Huge fan events to precede college football championship

08/29/2014 4:18 PM

08/30/2014 1:23 AM

Fans can expect a long weekend of activities — most of them indoors — preceding the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 12 at AT&T Stadium.

The activities, mostly in Dallas, are designed to help even those fans who can’t dish out the big bucks to attend the game feel a connection to the cultural event. The festivities include a Playoff Fan Central interactive zone and a weekend of concerts.

And because the events are indoors, they can’t be spoiled by winter weather.

The events will be laced with corporate sponsorship but will also offer the pageantry and youthful exuberance of college life.

“This is something college football uniquely offers,” said Brad Sham, the longtime radio voice of the Dallas Cowboys, who emceed Friday’s unveiling of events.

Topping the schedule is the Playoff Fan Central, set for Jan. 9-11 at Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas. The event will be similar to pro football’s NFL Experience, held in Super Bowl cities — but perhaps bigger.

A full-size football field — complete with seating for 4,500 — will be built inside the convention center, and fans can watch and listen as players answer reporters’ questions during media day.

Persistent fans might get close enough to hear the answers but probably won’t get to ask any questions themselves, one organizer joked.

“The days are gone when an event was just at a stadium on game day,” said Bill Hancock, executive director of the Irving-based College Football Playoff. “Events like ours, like the Super Bowl, like the Final Four, they reach out to the whole community.”

Officials with the College Football Playoff, the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic and Stadium Events Organizing Committee are working together on the four-day extravaganza.

A Playoff Playlist Live! event promises to feature top-name musical acts, all performing in the warm confines of American Airlines Center. Precise artists and ticket prices will be disclosed in early October. But organizers say prices will be “reasonable.”

“This will not be your $150 ticket, like you see at other arenas,” said Michael Kelly, chief operating officer of the College Football Playoff.

He said organizers are considering offering a day pass that allows fans to buy a single ticket to watch multiple shows.

ESPN in Sundance Square

Tarrant County will have its share of events, too.

ESPN will return to downtown Fort Worth in January to anchor its coverage of the national championship at Sundance Square Plaza. The network used Sundance Square for its Super Bowl coverage in February 2011 and is also in Fort Worth this week to kick off the football season with its College GameDay crew.

On the day of the national championship game, an event billed as Championship Tailgate will be held outside AT&T Stadium. It will be open to people with tickets to that night’s game.

Besides embracing the college tradition of tailgating, it helps ensure that people get to the stadium hours ahead of time, which should help Arlington police and other crowd control officials deal with gridlock.

The tailgating will be open from noon to 6 p.m., Sham said.

Ready for winter weather

Organizers also say they’re working with Arlington officials, the Texas Department of Transportation and the North Central Texas Council of Governments to make sure that plenty of road-clearing equipment is on hand in case the region is socked by a freak ice storm as it was before the Super Bowl in February 2011.

Mistakes made during Super Bowl week provided a lesson for organizers of the college championship, said Tommy Bain, chairman of the Stadium Events Organizing Committee.

“We learned the equipment we needed was hours away,” Bain said, remembering that the state Transportation Department had to call in winter-weather crews from as far away as Amarillo to help with the mess. “We will have that equipment locally.”

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