By John Posey
The 38th edition of the Bayou Classic was a shadow of the former glory that had many calling the game “The Granddaddy of Black College Classics.” I have covered 17 Bayou Classics and now have the distinction of covering the largest game (71,000+) and the smallest game (40,000 +). The Bayou Classic has lost 31,000 fans since 2004.
The Super Dome resembled a large tomb, rather than a Football Classic. The announced crowd of 40,000 plus was more like 29,000 in reality. This is a game that is dying and the doctor and his team doesn’t know how to save the patient’s life.
Let me be clear. I understand what it takes to produce an event. I was a director in the Mayor’s Office of Special Events for the City of Chicago. I was the first person to install ATM machines at an outdoor event in 1986 at Taste of Chicago. Disney came to see my work. I negotiated all marketing, sponsorship and television deals for the Office of Special Events. I created the City of Chicago Neighborhood Festival Program. I have been a consultant for the Chicago Park District. I negotiated their agreement with the Chicago Bears. I produced events in conjunction with the Super Bowl and have worked everything from the Tournament of Roses Parade to NBA All-Star Weekend. I have won awards for marketing promotions and helped create an Emmy Award-winning Public Television show when I was in corporate America. I understand and have done every aspect of major special events (and that includes police, fire, paramedics, electrical drops, permits, health inspections, sponsorship, media relations, etc.).
The event management firm (NOCCI) that was hired to manage and produce the event was abysmal and I’m being kind. The media relations, credentialing, parking problems et al were not unexpected as this bunch had no sports or football production experience. I took the time to go check out the management team’s bios. They seemed to be a local, small-time, tourism events firm. The Bayou Classic is broadcast nationally and people come from all over America come to NOLA. The game doesn’t need a provincial set of eyes managing it.
Their marketing plan was out of the 20th century rather than one of the social media-oriented 21st century. The NOCCI team conducted a fan/bus tour in the dead of one of the hottest summers on record. Who came? Doug Williams never even made an appearance. Maybe the NOCCI staff should have asked Doug what it takes to get fans to attend a Black College Classic. They didn’t have a clue. I went to the bus when it made a stop at the Southern-TSU game Chuck Morse was nice, however, handing out New Orleans hotel guides won’t draw a lot of people when you are parked across from Southern tailgaters.
The My Bayou Classic website was static and had virtually no information of value to the media. Monica Pierre, the media coordinator, has yet to return anyone’s call I know. The online credential application was missing crucial information. How can you send copies of news articles when there is no way to attach them to the online form? I sent an email to Santoria Black (GSU) and Chris Johnson (SU) identifying the problem. I got a cryptic email from an anonymous NOCCI staffer instructing me to send the information to firstname.lastname@example.org. This was also the general email address for the fans and anyone else with a question.
I also requested for months to be put on their media email distribution list. I have yet to be added. They seem to think the only legitimate media are the Baton Rouge Advocate, Shreveport Times, and the New Orleans Time-Picayune. Given the dearth of post-game coverage, game management might want to consider trying to build relationships with the Black Press, Black sports journalists, website owners, and Black Bloggers. These people have a following. Media is now niche-driven, not conglomerate driven in 2011.
I have covered more than 2,000 sports events. I have never paid for parking to cover a sports event. Scores of the press were told they had no parking pass and would have to pay $25. What buffoon decides to charge the media to park at an event? I watched the Baton Rouge Advocate photographers being told they had to park in parking lot 4. Do you know how much equipment they had? Do you realize the logistical problems of bringing your car into the garage, unloading equipment, and then driving into a major traffic jam to park your car? I like to say that in a special event, “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”
NOCCI clearly doesn’t understand this principle because they managed to create a number of firestorms by not taking that “idiom of the ghetto” into consideration. Actions have consequences and most of them turned out negative. Meanwhile, the NOCCI staff was allowing regular patrons to park in the area typically reserved for media. This move created a firestorm. Ninety minutes before kick-off game management rescinded the policy and gave media members a document to get a refund. People had to leave the press box and field to get in line at a cashier to get their refund.
This was only the tip of the iceberg in regards to the problems I saw over the last two months. NOCCI didn’t know who was supposed to be the PA Announcer two weeks before the event. I was told that from the person at Grambling that fielded the call from their office. To quote my source, “Aren’t they supposed to know that since they are getting paid?” I witnessed the battle between ESPN and NBC over the location of trailers at the back of the stadium. This isn’t the first Bayou Classic that was followed by a Monday Night game. I fault the event planners for not having the savvy to deal with the ESPN production company.
