For nearly two decades, travelers arriving at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport have been greeted by the familiar faces of children and families smiling and playing inside the city’s Centennial Olympic Park.  The 70-foot-wide mural was erected to commemorate the Centennial Olympic Games which Atlanta hosted in 1996.  Untouched by time, the “Spirit of Atlanta” mural stands atop the escalators at the arrival gate.  Since its creation, it’s estimated millions of travelers have walked through its arch on their way to baggage claim.

Fast forward and Atlanta is playing host again -- this time welcoming fans for the 2013 NCAA Men’s Final Four.  As a part of the host city activation, The Coca-Cola Company is painting the town red for the basketball tournament, starting with the airport.  Beginning March 12th -- for the first time in 17 years -- a new, temporary image covers the well-known 1996 Olympics tribute artwork. In its place, this marquee is now displayed at the arrivals gate to serve as the welcome to visitors from around the world.

Part of the greater host city committee, Coke’s sports marketing team came up with the idea to welcome guests as soon as they arrived in Atlanta.  "Since this is our hometown and the world headquarters of Coca-Cola, what better way to do that then to give travelers and fans a proper, southern welcome at the airport as they begin their Final Four experience?” said Kasia Horner, who leads the NCAA Final Four host city marketing efforts on behalf of Coca-Cola.  “It’s just one component, but certainly the most impactful, of our host city marketing plan."

Pulling off that idea was a group effort.  Sharing in the excitement to welcome the event to the city and surprise travelers with a fresh tribute to one of America’s greatest sporting events, Coke collaborated with Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Clear Channel Airports, the Airport Authority, and the City of Atlanta to make the project a reality.

With the approvals secured, it was time to bring in the creatives to design that tribute.  The sports marketing team and Fitzgerald+CO had a few weeks to create and produce the artwork before installation.  “Combine that with knowing that a majority of our clients at Coca-Cola and our friends and family in Atlanta would see it and I’d say we had a lot of pressure to make this great.” Fitzgerald+CO Account Director Joy Rowland, said of the project.  “Our challenge was to balance the message of Coca-Cola welcoming visitors to Atlanta with the excitement of being host city to the Final Four.  One of the more unique ways we tried to accomplish this was not thinking of this as just a flat mural, but making this a dimensional piece that evokes the feeling of joy you get from a Final Four victory, enjoying a Coke, and reaching your destination.” 

If the image looks familiar to Coca-Cola collectors—it should!  The artwork used on our Atlanta Final Four commemorative 8oz bottle carrier inspired the final design and the Atlanta skyline in the mural is the same one found on many of this year's Coca-Cola packaging.  That skyline, including the Georgia Dome and Coca-Cola’s North America and World Headquarters, makes for a red silhouette against a white sky and is overlaid with the image of a basketball player soaring through air to score a slam-dunk. 

All said and done, it took a team of 25 people to come up with design ideas, create the art, manage the production process, print and install the mural which stands 69 feet wide by 20 feet high.  Coke National Print Project Manager Julie Corsini says the hurdles in this project were less about the size and more about the complexity of the space, “It was one thing to develop artwork for a flat surface, however when wrapped around a three-sided environment with various-sized doorways, it became a bit more challenging.”  The banner is so large it had to be divided into 3 pieces and, because of the weight of the center piece, four men had to carry it into the airport. The team was not able to permanently apply the banner to the wall, so a system of velcro, staples and screws were used to hang it.

To see the airport transformation, check out our time lapsed footage.  This bird’s eye view gives you a sense of what’s involved in raising a billboard of this size inside the world’s busiest airport.

So is the billboard a slam dunk?  Let us know what you think in our comments section below.