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Bayou Classic lives on, rumors of demise untrue

1st October 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Mason Harrison
Contributing Writer

Organizers for the annual Bayou Classic football game are attempting to beat back rumors that the decades-old sporting event is hanging by a financial thread in the wake of a decision by its main sponsor, State Farm insurance, to abandon the championship game after almost 20 years of being the event’s title sponsor and spearheading volunteer activities linked to the Classic.

In July, media reports began to surface that State Farm was ending its relationship with the Bayou Classic that began in 1996, one of the company’s longest-running large-scale sponsorships. “Sixteen years is a long time,” a spokesperson for State Farm said. “We are simply looking at revaluating our relationships and developing a marketing strategy that reaches a broader audience.”

But the amicable split between State Farm and the organizers of the Bayou Classic could belie the event’s financial standing. Scuttlebutt has swirled for months inside and out of college football circles that the championship football game—often dubbed the Black Super Bowl—will not survive without a major sponsor like State Farm at the helm helping to foot the bill.

“I want to know who’s putting out those rumors because they are false,” said Jeffrey Ory, a spokesperson for the New Orleans Convention Company, which manages the Bayou Classic on behalf of the game’s two annual contestants, Grambling State and Southern universities.

Ory said his firm will release “within the next few weeks” the names of several new companies that will come on board as sponsors for the Classic, but that the era of title sponsorship is over. “Grambling and Southern will retain the rights to the logo for the Bayou Classic,” Ory said, meaning that the iconic logo for the football game will no longer bear a company name.

“This is important so that the schools will be free to use the logo to make different marketing decisions,” Ory said. But details about the game’s financials and the impact of losing State Farm as a major sponsor were not made available. Ory would only add that profits from last year’s game allowed the schools to spilt more than $1 million in scholarship funds.

In a statement released to The Louisiana Weekly, State Farm said it is “continually evaluating all of its sponsorships and marketing strategies and periodically making adjustments. We have determined to make a change in 2013 with regard to [the Bayou Classic].

“As part of our one-year agreement for 2012, we will move from title sponsor of the Bayou Classic to presenting sponsor of the 2012 Bayou Classic Thanksgiving Day Parade. In 2012, we also will continue to run TV commercials during the Bayou Classic telecast and will have on-site signage and activities at the event. We also will make available scholarships to area schools in 2012.”

But a spokesperson for the insurance giant did not know what would become of the company’s network of volunteer and charitable activities that take place in the days leading up to the football game. “I don’t know if those activities will continue, but our employees in the region love the area and will continue to be involved during the Bayou Classic.”

In 2008, State Farm led a team of volunteers to help build a playground at Abramson Science and Technology Charter School. The effort paired more than 200 nonprofit and community volunteers and constructed a new student recreation area for the school in one day.

But State Farm, according to the statement, promised to maintain its “ongoing philanthropic and community activities” in New Orleans and “continue as a sponsor of the Essence Music Festival.” The company also promised to continue its “support for a wide variety of multicultural and community programs in the region for many years to come.”

State Farm and the organizers for the Bayou Classic have been tight-lipped about the cause for the ended relationship. But Michael Hecht, head of GNO, Inc., a regional economic development alliance serving the 10-parish region of Southeast Louisiana, said the silence from the two camps shouldn’t be interpreted as out of the ordinary.

“I’m not sure that these two organizations are doing anything that is all that unusual in cases like these,” Hecht said. “There has been a trend with large sponsorships where companies are reevaluating those types of arrangements.” Hecht noted that rise of social media as an advertising tool has provided more opportunities for firms to reach consumers in a more diversified way than a “single event” like the Bayou Classic and others.

“These relationships,” Hecht pointed out, “often change when a contract expires or new management arrives and decides to take a company in a new direction or use different marketing.” State Farm’s spokesperson acknowledged changes in the company’s marketing staff over the years, but said “there has also been a lot of consistency” in the firm’s relationship with the New Orleans area.

This year’s Bayou Classic football game will take place on Nov. 24 and the Grambling State Tigers and the Southern University Jaguars will face off for the 39th time since the event’s launch in 1974, although the two teams have competed in an annual match-up since the late 1930s before organizers for the event adopted the game’s present moniker.

Grambling leads the overall series by 30-29 and is ahead in the Bayou Classic championship by 20-18.

This article was originally published in the October 1, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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