I have written, photographed and shot video at more than 1,900 sports events over the last eighteen years. I have worked the U.S Open, Olympic Trials in six sports, the Stanley Cup Playoffs, The Penn Relays, College Bowl games, World Cup Soccer and numerous other major sports events under the credential of Urban Sports News. My work has appeared in twenty-six countries and in more publications, newspapers, magazines, media guides, game day programs and websites than I can count. This is a business and I treat it as such. I have become increasingly exasperated at the lack of professionalism I experience while covering Black College Football Games.
I have curbed my urge many times over the years to call out black college football event producers, however, the litany of issues I dealt with at this year’s State Fair Classic compelled me to put some light on the biggest problem contributing to the decline in attendance at black college football games; incompetent and uncaring management of these events by people who treat the fans and the media like second-class citizens. Event producers think they only have to please school administrators and corporate sponsors. It’s time to stop the madness. The fans and media are what make a Classic a success, not fake big shots.
My Urban Sports News colleague, Henry Bailey, put it best when I discussed the 2011 State Fair Classic issues. He said, “These games are run by people with small minds trying to do big things.” I couldn’t put it any better so here goes the problems and my recommendations on fixing the event:
State Fair Classic Press Conference: This is the worst press conference I go to every year. I have attended 17 of these events and have yet to receive a press kit or press release about the event. If this is for the press, why am I only getting promo cards for all of the promoters’ “official” pay events? Mr. Wash needs to find an African-American to MC the press conference. I am personally offended to see an Anglo-American senior citizen butchering people’s names every year. Dallas has tons of African-American on air personalities and Al Wash chooses not to use any of them. We only need to hear one politician at the press conference. This year, elected officials were rambling and making mistakes left and right while TV cameras were rolling. Also, there needs to be a formal Question and Answer session of five to ten minutes for both coaches. All coaches should be required to wear a suit to the press conference. Doug Williams wore a casual shirt that needed to be pressed. Finally, they could change the menu for the press conference. I had a shirt with Urban Sports News on and two DSLR cameras. A Wash employee had the temerity to ask me was I a City of Dallas Employee and if I was I wasn’t supposed to get any food. I eat at restaurants like Perry’s Steakhouse, Mint and Three Forks. I don’t need Al Wash’s people hassling when I’m in line about getting a stank hamburger like I’m a free loader.
Media Credential Distribution: This needs to be taken out of the hands of the promoter period. Hire a CPA who reports to the AD’s or sports information directors. There needs to be an audit of all the printed credentials when they are printed and distribution should go through the CPA. The game belongs to Grambling and Prairie View and not the promoter. This year the credentials were shipped to Grambling despite Rod Mosely’s passing away. Someone at Grambling got their hands on them and distributed them to their friends. Ryan McGinty, who was supposed to distribute credentials, didn’t get his hands on any until Friday night. He had no field credentials and all access credentials until Saturday. Legitimate media were left scrambling for credentials until a few hours before the game. I personally watched Ryan spend hours calling Al Wash and his staff Friday. Wash wasn’t returning any calls which is par for the course with him. There are far too many credentials distributed (more on that later). My assessment of the press credential process is it is run by a “Confederacy of Dunces.”
The Number of Field Passes Needs to be Reduced: The number of field passes distributed for this game is absolutely ridiculous. Like most old stadiums, the Cotton Bowl has very tight sidelines. Quite frankly, there should be no more than 45-50 sideline passes for each team. There are literally hundreds of people taking up valuable space. This is a liability time bomb waiting to explode. Most of these people have no experience on a football sideline—which, by the way, is the most dangerous sideline in sports except rodeo. They don’t know when to get out of the way. I have seen people get knocked down at three games this year. Not one of these people were media personnel, but people who got their hands on a sideline pass.
Sideline Management: This is an absolute disgrace from a production management point of view.. The wall surrounding the field is only three feet high. Every year, people just climb over it and get in the end zone and on the sideline. This adds scores of people to an already crowded sideline. People just walk down the stairs onto the field. There was no one at these entrances, so there more people added to this brew. There should be a constant sweep of both sidelines and end zones for field credentials. Those violating the field should be escorted, not only from stadium, but off of the State Fair of Texas grounds by police.
Media Parking: I realize that 95% of the people who receive press passes aren’t press, but there are some legitimate, working media who attend the game. I bring a Pelican case (which weighs 65 pounds loaded) which contains four still camera bodies, seven lenses, 2 flashes, batteries etc. I also have a carrying case with my monopods, mini-tripod and 300 2.8 lens (9 pounds). Finally, I have a video rolling case with a professional high def video camera (10 pounds). Several years ago, the media parking was moved from inside the State Fair Grounds to pay parking at Gate 10 on the Fitzhugh side of the Cotton Bowl. It is approximately ½ mile from the parking to the field entrance. I am lugging nearly eighty-five pounds ½ mile to a game where the promoter treats the media like dirt. This makes absolutely no sense. If we are going to have to park that far away, Al Wash could negotiate for a designated media shuttle. By the way, the media for Texas-OU don’t park in the hinterlands so why should we?
