HBCU Sports: Four Cities, Four Events, Four Comebacks | Sports Destination Management

HBCU Sports: Four Cities, Four Events, Four Comebacks

May 19, 2022 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Four pieces of great news came to the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) sport sector last week. Three landed on the exact same day. And while the sports they represent couldn’t be more different, the impact they bring to the table, both social and economic, is noteworthy across the board. All also showcase the way organizers, through activations around the events, are able to raise awareness, perform outreach and raise funds for participating institutions.

Miami to Greet Orange Blossom Classic

The 48th Annual Denny's Orange Blossom Classic (OBC) on September 4 is the match-up of two HBCU football powerhouses, the Florida A&M University Rattlers and Jackson State University Tigers. Both teams feature some of the highest-rated athletes of the recent recruiting class, making this the game to watch. The game will be held in Miami Gardens, Florida, at the Hard Rock Stadium.

Founded in 1933 by the son of Florida A&M University’s president, J.R.E. Lee Jr., the Orange Blossom Classic quickly became the postseason’s must-see game for its fans. The inaugural Orange Blossom Classic welcomed 2,000 fans to the “blacks-only” ballpark in Jacksonville, Florida, where FAMU beat Howard 9-0 and successfully established the foundation of HBCU classics. From 1933 -1978, the Orange Blossom Classic reigned supreme as the postseason’s premier HBCU classic event. After a forty-plus year hiatus, The Orange Blossom Classic made its return to Miami Gardens in 2021 where it drew 36,000 spectators. According to the Miami Herald, the estimated economic impact was about $15 million, owing to the number of out-of-town visitors the event drew.

The OBC, according to one press release, attracts fans, alumni, school members, and family members from both FAMU and Jackson State’s communities, highlighting the interest in HBCUs and their roles in educating aspiring professionals and developing future leaders.

It also includes multiple activities held across the Labor Day weekend, including the Orange Blossom Golf Tournament, the Careers In Sports and Entertainment Symposium and the Greater Miami CVB Welcome Reception and Kickoff Luncheon. There is also entertainment on the OBC Fan Fest Soundstage.

The day prior to the football game, the Orange Blossom Classic Battle of the Bands is hosted in an indoor multi-purpose arena on the grounds of University of Miami. While both Jackson State (the Sonic Boom) and FAMU (the Marching 100s) will perform, there is also a talent showcase of local high school bands from the tri-county area for the chance to receive the unanimous nod for the title of “Best Band in the Land.”

The OBC has long been rooted in community advancement, raising more than $350,000 in scholarship funds to further the education of high school students interested in attending an HBCU for post-secondary education.

"The revival of Orange Blossom Classic has now become a movement connecting people as one big community. As we look forward to year two, "The Remix," - I am excited and look forward to a renewed experience for our fans for many years to come," stated Kendra Bulluck, Executive Director of the Orange Blossom Classic Committee.

Baltimore Releases Massive Economic Impact Figures on CIAA Basketball Tournament

The same day the news about the OBC broke, Visit Baltimore, the City of Baltimore and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA®), the nation’s oldest historically Black athletic conference, announced the economic impact following the 2022 Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championship during the tournament’s first in-person run in Baltimore since 1952. The tournament ran from February 22-26, 2022.

During its five-day run, the 2022 CIAA Basketball Tournament welcomed 36,390 total attendees (as tracked by Tourism Economics) over 22 basketball games and had a direct spending impact of $13.9 million. (The Royal Farms Arena, where much of the basketball action took place, measured 66,000 people through the turnstile). The CIAA Tournament generated a total economic impact of $19.6 million, which supported 1,159 part-time and full-time jobs and generated $1.9 million in state and local taxes. In addition to total economic impact, the tournament generated $11 million in participant and spectator off-site spending, with $3.2 million spent in the food and beverage sector, $2.7 million in lodging, $2.1 million in entertainment and attractions and $1.9 million in retail spending.

That was music to the ears of the hotel and travel industry in Charm City.

“One of the best stories to come out of the 2022 tournament was the impact that the event had on our area hotels and travel industry,” said Al Hutchinson, President and CEO of Visit Baltimore. “When comparing the occupancy data from previous years, for February 24-26, Baltimore hotels were sitting at a 65.5% occupancy rate with an average daily rate (ADR) of $167, the highest it has been during that period since 2007. In terms of revenue from the tournament, hotels received over $3,239,307, which is the second highest over the same period since 2015.” 

In addition to the total economic impact that the event had on area hotels, restaurants and attractions, the City of Baltimore, State of Maryland, Visit Baltimore and the Local Host Committee made an $800,000 donation to the CIAA General Scholarship Fund, which supports the 12 member universities and students attending these historically Black institutions. This donation was made possible by the local businesses that made up the Local Host Committee. 

Throughout the tournament planning process, the Baltimore Sports Tourism Development Council engaged 110 minority-owned businesses to be a part of the tournament which had a direct economic spend of $1,050,357 to those businesses.  

Check presentation for HBCU scholarships
Last year, the National Battle of the Bands raised $160,000 to fund collage scholarships to schools participating in the competition. Photos courtesy of the NBOTB.

The event has persevered through COVID (it held its first-ever “Virtual Vibe Tournament in 2021) and emerged triumphant in 2022.

The CIAA tournament also has a history of activations around its main event, including its step show, Minority Business Symposium, concerts and a Fan Fest that includes a cheerleading competition, Miss CIAA Pageant, a DJ battles and much more. It also has hosted CIAA Education Day for middle school and high school students, making them aware of the opportunities at its member institutions.

