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Chick-fil-A Bowl & Charity - Doing It Right

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Dec 30, 2011


The Chick-fil-A Bowl and its work with the community - A college football positive

Phil Harrison
Harrison: The Chick-fil-A Way

Follow me on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN

Memorabilia for tattoos, bogus summer jobs, recruiting violations, and rumors of other transgressions that go unpunished. College football has been absolutely rocked to the core by nearly all of the seven deadly sins, and that’s but a ripple compared to the rushing waters of abominations in Happy Valley.

College football has taken it on the collective chin over the last few years--and it’s like a prized fighter staggering in the corner of the ring, just trying to keep its wherewithal long enough to regroup.

And then there are the bowl games. The news and resulting public perceptions coming out of places like Glendale, Arizona and New Orleans over the last couple of years have done nothing to help but make the privately run bowl games look like money-grubbing, hungry power brokers looking for the next corporate sponsor to pair up with to stash away cash for selfish benefactors and secret bankroll accounts. It’s fun in the sun, and lavish gifts all taken from the money made by taking advantage of some of our fine academic institutions and student athletes that represent them.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the sport has to deal with the BCS. Year in, and year out, controversy after controversy of teams getting passed over because of reasons that have nothing to do with the play on the field and everything to do about the inequalities of what kind of turn out and gate revenue can be had for the bowl hosts seem to be a yearly conversation piece.

All of that’s before even discussing the multiple reports of teams losing money by simply making a trip to a bowl game – in today’s economic climate, more and more schools are soon going to look at whether or not going makes sense. All the news makes it feel like college football has been turned on its head; spinning like a top out of control.

All of it has provided a heaping size of fodder as to why the bowl system is broken, why the BCS should be demolished like an abandoned building crumbling from the inside out, and how the bowls in their entirety should feel the reverberations and be laid to waste as well. Out with the old, and in with the new.

But it’s not all bad, and sometimes stories come out that can be a refreshing cleanse to the palette of the bad tasting entrees that have become a staple of the college football diet.

If you haven’t been following what the Chick-fil-A Bowl has been doing over the last decade, then it’s high time that you take notice.

What’s going on in Atlanta now on a yearly basis is not just a bowl game, and not just an exhibition of entertaining football. No, what’s taking place can serve as a beacon of light that transcends the play on the field. It is a happy marriage that all bowls should look to as an example--one between football, community, and charity work that is just as important--if not more so than staging a well run bowl game year in and year out.

First, and perhaps the most shaping moment in the culture of the Chick-fil-A Bowl is its humble roots. It is a huge endeavor to get a solid bowl off the ground, sustain it, and continue to move it forward as a solid brand. Formerly known as the Peach Bowl, the folks in Atlanta are certainly not immune to this fact. The inaugural game was played in 1968--as a fundraiser for the Lions Club of Georgia, meaning the game started with charity in mind and not as a money making business proposition.

Still, to continue to run a bowl, you have to have attendance, gate revenue, and a following. The early days of the Peach Bowl did not go entirely well for the problems of sustaining all of the above, and in the mid ‘80s things were at a crossroads. As the current president of the Chick-fil-A Bowl Gary Stokan puts it, “In 1985, there was a question of whether the Peach bowl could move forward. In our case though, the corporate culture of Atlanta kept the game alive largely because of the corporate support from the Atlanta business community.”

And that’s just it. The business culture in Atlanta has the community spirit and charities living and breathing in and around the area. The Peach Bowl started from the movement, and even received this support first hand--why wouldn’t it look to give back, and pay it forward? In essence, the Chick-fil-A Bowl remembers where it came from, and it will never forget.

For the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the term corporate sponsor isn’t even the right moniker. As Vice President of Communications Matt Garvey explains, “We call Chick-fil-A corporate partner, not a corporate sponsor. They are a partner in every sense of the word. They are visible and ingrained in our day to day operations.”

Gary Stokan goes even further, “We’ve experienced a partnership rather than a sponsorship. I’ve been on the sponsorship side, I’ve been on the side of honoring a sports marketing company, and I’ve been on this side where we’ve kind of serviced this side, so I know all sides. What I made sure of is that we had a partnership and blurred the lines of sponsorship. If you can make it a partnership—and we meet once a month with Chick-fil-A as a partner, then you really have something. A lot of it goes back to Chick-fil-A also wanting to be a partner as well...and we fully believe we have the best bowl partner/sponsor in the business in Chick-fil-A.”

It all makes sense. Chick-fil-A and the bowl now have the second longest standing relationship in the bowl industry behind just the Tostitos/Fiesta Bowl arrangement at thirteen years running. The two are not separate entities, but one ship moving in the same direction with the same values and the same philosophies. They are so intertwined that the bowl is simply known as the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Not brought to you by, not presented by, not preceding a legacy name. It is simple in purity, purpose, and direction.

Charity is not just an afterthought, not just a side show, and not a mere drop in the bucket of what they do. The Chick-fil-A Bowl is known for its second to none run yearly event, but it should be known by even more. It should be known as much for the charity work that has been a staple of its diet for nearly a decade now.

