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ACC football championship appears secure in Charlotte

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When Charlotte hosted its first two ACC Championship football games in 2010 and 2011, the city enjoyed full stadiums and a vibrant scene uptown for fans.

But the 2012 game – and this year’s contest between top-ranked Florida State and 20th-ranked Duke – shows attendance for the Atlantic Coast Conference’s title game depends on who is playing, and that having Bank of America Stadium hosting by no means guarantees a full house.

The Charlotte Sports Foundation, which helps stage the game, said 61,000 tickets have been sold for the 73,000-seat stadium.

If those ticket-holders come, that would be a respectable crowd. If a sizable number of people pass – the game could be marred by thousands of empty seats, which was the case last year, when Florida State played Georgia Tech.

Regardless of the attendance Saturday night, the game appears to be safe in Charlotte, at least for the short term.

The 2013 championship game is the last title game in Charlotte under contract, but the athletic directors of ACC schools have given numerous indications that they want to keep the game in the Queen City. The conference is negotiating with the sports foundation over an extension.

“We are very optimistic that the game will stay in Charlotte,” said Will Webb, executive director of the Charlotte Sports Foundation. “We aren’t worried at this point.”

He said he believes an announcement will be made in January.

The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority pays the ACC $250,000 in Business Development Funds to help stage the game, which is common practice for the tourism authority. Mecklenburg County also contributes $300,000, Webb said.

It’s unclear whether those incentives will go up for the 2014 game.

Charlotte Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble said he’s not aware of any negotiations for the city to make a contribution for the game, as it does the CIAA basketball tournament in February. The city spends $200,000 on the CIAA tournament, which is part of a $1 million guarantee the CRVA makes to the league.

Earlier this year, the city of Charlotte agreed to give the Carolina Panthers $87.5 million for stadium renovations. As part of the deal, the Panthers agreed to give the city the use of the stadium rent-free for four dates in the first half of the year, annually for six years.

The deal also lets the Belk Bowl use the stadium rent-free, which is valued at $250,000.

Kimble said the city tried to include a $250,000 rent subsidy for the ACC Championship, but was unsuccessful.

“The ability to get it still exists in a future negotiation,” Kimble said in an email.

The CRVA hasn’t projected the economic impact of the game. Two years ago, the CRVA said the championship injected $10 million into the local economy, though that was for a sellout. This year, the event is expected to fill about 13,100 hotel rooms.

The idea of playing the ACC Championship game at an on-campus site has been discussed.

If the conference does keep the game at a neutral site, Charlotte appears to be at an advantage because of the conference’s recent decision to add Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh as members. That makes Charlotte even more centrally located in a far-flung conference that stretches from Boston to Miami.

The first four ACC Championships were held in Florida. A combination of having teams with less-than-rabid fan bases led to sparse crowds for the 2008 and 2009 games.

The first two games in Jacksonville had roughly 73,000 and 63,000 fans. The next two championships in Tampa did poorly, with 53,000 and then 27,000 fans for Boston College against Virginia Tech in 2009.

That prompted the move north, to Charlotte.

In 2010, the city lucked out, having Florida State play Virginia Tech, which have perhaps the two most enthusiastic fanbases in the conference. In 2011, Clemson played Virginia Tech. Both games were sellouts.

Last year’s game featured Florida State against Georgia Tech, which had a 6-6 record and represented the league’s Coastal Division only because Miami and North Carolina were on probation and were ineligible for the game.

Attendance was about 48,0000, Webb said.

Webb said he hopes attendance Saturday night will be about 60,000.

In addition to being the No. 1 team in the country, Florida State is led by Jameis Winston, a quarterback who is favored to win the Heisman Trophy.

On the downside, Florida State would play in college football’s national championship game in January in California if it wins. That means some Seminoles fans might choose to save their money for that game.

Duke is one of college football’s feel-good stories, with a surprising 10-2 record. The school doesn’t have a large alumni base, but Webb hopes that Duke alumni in the state will come to Charlotte for the game.

“This year you have Duke on a phenomenal run,” Webb said. “No one gave them a chance.”

The Southeastern Conference Championship also will be played Saturday. On the secondary market, the cheapest tickets are about $200. Tickets start at $25 for the ACC game.

The CRVA has given free ticket vouchers for the ACC game to some sports groups and the Boy Scouts.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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