I watched Louisiana broadcasting legend, Henry Baptiste, having only one credential for his Southern Radio Broadcasting crew. Your company also assigned them to Booth 6. They were supposed to be in Booth 4 which delayed them being able to set up their equipment. Grambling’s radio team had an incorrect credential count. The production company producing the show, “The Battle” on ESPN had only 1/3 of the credentials they needed. He brought 18 people from Atlanta. Someone on your end arbitrarily decided he only needs six. How as he to know NOCCI shorted him? He was in New Orleans when they sent out the confirmation three weeks later than it should have been done. I was in New Orleans shooting the still and video for a college conference volleyball tournament when I received my email confirmation.
There were obvious racial tensions underneath the surface throughout the weekend. The NOCCI staff got paranoid after dealing with angry black media and over-reacted on Friday by asking for a security guard to be stationed at credential pick-up. At no time was there a need for him. Not that he could have stopped someone if he wanted to. I watched him spend two sitting on his butt eating nonstop.
More importantly, people who don’t do Black College football were making arbitrary decisions on parking passes, credentials, etc. Kevin Robinson and Gerard Howard shoot still photos and video respectfully. They were given press box passes. Gerard runs a successful black college marching band site. He’s legit. It took him two days to get a field pass.
There were a number of legitimate people who cover HBCU football who were denied credentials to the 2011 Bayou Classic. J.B. Carter and Mike Jones have shot HBCU games throughout the last decade. Why can’t they get credentials? They have donated work to both schools. Meanwhile back at the ranch, Jeffrey Ory, a NOCCI staffer approved a friend of his to shoot the game. My problem with the matter is his friend works for Clear Channel which is a radio conglomerate. He was not legitimate media. He doesn’t cover these schools. More importantly, he was trying to shoot a game with an amateur DSLR with a 50mm camera. He had no business on the field. What a joke!
Bickerstaff Entertainment looks better every day post-2011 Bayou Classic. The Atlanta Football Classic, Florida Classic, Magic City Classic and Southern Heritage Classic make the Bayou Classic look like an amateur production. Three of these games drew more than 60,000 people this year. These Classics have hired competent, experienced African-American people to manage and produce their games. NOCCI produces special events like parties and inaugurations. Major football games are a different animal.
Southern and Grambling decision-makers could have randomly picked ten firms out of the Yellow Pages, placed them on a wall, blindfolded themselves, and thrown a dart and would have chosen a better firm than NOCCI. They are that bad.
Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005. The problems with the Bayou Classic are much larger than blaming it on a hurricane or the economy.
NBC and State Farm have far too much control and share in the blame. No event I have ever done allows the sponsor to have final control over media credentials. Southern and Grambling operate from a position of weakness which is insane as the game is their intellectual property.
The Southern and Grambling Boards, the planning committee, and administrators have mismanaged this game in a manner that should be considered borderline criminal. The Boards of Southern and Grambling should all resign for committing management malpractice for hiring an Anglo-American, politically connected firm to produce an African-American Football Classic. Rome is burning and Grambling and Southern administrators only seem concerned about getting invitations to VIP events and parties.
The Bayou Classic is on life support. The City of New Orleans doesn’t give a damn about this event. Many downtown businesses close-up and re-open the Monday after the game. I’ll bet they are open for the Sugar Bowl. The room rates were at an all-time high. Once again, when you hire a firm whose loyalty is to the New Orleans Tourism and Convention industry, their allegiance was to the hotels, not Southern and Grambling. Many fans are being priced out of attending the weekend due to the ridiculous room rates. I was spending more than $400 a night for my two rooms.
New Orleans was a barricaded, armed camp this weekend. Who wants to spend their hard-earned dollars to be a prisoner in a police state? The public has spoken and the reverberations are shaking the foundations of the once-proud Bayou Classic. It wouldn’t surprise me to see NBC shift the game to its new cable sports network in 2012. This event is dying and could well wind up being played in Shreveport at the Independence Bowl.
John Posey, CEO, of Urban Sports News, has developed 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 throughout the country. Mr. Posey is a graduate of Dartmouth and has won numerous awards.