The Southwestern Athletic Conference will return its football and basketball championships to Birmingham, AL, beginning this fall with the 2018 SWAC Football Championship.
The league announced the move this morning and joined the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association in confirming or signaling a potential move away from a major metropolitan host city for its signature sports products.
Unlike the CIAA, the SWAC was never beholden to Houston, its championships host city dating back to 2012, by economic impact reports and tourism amenities. It’s also a sweet return for the SWAC Championship Game, which officials announced last summer would be discontinued after 2017 due to the competition for attendance between the Bayou Classic and Celebration Bowl in less than a month, and which all featured one common team — Grambling State University.
That competition for fans is still genuine but is now a far lighter burden for traveling fan bases. In Birmingham, fans can enjoy a city without as many amenities as Houston, but enough to make for an enjoyable time with a lower price point. The SWAC can revel in its championships remaining proximate to the programs most likely to be competing for titles, and that sponsoring companies will likely get eyeballs on marketing and messaging.
But most importantly, the SWAC has affirmed the idea that along with the CIAA, HBCU culture’s two biggest brands are willing to control their financial destinies outside of what big cities have to offer. They can secure more corporate partnerships, more public investment and work harder to engage fans without the pressure of high-cost arenas and challenging negotiations with hotels and event venues.
Maybe the SWAC loses some fans because Birmingham is not as sexy of a destination as Houston, and perhaps officials have to hope for the right teams to compete for championships to ensure maximum fan turnout. But the long-term prospects far outpace the short-term headaches the conference may face. And the same goes for the CIAA should it relocate to a smaller city with more significant opportunities to boost the conference’s coffers.
In the case of the SWAC, the conference’s one-year commitment to Birmingham is a win for city mayor Randall Woodfin, a Morehouse College graduate who has instantly landed increased economic impact and support for a collection of Division I schools and their student-athletes.
Combined with today’s announcement of corporate expansion in the city growing to the tune of more than 800 new jobs paying an average salary of $48,000, Mayor Woodfin is hitting the right notes when it comes to Birmingham doing big business.
Common sense can be a beautiful thing when it comes to building the HBCU enterprise. Here’s hoping that the fans bring the other element necessary to make this a total victory for the SWAC — solidarity in attending and spending in support of the SWAC championship products.