They won’t face each other on the football field until Saturday afternoon, but Jaguars and Tigers already are prowling the streets of New Orleans as the annual Bayou Classic kicks off its 41st year with a parade Thursday.
About 200,000 visitors are expected to descend on the city to take in the football game and festivities surrounding one of the largest rivalries among historically black colleges in the country. The event is projected to have a $50 million economic impact on local coffers, as fans of the teams spend time dining out and shopping around town, according to the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Citywide hotel occupancy was 93 percent Tuesday. Host hotels, the Hyatt Regency New Orleans and the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, were sold out in advance of the game, though there were still rooms available at more than a dozen hotels advertising on the Bayou Classic’s official site Tuesday. The visitors bureau said Tuesday that hotel bookings were ahead of last year’s pace for the same weekend. Hotel occupancy peaked at 81 percent during the same weekend in 2013.
In its four-decade history, the annual Bayou Classic has grown from simply a football game between division rivals Southern University and Grambling State University into five days of events attracting thousands of people to New Orleans over Thanksgiving weekend.
Bayou Classic weekend includes a Thanksgiving day parade, a half-day panel on how to grow and sustain a business, a golf tournament, a job fair, a pregame concert and the ever popular Battle of the Bands and Greek show.
This year’s game, however, could be a bigger draw than all of those events and could bring more fans to the city than expected, even though attendance at the game has waned in recent years.
That’s because the match is a tie-breaker for the long-running rivalry. Southern University and Grambling each have 20 wins in the annual battle, now in its 41st year. The Bayou Classic has been attempting to build momentum for the match by promoting it on Twitter using the hashtag #WhoWill BreakTheTie.
In honor of the game’s long history, the Bayou Classic trophy will be retired at the end of Saturday’s game. It will go on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
Saturday’s game also will decide the winner of the Southwestern Athletic Conference West division. Southern goes into Saturday’s game with an 8-3 record. Grambling is 7-4. The teams both are 3-0 in the SWAC West division. The winner of the game will move on to play Alcorn State in the SWAC Championship next week in Houston.
The 41st Bayou Classic will be played at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.