In 2005, Bristol Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith made a public offer of $20 million apiece to the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech to schedule a non-conference college football game between the two teams inside the speedway’s racetrack.
Though the Hokies were quick to welcome such a proposal, the Volunteers were more reluctant.
Eight years later, on October 14, 2013, after years of negotiating, Virginia Tech, UT and Bristol Motor Speedway announced plans for the game to be held on Saturday, September 10, 2016.
Organizers envisioned attendance for the non-conference game, dubbed the “Battle at Bristol”, to be college football’s most highly attended ballgame, having the capacity to draw 150,000 spectators, surpassing the existing NCAA record by nearly 35,000.
The event is being billed as one of the most ambitious feats in college football and has already presented incredible engineer challenges for the half-mile track… But what if the Battle at Bristol isn’t even about Virginia Tech and Tennessee? What if the highest attended college game in history is merely a trial run for something even more ambitious… Like a Super Bowl?
The notion of Bristol, Tennessee / Virginia, competing against cities such as Atlanta and New Orleans for an NFL Super Bowl may have been considered crazy talk not too long ago, but with NASCAR crowds disappearing faster than a toupee in a hurricane (That’s not a Donald Trump joke… we promise!), the city is being forced to get creative in order to bring back the crowds it saw in the days of Earnhardt, Wallace and Allison.
Undoubtedly, a lot of improvements would have to be made in order for the track and the community to be ready for a Super Bowl game, but the +500,000 resident metro area has the capacity to host events of this caliber – they’ve been doing it twice a year since the “World’s Fastest Half Mile” was opened in 1961.
Not only does the area have the capacity to support such a massive undertaking, but they also have one thing that so many other places don’t – someone like Bruton Smith who is willing to think outside of the box and turn a NASCAR short track into a ballfield for an SEC vs. ACC showdown.
And before someone says, “Oh, well that’s college, the NFL would never play at Bristol Motor Speedway,” I would say this – go and checkout the venue for the 1961 meeting between the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. Guess where this game was held? You got it, the newly created Bristol Motor Speedway.
The locations of Super Bowl games are chosen by the NFL well in advance, usually three to five years before the game. Cities place bids to host a Super Bowl and are evaluated in terms of stadium renovation and their ability to host.
In 2014, a document listing the specific requirements of Super Bowl hosts was leaked, giving a clear list of what was required by the NFL for a Super Bowl host and interestingly, Bristol Motor Speedway already meets the vast majority of these requirements:
- Stadium must have a minimum of 70,000 seats… BMS has 150,000.
- Stadium must have the media and electrical amenities necessary to produce the Super Bowl… which they do.
- There must be a minimum of 35,000 parking spaces within one mile of the stadium.
Two things that may hurt a Bristol bid, however, are the requirements of the game being played in a media market that has an NFL team and stadiums where the average game day temperature is below 50° Fahrenheit must either have a roof, or a waiver given by the league.
Though a Bristol, Tennessee, Super Bowl bid would be a difficult challenge, it would not be an impossible challenge, as waivers may be issued concerning all of the requirements. Also, the +150,000 capacity stadium would have the ability to break the NFL’s most attended Super Bowl game’s record by more than 46,000 people. Imagine how huge it would be for the league to provide that many additional opportunities to create lifelong fans and put butts in the stands!
In 2007, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suggested that a Super Bowl might one day be played in London – a clear sign that the league is willing to think outside of the box when it comes to hosting a Super Bowl game… and what is more outside of the box than inside a 150,000 capacity NASCAR racetrack?
Granted, at this point, this is a fairly crazy idea, but a decade ago seeing Virginia Tech and Tennessee play football inside Bristol Motor Speedway was just as crazy of an idea!
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