We’re just a few days removed from the biggest, or at least, most attended college football game in history. On Saturday, Bristol Motor Speedway set a new attendance record, with 156,990 on hand to see Tennessee defeat Virginia Tech in the Battle at Bristol.
As luck might have it, there’s suddenly an opportunity for another spectacle.
Yesterday, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced it will be moving the eight neutral-site conference championships it has scheduled in the state of North Carolina for the 2016-07 due to the state’s passing of House Bill 2 in March. The law requires transgender persons to use the restroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate. The ACC’s decision followed that of the NCAA, which announced Monday it is pulling its championships from North Carolina as well for the current school year.
Among the championships now looking for a new home, most prominent is the ACC football championship game. The game had been slated for Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, home of the Carolina Panthers and the host of the previous six ACC championship games.
The ACC is looking at possible locations and there are a handful. Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. has been reported as a leading candidate, while other options include FedEx Field in Landover, Md., home of the Washington Redskins, Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., home of the Jaguars and Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., home of the Titans.
But the site that should be mentioned and should be the home of the ACC championship, at least for this season seems obvious. It’s Bristol Motor Speedway.
Heading into the Battle at Bristol, which had been announced three years ago, but was nearly 20 years in the making, there was plenty of uncertainty. Would it go smoothly? How would a race track turn into a football field? Would the sight-lines be poor for fans?
The Battle at Bristol was certainly a spectacle, that in addition to the crowd and a national, primetime television audience, featured the national anthem sung by country music star Jennifer Nettles and artist Lee Greenwood performing his famous song, “God Bless the USA” at halftime. And that didn’t even include a state fair-like atmosphere outside of the speedway, pre-game concerts by Sam Hunt and Jon Pardi and Kenny Chesney and others in concert the night before. With a game under their belts, Bristol Motor Speedway knows how to host a game and would be even better in a second act.
The weekend had plenty of fanfare and made plenty of cash for those involved as a result. Though final numbers aren’t yet available, both Virginia Tech and Tennessee were guaranteed $4 million apiece, more than every non-College Football Playoff game except the Citrus Bowl, at $4.5 million, according to online reports of bowl payouts from last season.
Last December, the ACC Championship brought in $32.4 million to Charlotte, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. If even half of Bristol Motor Speedway is filled, still more than the 75,412 capacity of Bank of America Stadium, the revenue would certainly be increased.
And why wouldn’t that many show up to Bristol Motor Speedway for another round of football? Yes, it will be early December and the temperature will likely be 40 degrees cooler than it was Saturday, but who wouldn’t want to be a part of another game at a unique setting, like a race track?
Another game will still have plenty of cache. It probably won’t be possible to duplicate the spectacle that came from Saturday. For one, the home team, Tennessee, won’t be playing. But for anyone who was at the Battle at Bristol, you’ve likely heard from plenty of people how jealous they are that you were there. There’s certainly a draw to attend another game there, this one for an actual championship, despite what the Volunteers’ hats and shirts said after the game.
It took plenty of work to get the field at Bristol Motor Speedway in place, including 450 truckloads of rock and material that was built up three feet under AstroTurf. That field is still in place, as Western Carolina and East Tennessee State will play another game there Saturday.
It’s not like Bristol Motor Speedway will be hosting a race any time soon. Its next Sprint Cup race, the Food City 500, doesn’t take place until April. The track hosts a nightly light show from Nov. 18 through Jan. 7, but that could easily be disrupted for another football game.
Orlando officials might bid hard to host the ACC football championship game and other championship events looking for a new home, but as far as football goes, the championship has already had a run in Florida. The first five years of the championship game, beginning in 2005, were hosted in Jacksonville and at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
The first year, ticket sales were impressive, at 72,749. But those numbers never reached that level during the other four years in Florida. The final year, 2009, had 44,897 ticket sales in Tampa.
The allure of football at Bristol Motor Speedway still exists. If the timing didn’t happen to be while a football field is still in place, this wouldn’t even be a discussion.
But a field is still in place, helping make Bristol the most logical choice to host the ACC football championship Dec. 3.