ATLANTA — Visitors to the new College Football Hall of Fame will find 100-year-old artifacts have found a new home in the digital age.
When entering the three-story facility, fans will immediately face a giant wall of 768 helmets – one for every program at every level in the nation.
The new high-tech hall opens Saturday in downtown Atlanta, not far from the Georgia Dome, adjacent to Centennial Olympic Park and other attractions. It features an interactive experience that begins when the guest registers for a smart pass, selects a favorite school and then sees that school’s helmet illuminated.
Computer chips in the ticket allow the guest to be recognized by name at every interactive exhibit. Displays are tailored to the fan’s favorite school, though it’s always possible to explore other schools.
Another example of high-tech displays: Fans who touch photos on a giant wall gain access to more than 12,000 videos.
On Friday, final preparations were made for the grand opening. A worker was using a lift to apply final touches to a mural which stretches 36 feet by 30 feet. The work by Atlanta-area artist Steve Penley pays homage to such legends as Bear Bryant, Vince Dooley and Steve Spurrier.
Asked if the artwork leaned too heavily to Southern icons, Hall of Fame president and CEO John Stephenson explained the artist was given license to show his vision of college football. Stephenson said there was an emphasis elsewhere on maintaining a national balance to the displays.
Stephenson stressed the $68 million facility shouldn’t be compared with the old College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Indiana. Instead, planners were guided by such Atlanta attractions as the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola – both with easy walking distance of the hall.
“The old model of building an attraction like this in a city in order to draw tourism to the city is the opposite of what we’ve done,” Stephenson said. “We’ve used private enterprise to build this self-sustaining business attraction right in the middle of an already proven and stabilized business travel and tourism district.”
Stephenson said the average annual attendance at the old hall was about 75,000.
“We’re hoping here for 500,000,” he said. “But again, we don’t compare ourselves to South Bend, Indiana. We compare ourselves to our neighbors. The Georgia Aquarium draws 2 million. The World of Coke draws 1.2 million.”
Among other digital displays: 360-degree virtual stadiums, video face-painting, and an ESPN GameDay studio where visitors are digitally placed beside the TV hosts and provided a script. Video of the “broadcast” is sent to the email address given during registration for the smart pass.
Some displays require no high-tech enhancements. Red Grange’s 1924 Illinois jersey, John Heisman’s original playbook from the 1920s and an 1873 program for a “Foot Ball Match” between Yale and Eton are showcased.
Stephenson’s staff prepared for Saturday with a series of “soft” openings. On Friday, the facility’s potential to host private events was on display when it hosted 1,200 staffers from Chick-fil-A, a lead sponsor for the hall.
“While this was designed to be yes, a museum, yes, an attraction but also an event venue,” Stephenson said, adding he already has about 35 contracts for private events.
On a normal business day, Stephenson said no more than 800 visitors will be allowed in the hall. Advance tickets will be sold to enter during a specific time period to help regulate the flow.
The opening was planned for the weekend before two kickoff games to the season at the Georgia Dome. On Thursday, Mississippi plays Boise State. On the following Saturday, Alabama plays West Virginia.
Another big date is Oct. 7, when the facility is home to the College Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.