Florida Citrus Sports leaders excited about stadium’s rebirth

An artist's rendering of the exterior of the reconstructed Citrus Bowl.

Outside the spotlight of the National Football League as play kicked off Sunday for Miami, Jacksonville and Tampa, the big city ambitions of Orlando are producing impressive results across a broad spectrum of culture and sport.

Three years after the city teamed with the Orlando Magic to christen what many consider to be the finest arena in the world in the $480 million Amway Center, a majestic $386 million performing arts center is soon to debut mere blocks away. And a new $115 million Major League Soccer stadium is due to open in 18 months in the heart of the City Beautiful.

If all this wasn’t fiscally impressive, now college football is also feeling the impact of Orlando’s additional $207 million rebirth of Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium. It’s massive resurrection is a product of dynamic leadership from Florida Citrus Sports executive officer Steve Hogan and staff, teaming with visionary governmental officials such as populist Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County mayor Teresa Jacobs. The city, whose profile had regressed given football facility issues in recent years, is being transformed toward a heightened role — both near and long term — in major college circles.

Though currently outside the new College Football Playoff, the association offers not one but two bowl games and holds preferential selection status with the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and SEC, insuring nationally ranked powers — as well as tens of thousands of fans and millions of network television viewers — for its Dec. 29 and New Year’s Day showcases.

Entering the third week of the 2014 season, the coaches poll ranks eight of its top 10 teams from those four conferences as well as 11 of its top 15 and 15 of America’s top 20.

Here was Hogan’s assessment of the situation following the first weekend of September:

Paul Kennedy: You like where you stand?

Steve Hogan: No doubt. We are bullish about the agreements we have in place and our new first class stadium. This is going to be great for us. We are in business with four of the Power Five conferences in this "new era" of the College Football Playoff. That accounts for six bowl games in the three-year rotation, with the Sugar and Rose hosting the four-team playoff and Arlington, Texas — the Cotton Bowl site — hosting the title game this season. Add the Orange, Peach and Fiesta bowls on Dec. 31 and that’s 12 teams.

Kennedy: Strategically, how are you positioned?

Hogan: We aim to annually stage two of the top 10 bowl games in America and we now have a quality stadium in the top tourism destination in the world. Since staging the World Cup and Olympic Soccer in the ’90s our community has always wanted to host the championship game. A new stadium, tremendous experience in the postseason, and all the new assets being constructed has created a lot of excitement around the possibility of a championship game in our community.

Kennedy: Watching what transpired last Saturday — FSU extending its winning streak to 18 in a row, the Southeastern Conference extending a strong start, the Irish big winners, yet the Big Ten being stunned — how does this impact you?

Hogan: This season will offer a very deep pool of schools which is good for Orlando and for our national television partners. We enjoy the very first selection with the SEC, Big Ten, and ACC after the Playoff system and the second choice from the Big 12. Throw Notre Dame into the ACC mix and, although it’s very early, it’s hard not to be excited about our postseason possibilities.

Kennedy: You match the Big 12 against the ACC in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 29 and the SEC against the Big Ten or ACC on New Year’s Day.

Hogan: We have always focused on creating opportunities to match highly successful, ranked teams here in our two games and these selections should give us a great chance to do that. Florida weather, hotel rooms, theme parks and attractions, and downtown proximity to a state of the art stadium — we feel like we are back in the big leagues.

Kennedy: Ideally, when selecting, where would your "target teams" be ranked?

Hogan: In a perfect world, between 10 to 18. You would love to have some 9 and 10 win teams standing there. Based on contractual relationships in the six College Football Playoff games and guaranteed access for a team from a "non-power conference," we feel really good about the chance to stage two of the top rated bowl games in the nation annually.

Kennedy: So, there is tremendous potential for you in competition with Miami, Jacksonville, and Tampa — all with facilities. And Tampa is hosting the 2016-17 Championship?

Hogan: When you look at all our community has to offer in terms of national championship assets like one of the world’s top airports, over 120,000 hotel rooms, unbelievable attractions, weather, proximity to a new stadium, etc. Yes! When it’s time, I believe our community will offer a first rate bid for the Championship.