All signs point to record attendance at the 43rd annual Bayou Classic football game this year, a match-up that will determine who gets a shot at a conference championship.

And organizers say they have several new features planned to help fans of Southern University and Grambling State University enjoy the event.

“What we are doing is blending the best of the best,” said Dottie Belletto of New Orleans Convention Co. Inc., the company that runs the Bayou Classic.

One of the additions is a mobile app that will give fans game updates and an event schedule and let them vote for the game’s most valuable player.

That app also will let users choose the winner of Friday's fraternity and sorority step show, one in a series of events leading up to the game at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

With the 2015 Bayou Classic kicking off in New Orleans this weekend, heavy pedestrian and ve…

Launched in New Orleans in 1974 after a 1973 test run in Shreveport, the annual showdown between the two historically black Louisiana universities brings thousands of visitors to the city over Thanksgiving weekend.

Although the nationally televised game is the highlight of the five-day affair, other big events will include a Thanksgiving day parade, a Friday Battle of the Bands and Greek Show and a Sunday gospel brunch.

More than 40,500 tickets have been sold for this year’s game, organizers said — almost 13,000 more than last year at the same time.

Also this year, tourism officials project 97 percent occupancy at area hotels Friday and Saturday nights. That’s up from 94 percent occupancy on Friday and 90 percent occupancy on Saturday last year.

Those early reports have Belletto confident that this year’s classic will bring the event back to its pre-Hurricane Katrina attendance.

“We feel that this is probably going to be a historic number of people, and it’s going to be back to the Eddie Robinson days,” Belletto said, referencing the legendary Grambling football coach who retired in 1997 and died a decade later.

Before the storm, the game easily averaged as many as 70,000 attendees. Last year, turnout was more than 62,900, and attendance at the showdown between Southern’s Human Jukebox and Grambling State’s Tiger Marching Band hit more than 29,600.

If the game reaches turnout comparable to what it drew in its heyday, it would be about on a par with the annual crowd at the Allstate Sugar Bowl, also held at the Superdome, according to attendance figures for both games.

With the 2015 Bayou Classic in New Orleans this weekend, heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffi…

Much of the heightened allure this year likely is due to both teams’ undefeated Southwestern Athletic Conference records; both trounced opponents in games Saturday.

Their victories mean the winner of this Saturday’s game, which will be broadcast on the NBC Sports Network, will win the SWAC West Division title and go on to compete in the Toyota SWAC Football Championship in Houston on Dec. 3.

Also, there's a draw for those who have followed the long-running rivalry between the two colleges. Over the past four decades, Southern and Grambling have each won 21 times; Saturday’s winner will take a 22-21 lead in the series.

The game and related events had a $50 million economic impact on the city in 2015, said Kristian Sonnier, vice president of communications and public relations for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.

With projections for this weekend slightly higher than last year’s, “we expect the economic impact to be on par,” Sonnier said.

Those who do show up will have plenty to keep them occupied.

In addition to the new app — which also provides directions to the Superdome and connects users directly to ride-booking services — the Bayou Classic for the first time is offering a $10,000 technology competition, aimed at students from Louisiana’s six historically black colleges.

That’s in keeping with its mission to provide both education and entertainment, and also in line with its goal to attract more students generally, organizers said.

The “BizTech Challenge” asks students to create a technology to help small businesses affected by a natural disaster, a concept that comes as many businesses try to recover from historic floods that ravaged parts of Louisiana earlier this year.

Nineteen teams totaling 68 students will present their ideas to the public at 2 p.m. Friday in the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

The first-place winner will get a $10,000 cash prize on the field Saturday during halftime. The second- and third-place winners will get $6,000 and $4,000 respectively.

Southern enters the Bayou Classic against Grambling knowing it can’t win the Southwestern At…

Gov. John Bel Edwards has called the challenge “a terrific opportunity.” 

Just before the challenge Friday, organizers will hold a Career and College Expo at the Hyatt, where recent college graduates, people looking for career changes and students can meet with representatives of more than 30 corporations and universities.

While a similar event is held annually, this is the first time the Bayou Classic has partnered with IBM to let people apply for jobs and internships on the spot using an on-site Cyber Cafe, said Angela Young, the event’s media director.

It’s also the first time the career expo is being opened to the general community, not just to people connected to either Grambling or Southern, Young said.

Yet another new highlight is the honor that organizers will give to MVPs of past games. Those players, some of whom have had impressive NFL careers, will be presented with signature MVP Club blazers at Friday's coaches luncheon.

On game day, they will be recognized as they walk onto the field.

“We’re compiling more than just a game. … It’s also for career opportunities, and to bring these young people to the forefront,” Belletto said.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.