan: [00:16:25] Man Well, Stone, hopefully we can visit before the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl on December 31st with the national semifinal game with either number one against number four or number two against three. And we can give you the highlights of the Chick-Fil-A kickoff games that will have over the next week.
Stone Payton: [00:16:43] All right. You got it. We will make that happen, man. Again, you’re doing such important work. We certainly appreciate you. Gary Stocking, CEO and president of Peach Bowl, Inc. Thanks, man.
Gary Stokan: [00:16:55] Stone, great to meet you. I look forward to meet you in person. If we can ever help host you the game, we look forward to it.
Stone Payton: [00:17:00] All right, man. All right. This is Stone Payton for our guest today, Gary Stone, CEO and president of Peach Bowl Inc. And everyone here at the Business RadioX family say and we’ll see you next time on Atlanta Business Radio.
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