Is It Time For Bayou Classic Attendance Numbers to Stop Being a Thing?
Courtesy- Dinah L. Rogers Photography

Southern University ended a three-game slide against archrival Grambling State University in last week’s Bayou Classic with a 38-28 win over the Tigers. The announced attendance crowd for the annual in-state clash: more than 67,800 fans in town for game and events that some feared would lose traffic because of a home game between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons.

In the years defined as the post-Hurricane Katrina era, the Bayou Classic has been defined more by how many people paid for tickets and watched the game in the Mercedes Benz Superdome as it has been by its actual outcome and impact on the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s championship picture. Media outlets in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Grambling have always intentionally marketed and talked about the need for Jaguar and Tiger fans to come out to the support the game as a sign of interest for broadcast partners, sponsors, and businesses in New Orleans to continue to believe in the Bayou Classic as a lucrative sports and entertainment brand.

It is probably time we stop putting that unfair burden on school leaders, the city, and fans to prove that the most visible HBCU football brand in the nation should be primarily measured by an over/under mark of 65,000 fans in seats. Grambling and Southern do a lot to drive their respective local economies and New Orleans’ financial goals through athletics, whether 65,000 people elect to spend Thanksgiving weekend in New Orleans or not.

In a tourism-driven city and a state cash-strapped by every definition of finance, the Bayou Classic remains an anticipated, money-making venture for everyone with a stake in the game being played; especially in years when both SU and GSU are competitive for a spot in the SWAC championship game.

If only 45,000 fans attended the game, that is still a larger gathering than most industrial conferences the city hosts, most one-day events the city produces, and is a nationally televised product giving national airtime to New Orleans and Bayou Classic partners. Grambling and Southern are still football royalty in Louisiana and Southeastern United States, which is more than can be said for Louisiana State University; with which its bigger brand and fan base also comes with national coverage on its controversies, letdowns, and annual and inevitable losses to its SEC big brother, the University of Alabama.

No one considers Iron Bowl attendance statistics between Alabama and Auburn, even in those years when Auburn is not a worthy adversary. No one thinks about attendance figures for Stanford-UCLA when neither program is good enough for BCS playoff consideration. And no one would ever think to ask; the fact that the rivalries exist and make money is bigger than how much money they make or how many people contribute to the windfall every year.

We are allowing BCS culture and jealousy from non-black and non-HBCU media and business entities to apply unreasonable pressure to our sports products, which in turn dictates how much we can leverage in corporate sponsorship and fan attitudes towards the game. Think about what the real ask is from the HBCU community to make this game lucrative in the eyes of people outside of our universe: we are asking for affluent families from New Orleans, Dallas, Houston, Nashville and Atlanta to carry the weight of driving up Bayou Classic attendance numbers, and for Louisianans and fly-ins to fill in every other seat that rich black folks can’t buy up.

We’re asking them to secure hotel room nights, eat, enjoy the nightlife, and buy items all in the days leading up to Thanksgiving and just weeks away from Christmas. And then we’re asking them to consider doing it all over again in Atlanta when the Bayou Classic winner is likely to appear in the ESPN-created and produced Celebration Bowl.

For several years now, black folks have delivered on the expectation that the Bayou Classic should draw more than 65,000 fans. But the truth is that black people and black money aren’t moving like that in lean economic times in one of the financially leanest parts of the United States – and we shouldn’t allow this unreasonable measurement of fan loyalty and market value to define one of our strongest sports products anymore.

For New Orleans, the State of Louisiana and college football at large, the Bayou Classic is a success because it continues to be played on one of the biggest stages in the sports world; not because 65,000 people can afford to be there. If only 45-50,000 fans can make the game, it is still a financial success. We should stop allowing everyone else who isn’t a part of our game and those who don’t take the time to grasp its economic and social value to tell us how the Bayou Classic triumphs or fails beyond its final score.

  1. No matter how many people pay or show up for the game, it is the largest HBCU rivalry game and the grandaddy of all HBCU Football Classics. The City of New Orleans will always host it and the economic impact on the NO Metro areas is enough even if only 5k people show up. I agree quit bitching about the attendance and focus on the schools exposure and revenue generated for the only two public HBCUs in the state of LA.

    1. New Orleans should take pride in this game continuing to be a centerpiece of the city’s annual tourism numbers. Everybody wins even if numbers were to fluctuate, which for the past several years, haven’t moved in the negative.

    1. Thanks so much for that – the line from the earlier version we posted has been corrected with the right language. Appreciate the fact check!

  2. The attendance count is for bragging rights. We want to know how many fans came to a HBCU FCS football game. I dont know any one person or group who going to Bayou Classic just to get the attendance numbers up. This is family, friends, co workers, associates, this is tradition! If only 50k are in the seats 150k visitors in the city spending money, and another 1M+ viewers watching on nation TV from home, it’s a win win for everyone.

    1. Totally agree. My point was that we shouldn’t allow advertisers and sponsors, or even potential ones, to sell us short on the magic number of 65,000 fans. This is a big game even with 45-50,000 people there for all of the reasons you listed. Thanks for reading!

