INTERVIEW WITH PRESIDENT AND CEO OF THE CHICK-FIL-A PEACH BOWL, GARY STOKAN
November 4, 2015
Gary Stokan, President and CEO of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
Stokan has been a part of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl for 17 years, and has seen numerous accomplishments during his tenure as President and CEO. Adding this to his previous experiences with sports marketing and management, Stokan sat down with the FBA’s Jordan Hendricks to discuss the impact that he has seen the bowl game bring to the Atlanta community.
Hendricks: How did your previous career opportunities prepare you for your role in the Peach Bowl?
“My personal career path has been an exciting and challenging one, but has all led me to the point when I joined the Bowl in 1998. I started my career as a basketball coach at NC State, then held National Marketing and Global Business Unit executive positions for adidas and Converse, then to owning my own sports marketing and events company. Each of those opportunities helped shape my work ethic, management style and leadership philosophy.“
How has college football’s landscape changed since you started?
“The biggest change in our sport has been the transition from college football being a regional sport to a national one. The BCS and now the College Football Playoff has forced the administrators, media and fans to treat it like a national sport – one that is second only in fan avidity to the NFL in our country right now.“
How has the Peach Bowl progressed over the years?
“In a relatively short period of time compared to our peer bowls, the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl has evolved from a regional ACC vs. SEC bowl game to one of the New Year’s Six bowls hosting the College Football Playoff. We’re only in our 48th year and are now in a peer group of bowls like the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Cotton that are 80 to 100 years old.“
What would you consider to be the Peach Bowl’s biggest achievement in your tenure?
“There have been many that we have been blessed to enjoy; selling out 17 straight years, having the number one non-BCS viewed bowl game on ESPN, being the number one bowl in charitable and scholarship donations, creating the modern day Kickoff Game, signing the 20-year license and relocating the College Football Hall of Fame to Atlanta and being selected as one of the six bowls to be a part of the College Football Playoff. We have been on a long and strategic path to reach that goal and are very appreciative of all the sponsors, partners, fans, volunteers, staff, board and supporters who have helped us achieve all of these outstanding achievements.”
What challenges do you see the transition to a playoff system for the Peach Bowl in the future?
“Our challenges now are more opportunities in striving to find ways to improve and enhance our fan experience so that our game can be the best of the best of all the bowl games, to earn our renewal contract with the CFP for 2020-2025 and to continue to provide Atlanta the best in college football.”
What charities does the Peach Bowl affiliate with?
“We have a very robust charitable giving platform we call Peach Bowl Cares. Through that, we are able to provide contributions to a number of organizations in need. Some of the biggest are the WinShape Home long-term foster care program, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation, Atlanta Public Schools, and our own endowed scholarship program with our participating universities. Since 2002, we have provided $17.9 million in charity and scholarship donations to our Atlanta community and that is important because the Atlanta corporations and fans have supported our Bowl.”
Can you share an example of a philanthropic event that the Peach Bowl has supported that you feel is representative of the bowl being important in the Atlanta community?
“I think the best example of our charitable efforts in Atlanta is seen in our academic mentoring program within the Atlanta Public School system. We are able to provide an Academic Coach in all 11 Atlanta public high schools to work with student-athletes. They work to keep kids in school, improve their grades, help them prepare for the SAT and ACT tests and help them transition into college. Then we link the students in our program to our endowed scholarship program to make sure they have financial assistance to help pay for college.“
Focusing on the ways that the bowl gives back to the community, what accomplishment are you most proud of during your tenure?
“I think our biggest accomplishment is the number of organizations we have been able to help over the years. Since we started making charitable giving a part of who we are in 2002, we have been able to provide more than 60 organizations with a total of $17.9 million in donations, which I think makes us college football’s most charitable bowl game.“
What are the bowl system’s strengths? What areas need improvement?
“We view the bowls, and our bowl specifically, as a reward for the players, coaches and fans of the teams. Our Bowl Week experience is a week’s worth of events and activities designed with that in mind. We use a philosophy of Live, Laugh and Learn. We make sure the players live well, by staying in great hotels, eating great food and getting great gifts. We make sure they laugh often, by creating a series of fun and entertaining Bowl Week events. And we make sure they learn a little about their world by taking them to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center and children’s hospitals while they are with us.“
Making all bowl games relevant is one of the challenges for the Football Bowl Association. From a branding and recognition standpoint, what can be done so that football fans see all the bowls as being important in the different communities they serve?
“ach Bowl has to make it a priority to tell the story of what they mean to college football and to their home communities. All bowl games are significant in those ways, whether its economic impact, tax revenue generation, charitable giving or simply civic pride. Each bowl has its own story and each of them can be special to the two teams and fan bases they host each year.“