Inside Events: Cracker Barrell National Battle of the Bands

18 Sep, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An Interview with Derek Ross, Publicist


The Cracker Barrel National Battle of the Band(NBOTB) is a competitive platform for marching bands in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). The event’s mission is to enhance the exposure of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and their marching bands, the roles they play in educating aspiring musicians and developing our future leaders. Event organizers have generated more than $350,000 in scholarships for the participating colleges and universities.

Sports Destination Management: This was the first time the event was presented in Houston, Texas, after multiple years in Charlotte.

Derek Ross: Yes – we partnered with the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority and brought the event to the NRG Stadium. It became the largest African American event in the State of Texas in its first year.

SDM: Quite an accomplishment! What was the attendance?

Ross: In addition to the 2,500 members representing the eight HBCU bands featured in Sunday’s lineup at NRG Stadium; that drew in 37,782 attendees.

SDM: Any economic impact figures?

Ross: This year's estimated economic impact was $6.3 million for the city of Houston and Harris County. There wasn't an event in 2018 because of the focus on transitioning the event from Charlotte to Houston; however, the last year it was in Charlotte, in 2017, under the name of Queen City Battle of the Bands, it had an estimated economic impact of $5 million.

SDM: Were there trade shows, expos or other events?

Ross: Yes, other official events were created to focus on community engagement, college recruitment, health and wellness and entrepreneurship. More than 7,000 fans, students and families from the Houston Independent School District and surrounding districts attended the HBCU S.T.E.M. College Recruitment Fair presented by H-E-B the Health and Wellness Fair presented by MD Anderson Cancer Center. Students gained direct access to 17 HBCUs from around the country who were recruiting for both undergrad and graduate admissions for S.T.E.M. and Non-S.T.E.M. programs.

The Emerge Experience Entrepreneur Event drew in 25 of the top minority entrepreneurs and small business owners ready to connect, collaborate, and learn practical business hacks and gain access to resources to grow their businesses and brands, and create profit through a series of fireside expert chats and workshop trainings.

SDM: Sounds like quote a production!

Ross: It went just great. The way the NRG Stadium is located, people could walk right over from the recruitment fair and be right there in time for the competition.

SDM: How are the bands who perform at these events selected?

Ross: The eight bands selected to participate are rotated each year to provide opportunities for both large and small-sized bands to gain exposure; also the bands’ popularity amongst fans is taken into consideration during the selection process.

SDM: How did you come to choose Houston?

Ross: The event had really outgrown Memorial Stadium, where it was being held in Charlotte, and Derek Webber, the entrepreneur who created this event, wanted to move it to Bank of America Stadium, which is the home of the Carolina Panthers but he wasn’t really getting the interest or support he needed. A colleague of his had started working at the Houston Harris County Sports Authority, and they saw it as a great opportunity for them. Two of the bands to be featured in the NBOTB were already located in Texas, and there are more than 20 HBCU alumni associations in the Houston area alone, so there really was a good audience.

SDM: What kind of hotel arrangements did you make?

Ross: We had six official hotels. Each out-of-state band had its own hotel – two were from Texas so they drove in and out – and we also had fans staying in the official host hotels. Band members don’t have to pay for their food, travel or hotel – all that is covered by sponsorship fees. Cracker Barrell, our title sponsor, was able to work with each band to map out a route so that they could have scheduled stops to eat along the way.

SDM: Was there only one event for the bands?

Ross: No, the weekend started on Friday with a stroll show, a lot like a step show, for the bands. Then we had the entrepreneurship event on Saturday for the local business community, along with the health fair and the college recruitment event. The NBOTB was on Sunday, making the whole weekend good for not just the performers but for friends and family.

SDM: You also mentioned scholarship funding.

Ross: This year’s event had an enormous amount of scholarship money awarded; it included $80,000 for this year’s participating college and university bands which included Texas Southern University’s Ocean of Soul Marching Band; North Carolina Central University’s The Sound Machine Marching Band, Prairie View A&M University’s Marching Storm Band, Talladega College’s Marching Tornado Band, Southern University’s Human Jukebox, Miles College’s Purple Marching Machine, Tennessee State University’s Aristocrat of Bands and Florida A&M University’s Marching 100. In addition, $5,000 in band instruments was awarded by H-E-B across five local Houston-area high school bands through the instrument scholarship initiative and $3,000 was awarded for the Stroll Off competition.

SDM: Houston really was a good place for the event. Do you anticipate staying there?

Ross: Houston is a great partner and I am sure the sports authority would love to keep the NBOTB there as it continues to grow. We have a three-year contract now. Shortly after year two, we will have conversations about the possibility of keeping it in Houston but for now, we’re just keeping things open.

SDM: In your opinion, what makes a city a good destination for a marching music event?

Ross: A good host city for marching band competitions includes having the participation and support from city government, corporate leaders, and community organizations. Also, a city that understands how to host large scale events and provides a great visitor experiences; such as activities, restaurants, and attractions.


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