TAMPA - College football's national champion will be decided at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium in 2017.
The championship game could approach the Super Bowl in terms of economic impact and importance on the sports calendar, civic leaders, coaches and college athletic officials said.
“From the moment the discussion began about where to place this event, we have been focused on bringing it to Tampa Bay,” said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, which oversaw the area's bid. “It's going to be special.”
Monday afternoon, Tampa was awarded the College Football Playoff's championship game, which will be held on Jan. 9, 2017. The city beat out five other finalists, including Jacksonville and South Florida. Raymond James Stadium will be expanded to an approximate capacity of 72,000 for the game, adding seats in the end zones.
The College Football Playoff begins next season with the championship game set for AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Four teams will be picked by a selection committee. In the semifinals, played next season at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, the No. 1 seed plays the No. 4 seed and the No. 2 seed faces the No. 3 seed.
When the 2017 game comes to Tampa, the semifinals will be held at the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta and the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.
The new system replaces the Bowl Championship Series, which uses computer rankings and polls to match the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in a title game. The final BCS Championship, between No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn, will be Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif.
The economic impact for previous BCS Championship Games has been listed at more than $200 million.
“I think this new playoff system could be bigger,” said Ken Hagan, chairman of the Hillsborough County Commission. “I have been to four national championship college football games, and the excitement in the community is palpable, Super Bowl-like. That's what we're going to have here.
“I think it's the ideal place for this game. We have a proven record of hosting big events. And right now, our community is on fire.”
The 2015 NCAA Women's Basketball Final Four will be held at the Forum in downtown Tampa.
The 2016 NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Frozen Four also is coming to the Forum.
Now college football's ultimate game will be on Tampa's résumé.
The city, which has hosted four Super Bowls and staged the 2012 Republican National Convention, drew raves from Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff.
Hancock said Tampa and Glendale, Ariz., selected as the 2016 host, “batted 1.000” in the bid process.
“The Tampa Bay area is committed to hosting big events in a gracious and thorough manner,” said Hancock, who was director of the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four when it was held at St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field in 1999. “There's economic impact and other (financial) factors, but part of it, too, is how a community can just feel good about itself.
“When we're doing this for the 50th time, you can look back and see that your community was part of it in the beginning. This is going to be different than the traditional bowl game run by a bowl staff. This is a different animal, no question. Ultimately, I think it's going to grow even larger than the BCS.”
Higgins said a week's worth of activities will be planned for fans, similar to the Super Bowl's NFL Experience, even for those who can't attend the game. It's not yet known how much game tickets will cost or how difficult they will be to acquire.
“But let's face it, it's going to be one of the hottest tickets in sporting America, maybe even the world,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. “It's going to have a significant place in our annual sports calendar and our annual social calendar. It might become a holiday of sorts.
“All eyes are going to be on Tampa. We're used to that. We know how to do big events. This is another example of how, when we put our minds to something, we just go out and get it done.”
Higgins' group bid for the inaugural game, which was awarded to Arlington, Texas, long considered a heavy favorite. But Tampa's initial bid was impressive, Hancock said, and got everyone's attention. It established Tampa as a serious contender for 2016 or 2017, although there was heavy competition in both years.
Higgins said he was confident heading into Monday's announcement but still a bit nervous.
“You never take anything for granted,” Higgins said.
Finalists for the 2017 event included two new NFL venues — in the San Francisco Bay area and Minneapolis — along with Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville and the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
“It's a terrific destination with an excellent facility and a top-notch leadership team,” Hancock said. “The response from all the communities was very affirming. It was not an easy decision by any means. It was competitive.”
Hancock said his committee wanted to shift the event throughout the country. With Arlington, Texas, Glendale, Ariz., and Tampa represented, the first three championship games will be held in three different time zones.
Tampa's track record for successfully hosting big events also was a major factor.
“It's a can-do group of people,” Hancock said. “They are creative, hardworking, and they know how to do it right. We feel really good about being associated with them.”
Higgins also saluted the bid support from the University of South Florida and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“College football is different,” Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer said. “The connection from the time people go to their school to when they become (alumni), it's a unique connection. They associate rooting for their team not only with football, but with their time in college itself.
“I have been to two (national championship games). I was with Alabama fans at one and Florida fans at another. Although I didn't go to either school, just being there was fantastic.”
The Tampa Bay Sports Commission has a slogan: “Gameday. Every day.”
Higgins said it's more than a slogan. It's more than a mantra. It's a way of life.
“In the 1,000-plus days before this game gets to our community, we're committed to making it the best event possible,” Higgins said. “We're going to work to that end every single day. It may seem like a long time away, but the excitement is already here. We're ready to get to work.”