DC Fumbles Hosting of ‘Nation’s Football Classic’

by: Mark F. Gray Special to the AFRO
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Washington D.C.’s attempt to host a premiere Black college football classic time has run out. After six years of sparse attendance and a loss of corporate sponsorship Events D.C., the convention and sports authority for the District, cancelled the Nation’s Classic marking a significant failure in staging a game that is typically a significant revenue producer for schools and host cities around the country.

Despite a seemingly attractive matchup between Hampton University vs. Howard University in the Nation’s Football Classic had been canceled because of sparse attendance and losing sponsors. (Courtesy photo)

“Events D.C. enjoyed the exciting matchups and great relationships with our local partner, Howard University, and visiting schools Hampton University and Morehouse College for the Nation’s Football Classic over the past six years,” said Gregory A. O’Dell, Events DC president and CEO, in a statement June 30.    “As our organization continues to evolve, we feel it is the right time to shift our efforts onto other exciting programming as well as the implementation of our short-term redevelopment project for the historic RFK Stadium-Armory Campus.”

When first announced in 2011 that Howard would face Morehouse in an annual classic at RFK Stadium it seemed like the game was a perfect fit. There were two iconic HBCU “Ivy League” brands scheduled to play annually in September around the time of the Congressional Black Caucus.  Weather wouldn’t be a concern because of the late summer date.  With scores of affluent professionals hailing from these elite institutions and other HBCU’s who live throughout the region its potential for greatness seemed high.

However, Howard’s dominance on the field and Morehouse’s inability to bring a sizeable audience to the game led to a change of teams.  By 2015 Hampton replaced Morehouse which seemed to be a better fit.  The “visiting” team was seven hours closer by car and since the annual event would kick off the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference schedule for both teams the remix of what could have become a tradition seemed to be on point.

But there were several key marketing mistakes that signaled the beginning of the end.  The first Nation’s Classic – in what is known as – “The Battle of the Real HUs” – was played on a Friday night, limiting the potential of a fan base from attending because it was staged opposite high school football games in the District.  There was also never a steering committee to help create buzz and generate interest amongst the DMV’s HBCU community.

Last year, with the game on life support, the paucity of fan support both inside and outside the stadium spelled the event’s ultimate doom.  A $75 price for tailgating limited the number of fans who would pay to park outside for cookouts and socializing.  D.C. Police antagonized fans after the game by blaring sirens and driving patrol cars into individual tailgate compounds as they were trying to clean up when they were being forced to leave the premises.

For most major HBCU Classics tailgate parking is a critical revenue stream that offsets what the game doesn’t earn in ticket sales or sponsorships. During the days of the New York Urban League Classic as many as 50,000 fans would camp outside Giants Stadium during the game creating a better fan experience than inside the building. That carnival atmosphere became a bigger draw for the tri-state area’s Black College fan base than the game itself.

The Nation’s Classic should’ve been a part of the redevelopment of the RFK Stadium area to build around by giving it an annual event especially with DC United set to relocate to Buzzard Point in Southwest.  Instead Howard’s homecoming remains as the signature HBCU football event in the Nation’s Capital.

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