Bayou Classic May Leave Bayou State
High hotel rates, other costs may drive annual football game out of New Orleans
By Scott Dyer
BATON ROUGE, La.
Complaints about outrageous New Orleans hotel rates may drive the annual Bayou Classic football game between Southern University and Grambling State University out of the Bayou State.
The Classic’s 10-year contract with New Orleans expired after last year’s game, and the city of Houston is making a strong bid to land the game between the two Louisiana historically Black institutions.
Officials at both schools say they would prefer to play the game in New Orleans, which has hosted it for the last 28 years. But they agree that Houston’s offer is so lucrative that it will be difficult to turn down.
“We’d almost be derelict in our duties not to look closely at an offer like the one Houston is making,” says Southern University System Vice President Ralph Slaughter.
Houston is offering to let the schools use the newly constructed 69,500-seat Reliant Stadium, with a retractable roof, for only $35,000 a year. By contrast, Grambling and Southern are currently paying about $100,000 a year to rent the Louisiana Superdome, Slaughter says.
The Superdome charges the schools another $200,000 in suite rent, plus more than $150,000 for security, ushers and related costs. Houston is talking about subsidizing most of those other costs as part of a two-year contract, Slaughter says.
As part of its bid, Houston also has promised to hold hotel rates below $125 a night.
“That’s the maximum. Most of the rooms would actually be less than $100,” Slaughter says. In New Orleans, the average hotel room costs more than $200 a night and requires a two-night stay, he says.
Dottie Bell, a member of the Southern University Board of Supervisors, says New Orleans hotel operators should be ashamed of themselves for charging extravagant rates for the Bayou Classic. In many cases, the lofty hotel rates are making it difficult for students from Southern and Grambling to attend the annual football game.
Bell noted that her niece, who attends Grambling, decided not to attend the Bayou Classic this year because her usual hotel raised its rates for students from $175 to $220 a night.
“We can’t forget the students — there wouldn’t be a Bayou Classic without them,” Bell says.
The Bayou Classic is designated as a special event by the city of New Orleans, allowing hotels, taxis and parking lots to jack up rates. Other special events include the Sugar Bowl, Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Bayou Classic fans have complained for years about paying extravagant New Orleans hotel rates during what would otherwise be a slow Thanksgiving weekend.
“New Orleans used to be a ghost town that weekend before the Classic,” says Grambling football coach Doug Williams, a former NFL quarterback. The bottom line, according to Williams, is that it’s time for the two schools to benefit financially from the Bayou Classic.
Southern University System President Leon Tarver says negotiations are ongoing with the Superdome, New Orleans city officials and New Orleans hotels to try to keep the game there. But Tarver said with all the pageantry involved in the Bayou Classic, it’s easy to forget that it is not a bowl game.
“This is a regular conference game, and we play conference games in Houston right now. Every year, we play either Texas Southern or Prairie View in Houston. The only difference in this case is that we would be playing a Louisiana school there instead of a Texas school,” Tarver says.
And Houston isn’t the only city looking to attract the Bayou Classic. Orlando, Fla., is also reportedly interested in landing the event. And Shreveport, La., with several casinos and hundreds of recently built hotel rooms, is reportedly gearing up to make a bid in an attempt to keep the Classic in Louisiana.
No final decision is expected on the game until early this year.
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