Closer Look: SEC Championships

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In 2011, when more than 74,000 college football fans poured into the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to watch the Georgia Bulldogs take on the Louisiana State University Tigers, Craig Mattox breathed a tiny sigh of relief. The fans showed up. But he didn’t completely relax until the last seconds ticked off the game clock. As assistant commissioner of championships for the Southeastern Conference,replica longines watches  Mattox is the man behind the curtain, responsible for bringing all the details together for the SEC championships for men’s football, basketball and baseball. He’s been with the conference for almost 16 years, starting as assistant director of ticket operations and in his current position since 2006. Connect talked with Mattox about planning for these large-scale sport events. SEC Championship games are obviously big business for the cities that host them. Tell us about how you decide where to take the games each year. We award championship events through a bid process. For football, we have contracts in place at the Georgia Dome through 2017. For basketball, we have sites through 2019 and baseball will continue to be at Regions Park [in Hoover, Ala.] for the next five years. We work years in advance to try and solidify these sites. It’s beneficial to us financially to do that and also to get a handle of the facility and get a good idea of what’s out there. For instance, for men’s basketball, we stay five years out at all times. Interested cities will contact us and ask for a bid package that’s always ready to go. In four to six weeks, they return it. We consolidate bids, present them to the conference’s athletic directors and committee, and vote. What are you looking for in host cities? We look at everything in a city from the facility itself to the locker rooms to playing surface to hospitality space. In addition, we look at surrounding hotels to serve as team hotels and look at ease for fans to get in and out of the city. We rely a lot on local organizing committees, sports commissions and CVBs. What does your planning staff look like? We have 30 staff members. Some work in championships full-time; others work in other full-time positions. Some work with media relations. We all wear a lot of hats when championships roll around. You organize football, basketball and baseball championships. What’s the easiest one to plan? Believe it or not, football is probably my easiest event. We’ve been at the Georgia Dome since ’94, and the biggest difference is that it’s virtually a one-day event and the basketball tournament is four. It’s about to be a five-day tournament. There’s a good bit more involved. It’s the same thing with baseball. We just expanded our bracket to a 10-team format [with the addition of two more teams to the SEC Conference]. It will be a six-day tournament this year. We will work through the night on Sunday through Monday to have the stadium ready to go on Tuesday morning. It’s the length of those events that make them hard to plan. With football, the teams come in on Friday for practice at the Georgia Dome, they play the game on Saturday and they’re gone. The football and baseball championships don’t move around to different cities much, but basketball does. Why is that? For football, that time of year, we need to have an indoor facility. Atlanta has proven itself to be the city to host that event. Basketball differs somewhat because there are so many nice facilities to choose from. Most years, we’ve been in Nashville and Atlanta, but we’ve done Tampa and New Orleans. Memphis has the FedEx Forum, and Orlando has a nice facility with the Amway Center. We like to pick a city where the facility has entertainment and places to eat right there in walking distance. There are a lot of people who love sports, and would love the opportunity to work in sports. What do you love about your job? After months and sometimes even years of preparing for an event, then getting on-site and seeing the student athletes and fans having a good time at the event that you helped plan and put together is pretty gratifying. You never really have the issue a lot of planners have: getting attendees to return. No, for football, we have around 20,000 tickets that are sold publicly, and our renewal rate is 98 to 99 percent. Do you ever get to just be a fan? I don’t get to really personally enjoy the actual game that’s being played. All I’m thinking about are the potential things that could happen or what’s going on. At the same time, it’s gratifying to see it all come together.