Bayou Classic: Will the fans come back?

Published: Nov. 21, 2012 at 5:27 AM CST|Updated: Dec. 17, 2012 at 7:24 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WAFB) - Hard economic times and the worst match-up in the 39-year history of the Bayou Classic is not a good combination for an event that has already lost its title sponsorship and is trying to renew its TV deal with NBC.

However, longtime supporters of Southern football say even after four straight years of losing to Grambling, they are urging fellow Jaguar fans to buy a ticket to be in the Superdome on Saturday.

"We've still got to have 72,000 to 75,000 fans in that stadium come the 24th of November," said Harry Adams of Baton Rouge. "We have a lot of Southern University fans who come here (to Mumford Stadium on campus) and tailgate and won't go in the game. And that's bad."

Adams said six straight years of sagging attendance threatens the school's revenue stream from the nationally-televised rivalry.

"We're not going to hold onto this game much longer, if we don't get some support," Adams added.

A paid crowd of 40,715 was listed for last year's game, but no-shows have created an apathetic image for the Thanksgiving weekend event, which started in 1974 and regularly attracted crowds close to the 70,000 seat capacity before Hurricane Katrina forced the game to Houston for one year in 2005.

"And, this is a big game. This is the biggest game. This is like the Super Bowl," Adams emphasized.

But, the term Super Bowl implies the best teams, great records and the best players. Southern is 3-7 this season and Grambling is 1-9, creating only the second Classic match-up ever with two teams that have losing records. The other occurred in 2006, which started a stretch of subpar attendance in the Crescent City.

Steve Smith, a 1999 Southern graduate, said he goes to the Bayou Classic for atmosphere and parties, not the football game. But, he says he strongly believes two teams with winning records is the only thing that will reverse the downturn in ticket sales.

"If you're not winning football games, people are not enthused about you," Smith insisted. "So, the main thing is if Southern and Grambling want to get more people at the Bayou Classic, they have to win football games."

Jaguars fan Daryl Lights said he stopped going for a while, but started back because of his daughter's interest. Family reunions have been a big part of this holiday event, but Lights said families that lived in New Orleans left after Katrina and didn't return. He added he believes the primary issue is a tough economy.

"When you say 'Bayou Classic' people think, 'I'm going to get me a new outfit,'" Lights explained with a laugh. "Some people buy a new outfit to go to the Bayou Classic, instead of buying one to go to church."

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