  3. “Digest” your insight and analysis of the financial, social and cultural impact of our traditional neutral site rivalry football games are reasoned and on target.
    Your conclusions that Classics such as the Bayou, Florida, Majic City or Fountain City are huge revenue generators for their host cities are perfect. You also correctly advanced the fact these Classics have earned and therefore deserve recognition, respect and embrace from their host cities as the tours de’ force they are.
    Moreover and Expertly! Your analytics demonstrates that these Classics, in their truest sense, are drivers of much larger non-game centered economic impacts for their hosts communities.
    Not stated in your analysis, but, certainly inferred (at least to me), should there be shared collateral benefits?
    Thanks to adding light to “MY” understanding of our “True Value”…STRIKE🐍🐍🐍

    Charles Wright,

  4. Largest HBCU rivalry game? Granddaddy of all HBCU Classics?

    The Magic City Classic traditionally has more attendees while also being played outdoors.

    There are also more than a dozen Classics that are still running that started before 1974 so it’s more of a nephew than a granddaddy.

  5. For the first time in my life ,I got to attend a SpelHouse homecoming and may I sat that I didn’t want to leave the event. It’s was beyond my wildest expectations. Initially, I thought that the possible rain ( thank God that it held back ) and cold was going to keep the attendees afar. SpelHouse homecoming was lit. I’m just imagine what SU vs GSU would have been like.

    Far as attendance? Sure, numbers does shoe how many people was at the game but it doesn’t mean that SU or GSU wasn’t supportive of the game. As mentioned on the blog story,maybe some of the people couldn’t afford the tickets,had something major to do or almost like me..the weather. Thankfully, the rain didn’t come as most of the day was cloudy ,with a few glimpses of the sun and a cool.

    I agree whether or not it’s about 50,000 plus people being at the game ,it is still a success. Not only that but the support for the games and their alma matters / schools and people having fun at the homecoming. If schools media are more concerned about attendance rates ,then they have forgotten the idea of what homecoming games are about.

  6. HBCU Sports published this article back in 2015.

    It needs to be understood that attendance for this event is critical for all parties involved. It is the primary metric used to attract sponsors. This year Proctor and Gamble was a sponsor for the Greek Show/Battle of the Bands Friday night.

    It isn’t fair to compare the Bayou Classic to games such as the Iron Bowl or the UCLA/Stanford games, because those schools, and the conferences they are affiliated with, are paid by the TV networks. That is not the case for the Bayou Classic. Grambling and Southern — in conjunction with the promoter (NOCCI) — buys the TV time from NBC and then sells ad space during the broadcast to make a profit. Think of it as a 4-hour infomercial with the products on sale being Grambling and Southern.

    For potential sponsors, the people in attendance at the game –along with the potential viewers on national TV — is necessary data that not only determines if an entity will become a sponsor but determine how much to pay to become one. In other words, the more eyeballs watching the product, the more valuable the product is.

  7. Great points, Kenn. My thinking, as shaped by the coverage of the game and the emphasis put on attendance, is that we’ve been boxed in to hearing that the Bayou Classic didn’t draw well if its under 60-65,000 attendees. A lot of things can change attendance at a game; the Iron Bowl has drawn 100,000 people before and no one considers it a failure if it only draws 92,000 the next year. It’s absolutely true that the more eyeballs the better, but 55,000 eyeballs at a game on Thanksgiving weekend is nothing to sneeze at. And we shouldn’t let media shape our thinking, or the perception among advertisers about this reality.

  8. We can say attendance don’t matter but it does Bayou and Florida Classics should always get 50,000 or more just to show support of the state’s HBCU’S and keep income following in from sponsors and support from the Cities New Orleans and Orlando. As for cutting down on expenses of fans the SWAC Conference should end their Championship Game and send there Champs to Celebration Bowl saving travel cost for teams and fans

  9. Bro, you are focusing on all the wrong issues the game pulled those numbers last year and pulled 68,000 people this year. If you desire to tell the story learn about it and its cause and effects. For example the Bayou Classic suffered greatly as a result of displacement from Hurricane Katrina. The further this game has moved from that terrible event, the better the game attendance increased. Lastly when you had 200k or 300k coming to NOLA and watch the game on TV was no incentive to go into the stadium. All that has changed. Again, we are talking about an sporting event that has been going on for over 40 years which means there will be ups and downs. Just a few points to share!

  10. Hi,

    The classic 2019 attendance was 68,000 plus. That’s more than the 55,000 that was attendance at the 2020 sugar bowl. I’m saying that no matter what the attendance is there will always be negative reasons why networks and sponsors will not be apart of this event. I’m positive that the City of New Orleans understands value that’s why they became a sponsors when state farm walked away. The local businesses are very appreciative of this weekend. Statefarm continue to sponsor the Dallas Classic (Grambling vs PV) which is never near the 60,000 attendance and never on TV. (Why did they stay on there?)Dont get me wrong I’m thankful for all the years StateFarm did sponsor the event. NBC has also remove the game from the main network channel. It’s hard to get higher ratings of there are no commerical leading up to the game.Its a reason for this type of corporate action. If we provide them with a consistent product and the right individual represent the classic in meetings with sponsors; all the sponsors will return.

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