Indianapolis Counts Down to Its First College Football Championship

Mark Howell, chairman of the Indianapolis Host Committee, talks about planning for the CFP Championship.

Indianapolis Counts Down to Its First College Football Championship

Indianapolis is known for its many attributes. It is one of the events industry’s go-to cities for large-scale conferences, meetings and sporting events because of its venues and easy-to-navigate downtown. But with all due respect to Purdue University and the University of Indiana, the destination is not often associated with elite college football.

That will change early next year. Visit Indy and the 2022 CFP Indianapolis Host Committee are counting down the days to hosting the region’s first College Football Playoff National Championship. This will mark the first time the big game will be played in a Midwestern destination since the playoff format was adopted eight years ago. 

While the teams won’t be set until a week before the Jan. 8 through 10 festivities, it is likely to be the first trip to Indy for many of the players and coaches accustomed to Florida’s Orange Bowl, Arizona’s Fiesta Bowl, California’s Rose Bowl and Louisiana’s Sugar Bowl.

Nevertheless, inexperience will hardly be a factor hosting the championship, says Mark Howell, chairman of the Indianapolis Host Committee. The destination that hosted the entire 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and annually welcomes more than 100,000 fans to the Indy 500 is ready for another challenge.

With less than 50 days to go until the CFP finale, Connect Sports spoke to Howell about planning to host the event for the first time.

How do you plan for a game without knowing the teams involved?

It’s interesting. In all our planning documents, whether it be buses, hotels, practice, facilities, food and arrangements for family members and team arrivals, every single thing we have says ‘orange’ and ‘cotton.’ We know there’s going to be a winner of the Orange Bowl and there’s going to be a winner of the Cotton Bowl. We will replace the word ‘orange’ with the name of the team that wins the game, and same for the Cotton Bowl. It doesn’t really impact us from a planning perspective since we know it’s coming from the winners of two specific games.

Indianapolis is known for hosting major events, but this is going to be the first time for this specific one. Is there anything unusual or different that goes into the College Football Playoff?

We’re very fortunate that we’ve got an NFL team here. We play the Big Ten Football Championship game here. We’ve hosted a Super Bowl before. So we do know football. We’re a football town. We do have the benefit of having historically hosted all these major championships—Final Fours and motorsports with the Indy 500 and other championships. We’ve got a really good playbook. The real challenge is making sure it’s so special that people remember it and it raises the bar for the following host cities.

Indianapolis Counts Down to Its First College Football Championship

Can you share any secrets of how you are going to raise the level?

The CFP has a playbook that they run like the Taste of the Championship, the Extra Yard 5K, the AT&T Playoff Playlist Live and Media Day. We will be running all of their programming but hoping to do it in ways that are more compelling, more engaging, more entertaining and more exciting. And then we’re bringing in our own stuff. We’re turning our entire downtown into a championship campus. Every single event will be walkable to all the hotels, bars, restaurants, tailgates, concerts, pregame Dance Central, etc. When you pack 100,000 people down into a championship campus, that alone is going to be different and drive a lot of energy. And then you know what we’ve been teasing is that each night of the championship weekend, we’re planning some really spectacular illumination of events downtown. We’re referring to it as Light Up Indy.

Are you trying to win a spot in the CFP rotation continually?

Sure, every time we host a major sporting event, our goal is to earn the right to bid on the next one. We are a future host city for the NBA All-Star game. And with each of these events, we really try to demonstrate to the organizations that are responsible for putting these on that Indianapolis is the best place to host a championship. I mean, the NFL still talks about the 2012 Super Bowl that was here.

How are you handling the crowds with the pandemic still lingering?

By far the most important priority for this event is public safety, and public health is part of public safety. We are looking at capacity issues and events that are cashless and paperless. We’ll be able to do things with distancing; a lot of events are going to require masking. And with our 2,000 volunteers, we want to make sure in instances they are in close proximity that they are vaccinated.

Given this is the first time the championship is in Indy, there is a good chance it will be many attendees’ first time in the city. How do you plan for that?

We set out four primary objectives when we put our host committee together two years ago, and the first objective was to execute a phenomenal event. The second was to use this as a platform to create a long-lasting legacy impact on our city. We’re doing that through teachers and education. The third one was to show Indianapolis in the best light possible to the millions of viewers from around the world who will have their eyes on Indy for three days. The fourth was to provide an experience for all of our visitors that Indianapolis is a tremendous place to live, work and play. And so we know no matter what teams are in it, we’re going to bring tens of thousands of people to Indianapolis for their first time and we feel a huge responsibility to make sure they leave our city very excited about what’s happening here.

Photo Credit: Visit Indy