Metro Chamber confirms Atlanta Sports Council/bowl split

By J. Scott Trubey and Maria Saporta
Tuesday, February 23, 2010, 4:02pm

Officials with the Metro Atlanta Chamber confirmed Tuesday a deal has been reached to spin off the Chick-fil-A Bowl from the Atlanta Sports Council into a new entity headed by Gary Stokan, the bowl’s president and CEO.

Dan Corso, vice president of marketing for the council, has been tapped to head the chamber’s sports marketing arm. The separation is expected to take place March 1.

Stokan, the sports council’s president and CEO for the past 12 years, will shift his focus fully to growth of the bowl, the Chick-fil-A College Football Kickoff Classic and development of the planned College Football Hall of Fame.

“The Chick-fil-A Bowl is one of the most successful, well-branded bowl games in the country, and Gary Stokan’s leadership has been a driving force behind its success,” Sam A. Williams, president of the chamber, said in a statement.

The chamber took over operation of what was then a struggling bowl game in 1986.

The bowl game and the kickoff classic will be spun off into an independent entity under Peach Bowl Inc., the founding name of the 42-year-old New Year’s Eve gridiron battle.

“Our board and the Peach Bowl Inc. board have determined that the timing is right, as the bowl can sustain itself with no further assistance from the chamber,” Williams said. “This is a natural evolution for the bowl, which has grown tremendously since we brought it under the chamber’s umbrella in 1985. We have confidence in Gary’s team and their future success.”

The sports council is an important economic development tool for the Metro Atlanta Chamber. It is designed to promote professional sports teams, and has been instrumental in landing major sporting events for the city, such as the Super Bowl and Final Four.

“This is an exciting time and a significant milestone in the 42-year history of our game,” Stokan said.

Stokan, who joined the sports council in 1998, is a former basketball player and coach at North Carolina State University, and he has nearly 30 years of experience in corporate sports management.

Under his leadership the Atlanta Sports Council was named Sports Commission of the Year three times (2000, 2004 and 2006).

Atlanta has played host to 32 collegiate sports championships since 2000, including the NCAA Men’s Final Four (2002 and 2007), the Women’s Final Four (1993 and 2003). The city also has been home to the SEC Football Championship since 1994.

The city will play host to the Men’s Final Four again in 2013.

Stokan, reached for an interview Monday evening, said his role needed to be split. Development of the college football shrine needs the full attention of its leadership, and the chamber is not equipped to be a real estate developer.

The college hall is expected to open in Atlanta in September 2012. Peach Bowl Inc., which will own the 50,000-square-foot facility, is still raising the $50 million necessary to bring the hall to Centennial Olympic Park in downtown.

The council will still coordinate Atlanta’s bids for top sporting events, such as NCAA Final Fours and Super Bowls, and will represent the business community as it applies to sports, economic development, quality of life and the building of Atlanta’s brand.

The sports council will continue to operate the Atlanta Tip Off Club, manage the Atlanta sports awards as well as the Naismith Trophy and awards banquet and will remain a negotiating partner of Atlanta’s committee to help the United States secure World Cup soccer in 2018 or 2022.

Jeff Genthner, senior vice president and general manager of Fox Sports Net and chairman of the sports council, said Tuesday’s announcement represents a milestone of growth for Peach Bowl Inc. and the sports council.

“Gary’s 12 years here are well documented in growing this into what has become a terrific and valuable asset for the chamber and for the city,” Genthner said. Stokan, Genthner said, leaves behind a capable team, led by Corso, an 11-year sports council veteran.

“The most important thing in a transition like this is you don’t miss a step,” Genthner said.

Rumors have swirled for weeks about a possible split between the sports council and the bowl. Some in the sports community have said privately that Stokan had a prickly relationship with the city’s pro teams.

Chamber and sports council officials said any perceived tension between Stokan and the teams did not play a role in the spinning off of the bowl game.

According to sources in the Atlanta sports community, the pro sports teams have taken umbrage with Stokan for what has been perceived to be favoritism of collegiate events and the luring of new properties, such as the College Hall of Fame and sports tournaments.

The Chronicle first reported the rift between Stokan and Atlanta pro sports teams last September.

Stokan bristled at that characterization on Monday, saying his group has been responsive to the pro sports teams. He pointed to a September meeting between the council and the teams and said he has worked to expand the organization’s efforts to promote and support the professional teams.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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