Founded in 1912, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) is the first, and longest running, African American athletic conference in the U.S. and one of the most recognized conferences in Division II. The CIAA conducts 14 championships attended by more than 150,000 fans from around the country. Its Basketball Tournament has been honored as a 2019 Champion of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism by Sports Destination Management, for both 2018 and 2019.  

As far back as 2018, CIAA commissioner Jacquie McWilliams had noted that the event had incredible meaning for the community it served.

“There is a lot of pride, both in who the CIAA is and in the historically black colleges and universities that are part of it. The economic impact of the championships is huge, but you have to consider what our alumni members are doing across the country as leaders as well. For me, just being a part of this conference is extremely special and an honor. I think our tournaments and our championships are a way to tell our story across the country, and every time we visit a city, we like to think we have left our footprint there.”

Harris County-Houston Ready to Welcome Back National Battle of the Bands

The good news just kept coming. That same day, event organizers for the Pepsi National Battle of the Bands (NBOTB) presented by Toyota announced that this year’s event, a showcase of HBCU marching talent, will take place on Saturday, August 27 at NRG Stadium and will kick off at 6:00 p.m. CST. The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority (HCHSA) is the host organization of the competition.

The event, created to celebrate, support, and recognize the excellence of Black college marching bands, is the largest HBCU marching band event and the second largest African American event in the state of Texas. More than 2,000 members from eight of the nation’s top marching bands will kick off their fall marching band season at the NBOTB while showcasing the culture of their universities and their unique style and sound. Confirmed bands that will be participating include the following:

  • Alabama A&M University, Marching Maroon & White Band
  • Alcorn State University, The Sounds of Dyn-O-mite Marching Band
  • Bethune Cookman University, Marching Wildcats
  • Grambling State University, World Famed Tiger Marching Band
  • Kentucky State University, Mighty Marching Thorobreds
  • North Carolina A&T State University, The Blue and Gold Marching Machine
  • Prairie View A&M University, “Marching Storm” Band
  • Southern University, Human Jukebox

The event includes a number of onsite activations, as well as multiple opportunities for the HBCU community to reconnect. Several official NBOTB events will also return, including the Pepsi NBOTB Presented by Toyota Step and Stroll Band Culture Kickoff, The Emerge Experience Entrepreneur Event Presented by J.P. Morgan Chase, and HBCU S.T.E.M. College Recruitment Fair.

The NBOTB partnership with HCHSA is significant in that it not only supports the event’s mission to enhance the exposure of HBCUs and their marching bands, but it works to boost the growth of scholarships and expand the awareness of higher learning with music, arts, and entertainment. Event organizers have generated more than $700,000 in scholarships for the participating colleges and universities

Houston is more than ready to host, says Harris County- Houston Sports Authority (HCHSA) Vice President, Chris Massey. "The National Battle of the Bands is the perfect event to celebrate and amplify the city's love of arts, education, and HBCU culture. We are looking forward to packing the house and celebrating with fans from all over the country.”

The NBOTB is also a significant revenue generator. According to Derek Ross of the D2 Group, “For both 2019 and 2021 the economic impact was approximately $15 million (we didn’t have the event in 2020). There is no official expectation for this year, but $15 million would probably be a good baseline.”

Birmingham to Host 2023 PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship

But good news didn’t just come down on Wednesday of last week. Tuesday the 17th also brought glad tidings for the HBCU community; the PGA announced that Shoal Creek Club and Bent Brook Golf Course, both outside Birmingham, Alabama, will host the 2023 PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship (PWCC), May 8-10. 

The PWCC, the most culturally significant championship in collegiate golf, features HBCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) from all over the country. More than 200 student-athletes representing approximately 30 teams, along with 52 individuals, will compete in five divisions. 

The PWCC was founded in 1986 by the National Negro Golf Association when HBCUs did not have the same postseason opportunities as other institutions. Today, the Championship retains its founding vision to open doors for student-athletes from HBCUs and MSIs as well as other athletes from diverse backgrounds.

In conjunction with the PWCC, PGA WORKS will host Beyond the Green, a career-exploration event designed to educate and inspire talent from historically underrepresented backgrounds to pursue careers in the golf industry and to understand the important role golf can play in their careers overall. That event will be held May 7, 2023.

In addition to providing a first-class venue for the PWCC, Shoal Creek and its membership have committed to helping support the PGA WORKS HBCU Golf Scholarship endowment, with 50 percent of those funds staying in Alabama. The PGA WORKS HBCU Golf Scholarship endowment has been created to provide men’s and women’s golf scholarships to underfunded HBCU and MSI institutions in an effort to sustain those programs for the long-term. 

“Alabama is home to 15 HBCUs, making it the state with the most in the country,” said Bent Brook owner Jimmy Lee. “It is an honor to join PGA WORKS and Shoal Creek in hosting the PWCC. The Bent Brook Golf Course is looking forward to welcoming all teams and student-athletes to this historic event.”

The Championship is also a point of pride for the city of Birmingham and its mayor, Randall Woodfin, a graduate of Morehouse College, an HBCU in Atlanta. 

“We're proud to host the 2023 PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship here in our city, and we're even more proud that HBCU student-athletes will have an opportunity to compete at one of the most beautiful golf courses in our state," said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. “As an HBCU graduate myself, I’m excited that the PGA and Shoal Creek are creating more inclusive spaces for minority golfers while providing scholarships to student-athletes. This is a great step in the right direction.”

Dancers at the National Battle of the Bands
Theatrical-caliber performances are a mainstay of the NBOTB.


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