Why is Everyone But HBCUs Making Money Off Of HBCU Marching Bands?

The collective culture of HBCU marching bands may be the single greatest free media machine the nation has ever seen. These bands have landed students and the names of their schools in front of some of the world’s biggest viewing audiences: presidential inaugurations, Super Bowls, reality shows, and pop music videos.

Everywhere our students go, standing ovations follow – even from audiences geographically and culturally far removed from our campuses.

So how is it that these musicians can land themselves and their schools in front of millions by way of a two-minute clip on YouTube, but still struggle to find support for student scholarships, travel, staff and equipment?

How many real dollars are left on fields and stages because our schools don’t leverage the HBCU marching band brand beyond historic outputs?

YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter rake in billions off of content they don’t produce, but by simply offering a platform for people to build identities as media producers and curators. Some of those billions come in from HBCU alumni and students, who capture and publish the best sights and sounds from every football halftime show, basketball tournament and yard show involving some of the nation’s best marching bands.

For years, Honda has co-opted the HBCU marching band appeal with its ‘Battle of the Bands’ showcase. ‘HBOB,’ when viewed strictly as an event drawing HBCU stakeholders, performs on scale with the CIAA Basketball Tournament, and better than most HBCU football classics and conference championships. Honda pays for bands to travel and eat, makes scholarship donations to each participating school, and gives young people the time of their lives.

But after the last note is played and the media wave rolls back away from historically black shores, many of these schools face dire economic straits across academic, auxiliary and operational aspects of the campus. Despite the story told by a 12 minute field show, many of these schools are contending with state budget cuts, and changes to direct appropriations from the federal government and in student aid programming.

HBCU sustainability is an admirable goal of corporate responsibility and campuses are more than happy to have it. But HBCUs should be more strategic about the give and take beyond the free media and the perceived social capital of being invited to the Battle of the Bands.

If HBCUs are going to be corporate brand ambassadors – and to be clear, every single corporate HBCU partnership is a strategic effort to get affluent HBCU graduates to buy or invest in a product or service – then corporations should not be afraid to pay corporate money for the access to our stakeholder base.

And that notion doesn’t begin and end with marching bands – it continues with initiatives like the Home Depot Retool Your School challenge – which annually draws millions of eyeballs to Home Depot branding every year but returns a few hundred thousand dollars to these campuses in small-scale beautification projects. To put that in perspective of raw numbers, Shaw University raised more than $600,000 in alumni support last homecoming, but Home Depot will split $300,000 among nine HBCUs this spring.

Honda, Home Depot, McDonalds, Allstate and countless other corporations offer pennies of support in exchange for attention and brand loyalty that would be far more expensive in any other form of commercial space. But these companies do this because HBCU communities are satisfied with bragging rights and free exposure, and not real dollars which keep doors open, lights on and students enrolled.

Part of this lack of leverage is because we don’t monetize our own HBCU marching band product. Do we have sponsorship opportunities for halftime shows? Would we be willing to put corporate logos on band uniforms? Do we have enough concerts for paying community members? Do we produce and market paraphernalia? Do institutions invest in producing their own high-quality HBCU marching band videos, which can generate ad revenue on sites like YouTube?

If we treated every element of the HBCU experience for exactly what it is – a chance to reach hundreds of thousands of brand loyal consumers – we would be better off as a community of schools with an urgent mission benefiting the nation. But helping others to realize our value begins with our leaders first making this realization for themselves.

9 comments
  1. I have been asking this question for years. Unfortunatley as great of entertainment value our bands are they are not valued outside of our own circle. Just like our lives are not valued our institutions and everything that comes with it (our bands) are not give the just value they deserve. Whenever I can find the “Human Jukebox” on a Google search along with this weeks lastest Vines, then that’s a problem.

  2. Thank you for writing about this Mr. Carter, because your points are valid… Grambling doesn’t make any money off of the Honda Battle of the Bands…Dr. Pannel ain’t stupid…Grambling was in the first Honda Battle of the Bands, but it probably won’t happen again…We don’t work for free!….

  3. This article, and similar recent editorials by Mr. Carter, is an example of how HBCUs can generate alternative revenue streams. I applaud this thinking because it is well known that in this tidal wave of conservatism sweeping across America, HBCUs can no longer depend on the diminishing pool of state and federal dollars. Also, let’s face it. Alumni giving will never be a panecea. So if our institutions are to survive, they must become more entrepreneurial. That requires a whole new cadre of leadership.

  4. This is a universal struggle for any kind of today’s “content creators”. In any negotiation, one side “wins” usually by seeing value in what the other side undervalues.

  5. I can answer this for you, as an alumna of an HBCU band:

    1. Our bands are too busy performing for a cold chicken box for the sake of “recruitment by any means.”

    2. Schools that host gym battles and other forms of revenue ON the campus ends up with Administration wanting up to HALF of your profit while Athletics gets a cut PLUS your concession sales. What’s left for the band? Meh…. some funds for purchasing food (them cold arse chicken boxes), maybe some valve oil, slide grease and 3 boxes of reeds (reeds ain’t cheap, people)

    3. We sell ourselves short for non-game performances. For example, Ohio St University’s band has a “Rent A Band” program. You can rent a 17 or 34 man pep band (called “files”), and they set their rate to rent them by the performance time and distance traveled. You can even rent the entire band, which is about 260. It costs bread though, but our BDs (especially the old school ones) aren’t doing that. They jump for the opportunity, long as that bus is paid fot and their people are fed (usually, Golden Corrall, a cheaper buffet, or them boxes of chicken).

    4. Mindset of band directors: many have been in the their position 25+ years and refuse to change their thought process on raising funds. $20K for performing and $10K from Honda really isn’t much when you have a band over 160, not counting Auxiliary. It’s time for them to make some feasible demands when they are requested to play when its not mandated by the school, and the school needs to stop taking cuts of their monies…

    I can go on and on, but bands need to stop doing these Ray Ray and Nem BOTBs and step their revenue game up…. there are opportunities like NFL, NBA, MLB Opening Day parades, etc just to name a few. It takes money to make money, and budgets are getting more naked by the year…..

  6. Mr. Carter, you’re of the wrong thinking.

    Start by replacing the “go along to get along” Civil Rights babies running these institutions and sitting in public office. Vote these clowns OUT! You can look at Baltimore, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston… Anywhere in America. They may look like you but they’re not doing a thing that’s in BLACK interest, only their own – Obama is a prime example.

    The generation going into the 60’s and those coming out of the 60’s FAILED! They taught you how to GET ALONG with white folks, not how to compete. Some opted for jobs with benefits and a Cadillac. Others went for TANF, food stamps and Section 8. You can’t pass down a Section 8 HOUSE! Those SupaFLY clowns didn’t build a thing, now look? The current generation is just lost and its sad.

    Start by EMPOWERING yourself and building something of your own. An economic base MUST be built before black folks can go around demanding a thing. You’re not going to get a dime from a WHITE owned corporation, when you have NOTHING! When you’re a beggar and you’re treated as such.

Comments are closed.

You May Also Like

Letter to the Editor: Does Grambling-Southern NFL Halftime Show Diminish HBCU Support for Colin Kaepernick?