ATLANTA — The SEC Championship Game is staying in Atlanta.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey announced Tuesday that the league will play its title game at the new Mercedez-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta for 10 years, part of a new deal beginning with the 2017 season that runs through ’26 season. In a press conference at the College Football Hall of Fame, Sankey praised Atlanta as “forward thinking,” and said the SEC is proud to continue its partnership with the city.
“We are thrilled to be carrying that legacy forward in Mercedes-Benz Stadium,” Sankey said. “I think our best days are ahead.”
The SEC’s new 10-year deal includes two five-year extensions in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which will be the new home of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and remains under construction. Falcons owner Arthur Blank, also in attendance at Tuesday’s press conference, said the stadium is about “35 percent” complete.
"This is symbolic of the kind of long-term relationship we want to have with these events,” Blank said.
Atlanta’s Georgia Dome has hosted the SEC Championship Game for 21 years beginning in 1994. The league will keep the title game in the dome for the next two seasons while Mercedes-Benz Stadium undergoes construction. By the end of the SEC’s new deal, Atlanta will have hosted the conference title game for 43 years.
Asked if the SEC seriously considered hosting the conference title game elsewhere, Sankey cited the league’s trust in Atlanta, as well as Blank and Falcons ownership. Sankey described the decision to stick with Atlanta as “relatively simple.” Since its Georgia Dome debut, the SEC Championship Game has generated more than $1 billion for the city of Atlanta.
After the press conference Sankey wouldn’t comment on other championship sites the conference considered. “We’re focused in Atlanta,” he said.
The process of extending the SEC’s footprint in Atlanta was a couple of years in the making, according to Sankey. “We received updates before there were shovels in the ground about the plans and direction,” he said.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium will mirror the Georgia Dome’s current capacity of around 75,000 fans. Sankey said technological advances available in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, from signage to video screens, should allow for a more immersive experience for fans.
“What’s been presented to me really is incredibly innovative compared to that to which we are accustomed,” Sankey said.
The SEC last hosted its basketball tournament in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome in 2014, and on Tuesday Sankey wouldn’t rule out doing the same in Mercedes-Benz Stadium at some point. But last March the SEC kicked off a long-term agreement with Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, keeping the basketball tournament in the Music City in three-year spurts (2015-17, 2019-21, 2023-25) through 2026. (The tournament will take place in St. Louis in 2018 and Tampa in ’22).
Sankey said the league hopes to maintain the arena atmosphere for basketball. Thus, no immediate plans exist to move the tournament to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But as for football, the SEC is excited for what lies ahead.
“The vision is to build the world’s leading facility,” Sankey said. “We’re going to have a platform for our teams, our student athletes and our fans that they can enjoy.”