It’s not that the Chick-fil-A Bowl just started giving to charities, but the light really began to shine back in 2002. Ever since then, the bowl has given routinely to quite a few charities and has made countless more one time donations to worthy causes. All told, since 2002, the Chick-fil-A Bowl has disbursed over $12 Million in charitable donations and scholarships and have topped at least $1 Million in gifts to the community in five straight years now.

And they keep raising the bar. Last year, the bowl that far outpaces any other in terms of reaching out to its community set a new record for charitable giving by a bowl game to the tune of just over $6.2 Million in 2010. It included more than $1.24 Million in charitable and scholarship donations and a onetime donation of $5 Million to the non-profit organization managing the College Football Hall of Fame re-location to downtown Atlanta. The new facility is set to open in March of 2013 on the grounds of Olympic Park and the donation has helped in many ways to get the efforts more than jump started.

There are almost too many charities to name, but here is a sampling of the bowl’s biggest yearly events and donations:

Chick-fil-A Bowl Challenge charity golf tournament- The bowl’s biggest and most well known charitable event--it was created in 2007. The tournament consists of two 12 two-man teams of NCAA head coaches and celebrities from around the country. Each team represents its university, and each competes for over $415,000 in scholarship money--endowed scholarships where the principle funding source remains intact and not just a onetime offering.

The Play it Smart Program-Also beginning in 2007, the Chick-fil-A Bowl teamed up with the National Football Foundation to assist with this well known program that was founded in 1998. The program is designed to educate underprivileged high school athletes by assigning them an “academic coach.” This new-found friend mentors, teaches, coaches, councils, and advocates for its student athletes, and makes themselves available for non athletes as well within the nine Atlanta metro-area high schools. The program has an unheard of 96% success rate of graduating it’s kids from high school.

Endowed Scholarship Program for Bowl Participants-To go along with the Play It Smart program, $100,000 is slotted aside each year for an endowed scholarship for each of the two college institutions participating in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The same Play It Smart participants are then are able to take advantage of these scholarships to not just make it to college, but to have the means to make it through college to graduation at one of these universities. The funds are available every year and never sit unused.

And that’s not all. The Chick-fil-A Bowl has also given to several other charities over the years including notably over $1.4 Million to WinShape Homes--a long-term care home for children who need a caring environment across the United States and South America. There has also been money given for high school scholarships, the National Guard, hurricane relief, the National Kidney Foundation and countless other one time donations. It is truly an impressive listing, and one that continues to grow as the years pass by.

But no story of giving would be complete without getting an appreciation for a real-life account from someone right at the epicenter of the impact that these efforts have.

Jeff Beggs, the AD of the Atlanta area high schools may just be the Chick-fil-A Bowl’s biggest fan. He has more firsthand accounts of the fruitful efforts of all of this giving as the an intergral figure within the Atlanta public high schools. For him, it’s real life, with real purpose and true intentions.

When asked to describe the relationship between the folks from the bowl and the Atlanta areas schools in regard to the Play It Smart Program, Jeff provides some glowing remarks. “The relationship that the Atlanta Public Schools Dept of Athletics and the Chick Fil A Bowl is truly unique and is phenomenal for our student-athletes. The grant we receive from the bowl funds academic coaches in our high schools. Their job duties and responsibilities are to help our student-athletes succeed academically, but it is so much more than that. Each person in these positions truly cares about each student-athlete and works tirelessly. It is not a 9 to 5 job.”

And on the endowed scholarships linked to the Play It Smart program Jeff goes further, ”The program opens doors that may not otherwise be open. It provides an opportunity to our student-athletes to truly see that there is an educational life outside where they live, and above and beyond what they think they may be able to achieve....we had five student-athletes go to service academies last year. That is a phenomenal feat. The Play It Smart program, and what the Chick-fil-A Bowl does for us is truly unique throughout the country.”

The Chick-fil-A Bowl is not a part of the community, it is the community. The executives understand it, they are a part of the relationships and as Matt Garvey puts it, “these charities are actively managed by executives all year long, we are on the ground meeting face to face so that their needs can be understood and addressed.”

The Chick-fil-A Bowl clearly gets it--even shunning profits for charity. Said another way by Gary Stokan, “Chick-fil-A made it (charity) its mission. The additional monies could have gone into profits. Part of that money was in our profits, but it’s important in our mission to give back to the community. It’s all a part of the stewardship that we have in our mission.”

And despite it all, the Chick-fil-A Bowl will be celebrating its fifteenth straight sell out--meaning there is not a single hint of a victim mentality on Andrew Young International Boulevard. Something is clearly working, and that something includes doing a lot of what is right in the world--giving back.

So next time you hear about another college athlete receiving improper benefits, or how teams have become victims of the bowl scenarios--or worse yet, how another unthinkable scandal crashes on the shores of the college football landscape, just remember that there are folks doing things the right way.