Eliminate Bootleg Photographers and Videographers: This has become one of the worst problems not only at the State Fair Classic but all HBCU games. Not only do these people add to a crowded sideline, but they violate all kinds of operating procedures at an NCAA game. I fault both schools and the promoter. “Just Say No.” A photographer can’t competently shoot a college football game with a lens shorter than a 70-200mm. Still camera autofocus systems fail at distances of more than 30 feet with short lenses at dusk or later. All you get is blurry shots. Never have I seen so many people taking so many bad pictures at a college sporting event. Game management must also eliminate all people from the field with camera phones and digital point and shoot cameras. They take up valuable space and all they’re doing is posting bad pictures on Facebook. They are not media. There is also the safety variable. Most don’t have any experience on a football sideline and represent an accident waiting to happen. Now on to the bootleg videographers’ problem. Neither the NCAA nor the NFL allow video tripods to be setup on the sidelines or end zones for obvious safety reasons. Explain to me why the event management doesn’t know this rule or enforce it. There are bootleg videographers setting up in front of the bands trying to video content and post it for sale on their sites. Isn’t the band’s work intellectual property they own? They are being exploited. ESPN had more than 15 people shooting for the series, “The Battle” and used not one tripod on the sideline. There is another category of bootleg videographer who needs to be eliminated. There are people with Canon Rebel T3’s and an external microphone littering both sidelines trying to shoot the game. What’s wrong with this? Once again, they are using lenses that are too short to capture the action. Also, the lenses are too slow to capture action. These cameras don’t have the specifications to capture action. More importantly, they aren’t shooting for a legitimate news outlet. So whom are they shooting for and where does their video go?
Wireless Connection in the Press Box: I realize that 95% of the people who receive press passes aren’t press, but there are some legitimate, working media who attend the game. I can’t transmit images or game coverage from the Cotton Bowl press box because the Cotton Bowl doesn’t provide it and the promoter is too cheap to spend $500-$1,000 to have AT&T install it. I bet there is wireless in the press box this week when Texas and Oklahoma play. You know why? The State Fair of Texas organizers are afraid of losing the game to Cowboy Stadium. They think PV and GSU don’t have any other options, so they treat them like second-class citizens. Every year, I have to go home to transmit game content which means I’ve lost two hours of time in distributing content. This is just one more example of what the State Fair Classic needs to change to enter the 21st century.
Live Television Coverage: Grambling and Prairie View should own first tier television rights to this game as Southern and Grambling do for the Bayou Classic. This is a lost revenue opportunity. This should not be negotiated by the promoter, but someone hired by the schools who has background in this area. I don’t know the politics necessary for making this happen, but people across the country want to see this game.
State Fair Website & Social Media: I challenge readers to do a search of all the major HBCU football classics. All have dedicated websites for the game; not the State Fair Classic. Once again, you have a concert promoter using a 30-year old concert marketing business model to promote a 21st century football game. I get scores of hits each week from sports organizations to go to their twitter and Facebook pages. They use both for everything from sweepstakes to ticket giveaways. Not the stodgy State Fair Classic.
Halftime is Show Time: I borrowed that phrase from the movie Drum Line. People go to the game to see the bands period. This year someone had the bright idea to change the programming. I’m lined up to shoot Grambling’s band and there are GSU and PV cheerleaders on the field and at least 100 people with K104 T-Shirts flanking them on both sides. The next thing I know they are all doing the “Wobble” dance. This went on for nearly seven of the twenty minutes allocated for halftime. It wasn’t good or entertaining and the crowd wasn’t happy. Halftime ran long thanks to that nonsense. Oh by the way, no one could see GSU perform because Ronald McDonald and his entourage were blocking people’s sight lines. Now, why was Ronald McDonald there? He wasn’t part of the show. All I know it is one more example of how Al Wash and his people have lost sight of who the primary audience is for the game—it’s the fans. I negotiated many large corporate sponsorship deals when I worked in the Mayor’s Office of Special Events in Chicago. Sponsors don’t need to be on the field unless they are doing a presentation. They already have access in the VIP Suites, there’s not enough room down there for them to be blocking the view.
Feed the Media Pregame Every Year: I start with this comment by saying that it is not guaranteed that the press will get fed every year. Some years there has been nothing. Other’s years there have been off-brand hot dogs swimming in a murky solution accompanied by stale hot dog buns that have sat in open air for hours. One year, they accidently put the Suite food on the press level. Then the media really got mad when they saw the difference in the meals. The bottom line is people who are working on the field need to be fed 90 minutes before the game. All major sports events do it that way.
Pay the Bands: Each band performs throughout Dallas County during their stay. PV’s band performed at Lancaster High, Townview, the high school battle of the bands, and a church service. An ESPN crew was filming Grambling for the series “The Battle”. Any way you look at it, both bands gives the game and the schools immensely positive publicity. Each band should receive $20,000 that goes into their account (not the general operating fund account.) I get tired of HBCU Bands not being paid to perform. It takes thousands of dollars to clean uniforms, buy equipment and provide scholarships. Give the drummer some.
Transparency: This is an event held on public property which is paid for by taxpayers. As a journalist, I have always wondered the following: 1) How much is the promoter making? 2) How much is each school receiving? 3) What is the State Fair of Texas’ take from the game? What is the % split from ticket sales? What is the breakdown of revenue from corporate sponsorships? What is the gross revenue for the event? What are the expenses for the event? If Southwest is a corporate sponsor, why did both coaches drive to the press conference? I know the promoter is receiving tickets as part of his deal. Where are they going and to whom?
John Posey is CEO of Urban Sports News, a full-service sports media company. His work has appeared in 26 countries, numerous publications, media guides, television stations, and electronic media. Urban Sports News provides a wide range of services for a number of corporate and college clients.