By Valerie Fields Hill
Photos Courtesy of Lone Star Sports
A historically Black college football game that had been played in the Cotton Bowl will move to Globe Life Park in Arlington, giving that city its first Black college classic game.
The Arlington Football Showdown will feature a matchup between two storied football programs, Texas Southern University of Houston and Southern University of Baton Rouge, La., promoters said at a press conference to announce the event at Globe Life Park Wednesday [January 27th] morning.
The game will be played Oct. 9. It is expected to draw between 15,000 and 20,000 black college football fans, alumni from both universities and North Texas-area high school students and their families, promoters said.
“What we have done is reimagined Globe Life Park,” said Matt Wilson, vice president of sports and events for the Arlington Convention and Visitors Bureau. Globe Life Park is the previous home of the Texas Rangers professional baseball club. The club moved to Globe Life Field last season.
“We love our friends in Dallas,” he said, “but to bring an event of this nature is a huge coup for us.”
Sports officials at both schools lauded the move to Arlington.
“We’re just trying to give our fans in the D/FW area a chance to see the Jags play,” said Rodney Kirschner, senior associate athletic director for the Southern University Jaguars Athletic Department.
In Houston, Kevin Granger, vice president of intercollegiate athletics at Texas Southern University, predicted that TSU alumni would enjoy being in Globe Life Park.
“To be in those Rangers facilities that now are redone for playing football, and getting an opportunity to play in that area where our fan base is, is exciting,” he said. “It just gives you an opportunity to showcase your school,” Granger said. “These classics allow you to get out there and share with people your brand.”
The game announcement came after nearly six months of meetings between event promoters, Arlington Convention and Visitors Bureau officials, civic leaders, officials in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and both universities’ sports administrators, said April Watson, vice president of Lone Star Sports, LLC, the game’s promoter.
“I’m excited,” she said. “We’ve had, probably since August of last year, no less than 25 meetings. This has been very strategic. They have really vetted us.”
The Showdown will be the first time that Arlington, a city of 400,000 residents, has hosted a Black college football event. Dallas has hosted the State Fair Classic, a matchup between historically Black Prairie View A&M University and Grambling State University at the Cotton Bowl, since 1985.
The Arlington Showdown has its beginnings in 2017 at the Cotton Bowl, where it was played for three years between the two teams. It was canceled last fall due to COVID-related restrictions prohibiting large gatherings at sporting arenas.
In light of the cancellation of the 2020 game, the original promoter sold his rights to the game to Lone Star Sports, LLC., a Dallas-based marketing and events promotions company.
The new promoters saw Globe Life Park as a better fit for the two universities’ fans, some of whom had complained, among other things, of limited parking at the Cotton Bowl, poor traffic management and lengthy walks from parking areas to the stadium.
The Arlington Showdown comes amidst a resurgence of interest in Black college sports matchups.
Last month, for example, the Greater Columbus Sports Commission in Ohio announced the return of the HBCU “Classic for Columbus” after a 20-year hiatus. The game and surrounding activities will take place Aug. 25-29, 2021 in downtown Columbus and will feature Central State University, a public historically black college located in Wilberforce, Ohio and Kentucky State University, a 135-year-old HBCU located in Frankfort, Ky.
Similarly, Hollywood actor Michael B. Jordan announced in December he had organized the “Hoop Dreams Classic,” a basketball event showcasing four women’s and four men’s HBCU teams on Dec. 18, 2021 in Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
There’s also recent interest in HBCU sports programs among professional athletes.
This week, ESPN reported that the NBA is considering highlighting Historically Black Colleges and Universities during a rescheduled NBA All Star game on March 7 in Atlanta. The plan reportedly is being championed by Chris Paul of the Phoenix Suns, a vocal supporter of HBCU athletes.
Finally, of course, in a move widely reported by mainstream media outlets last fall, former Dallas Cowboy Deion Sanders left his gig as a regular football analyst to coach at historically Black Jackson State University, luring with him his own son, a four star recruit, and a constant stream of other four and five-star athletes, some of whom had committed to play at highly-ranked predominantly white programs.
