By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
ATLANTA – Ken Jefferson is the Event Services Manager at the Georgia Dome, where he has served since 1989, well prior to the Dome’s opening. He has played a key event management role in the Southeastern Conference Football Championship each year since 1994.
Jefferson sat down with the SEC Digital Network on Friday to give his insight on all that goes into hosting the annual SEC Football Championship, which celebrates its 20th year at the Georgia Dome in 2013.
SEC Digital Network: What is your role and responsibilities with the SEC Championship Game?
Ken Jefferson: “My role has generally tried to be in the background. As the department head for event services, I try to assign a coordinator to manage the event. The way an event works, the coordinator typically handles the event – they’re the main point of contact and all the customer groups go to that one main person. In this one, because of the complexity of the event itself, it’s almost all hands on deck, so I became more involved in not so much a supervisory role as it was in one in trying to assist in areas where the coordinator needed more than just his own hands and eyes. Over time, it has also morphed to where I was between coordinators and I’ve actually coordinated the event myself. I became just the guy that filled in the pieces.”
SEC Digital Network: When do the preparations start for the SEC Championship Game?
Ken Jefferson: “For this year, we started preparing for this particular game officially back in September. We’ll pull out the information that we had from last year – all of the notes and history that we write up on the event of things that went right, things that didn’t go as well as we would have hoped and things that went wrong that we need to change completely – and try to tweak the event in that fashion. We get with the conference office and various groups to figure out what’s the same, what’s changing and what’s new. We start back in about September talking through a number of pieces and then, as we get closer, we’ll start getting more involved with the more customer groups that are related, because it’s not just the conference office that we are dealing with. We’re also going out and contracting our own vendors to provide support as it relates to pipe and drape and signage and things of that nature. We are definitely working with our sister facility, the Georgia World Congress Center, with FanFare and the Dr Pepper party.”
SEC Digital Network: Having been a part of the Georgia Dome staff for the 1994 SEC Football Championship – the first at the Georgia Dome – what do you remember about that first event?
Ken Jefferson: “What I remember about that first one was ‘Wow, this is sure different than an NFL game.’ A college game is a whole lot different than a professional game no matter who is playing because the fans who are coming to a college game are rabid and they are avid fans of that school, regardless of who is playing for their team that particular year. For me, it was just the stark contrast of how the fans approach the game. It’s fun to watch the change.”
SEC Digital Network: How have you seen the SEC Football Championship Game change over the 20 years you have been involved with the event?
Ken Jefferson: “The conference has grown from how they have presented the game itself. It is not your typical Saturday afternoon game any longer. This is on the caliber of a Super Bowl or a National Championship. We’ve had the pleasure of hosting the national champion six of the last seven years. We may or may not be playing for that this year, but we’re still at that caliber for the presentation of the game itself. The things the fans don’t see unless they go on social networks to see is what the conference does for the student-athlete, with their locker, how they approach the city or all the things that take place around the game outside of the game. That has grown in leaps and bounds of the years. For fans that come in, there is that ‘Wow’ factor when they walk in the door. The ‘Wow’ factor is still every year; it’s not stale.”
SEC Digital Network: How much do you think having the SEC Football Championship Game at the Georgia Dome has helped Atlanta become a destination city for college football and sports in general?
Ken Jefferson: “Back in 1992 when we first opened, the only games we had were Atlanta Falcons football, the Peach Bowl and we played some high school football here. We played one other college football game with the Atlanta Football Classic. When the Championship came around, there was no real championship game. The bowl game is great. They do a great job with the Chick Fil-A Bowl. It has always been great to watch and always great crowds. But to have a game where that game determines what team is the conference champion is very much different than coming to a bowl game. That put us into the championship market. We have now had champions with the Braves bringing World Series here, with the Olympics coming here, hosting two Super Bowls, hosting the Final Fours for both men and women and the SEC and ACC Championships for basketball. That is what the conference has brought with that particular game – it was the catalyst for bringing all these other championships.”
SEC Digital Network: How many staff members and contractors do you have that are part of working and preparing for the SEC Championship Game?
Ken Jefferson: “We’ll be the sixth-largest city in the state of Georgia on Saturday with the 73,000-plus fans and the 3,500 staff that will be here.”
SEC Digital Network: Over the 20 years of hosting the SEC Football Championship Game, any particular memories that stand out to you?
Ken Jefferson: “Last year’s championship was a great memory from a fan’s perspective. I always root for the referees, but it was fun to watch the eventual national champion battle it out against the state’s school, and watching that state school almost take it away from them on that last-second play that just didn’t quite make it. That really was a sight to behold. What fans did not see from the behind the scenes and understand was, getting to that point, from the Thursday night Falcons/Saints football game and all of the things that brings with it to the same caliber of presentation for the SEC Championship Game. The level of detail that went into planning and execution to host both of those major, major functions was a big standout.”
SEC Digital Network: Is there anything you’d like fans to know about that maybe they don’t realize about the Georgia Dome?
Ken Jefferson: “It’s the staff of Team Dome. For fans to really pay attention to the staff that they encounter, that really makes their experience. Someone is going to leave here as a winner; someone is not going to leave here a winner. At the end of the day, hopefully everybody leaves here as a winner because they have encountered our staff, and that encounter has made that experience that much better.”