David Squires, a sports journalist who has written about Black college sports events since the early 1980s, said that while HBCU classic games have been played for decades, some cities are coming to a fresh understanding of their economic impact.
Squires, who has covered sports for national outlets including BlackVoices.com and The Undefeated, said the Arlington Football Showdown is “a good idea” to lure out-of-town visitors to spend dollars in the local community.
“People will come from as far away as Oklahoma and Louisiana to these games,” he said. “You’re in a big football area.”
“People put these (Black college football) classics on their travel schedules a year in advance,” said Squires, a journalism lecturer at the historically Black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University in Greensboro, N.C.
Aside from Dallas’s State Fair Classic, there are at least a half dozen other longstanding Black college classic games across the nation which attract scores of fans, including:
- The 31-year-old Southern Heritage Classic, a duel between Jackson State University and Tennessee State University played each year at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis. More than 48,000 residents, alumni and others attend this annual event.
- The 36-year-old Circle City Classic, which pits Kentucky State University and Central State University at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. The event drew about 23,000 sports fans, in 2015.
- The 80-year-old Magic City Classic, one of the largest in the nation. This matchup between state rivals Alabama State University and Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College is held at Legion Field in Birmingham. In 2015, the game drew 64,000 attendees to Birmingham for an entire week of fanfare, parties, a concert and other events.
- The Bayou Classic, considered the grandfather of Black College classic games because of its commercial appeal and annual broadcast appearance on network television. This event brings cross-state rivals Grambling State University and Southern University of Baton Rouge, La., to Mercedes Benz Stadium in New Orleans. The 46-year-old tradition includes a pageant, golf tournament, concerts, a Greek show and Battle of the Bands.
Black college classic events bring families to dine in local restaurants, stay multiple nights at hotels and entertain themselves at nearby music halls, Squires said, so some cities are jumping on the bandwagon to lure such events.
“I think every year, somebody is trying to do a new classic,” he said.
Wilson, the vice president of sports at the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Football Showdown fits into Arlington’s long-range plan of attracting entertainment events, such as horse shows and big truck competitions, that appeal to the city’s diverse residents.
“We’ve really embraced, as a city, the moniker ‘Arlington: The American Dream City,’” said Wilson.
“We’ve seen our African American population grow,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re meeting the needs and wants of this population.”
The Arlington Football Showdown could not have come at a better time, economically speaking.
Economic development staffers have been challenged in recent months to bring events to a city that has been hit hard by retail closures, limited attendance at both Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers events and slowdowns at its two amusement parks, Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, due to the Coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
“In this environment, we have one or two choices: We can pack it up…or you can give people a choice,” said Wilson, explaining that economic development executives had the undesirable choice of allowing venues to remain empty–or figure out novel ways to fill them, but do so safely.
“Too many people are counting on a paycheck–waiters, waitresses, hotel staff. They can’t afford to wait to see what happens,” he said.
The Arlington event will follow the blueprint of other Black college football classics. The Showdown will include four days of activities.
Beginning on the Thursday before the game, promoters will host a college fair showcasing academic degree programs at various HBCUs and career information and an evening Scholarship gala.
On the Friday prior to the game, the lineup includes a golf tournament, Battle of the Bands, a Greek Step and Comedy show and alumni parties.
Saturday’s activities include a yet-to-be-named high school game to be played before the college matchup and on the Sunday following the gameday, promoters will host an Alumni and Friends Brunch.
The Showdown’s activities will be held at venues such as Texas Live! in the Arlington Entertainment District.
Watson said the event’s sponsors, who are based in Texas, favored activities that engage local residents who potentially would patronize their establishments.
“For our sponsors, that’s a big deal,” said Watson, who herself lives in the Arlington-Fort Worth area.
Tickets to the Arlington Football Showdown will sell for $20 pre-sale and $25 at the gate. They can be purchased through the Texas Rangers Box Office. Tickets go on sale Feb. 1. For more information on the event, click here.