Did Magic City Classic Promoters Skim a 20% Commission on City Money for Annual Football Game?
Updated: Oct 2
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on October 2, 2023
An Editorial Opinion
Last year, a team of top officials from Alabama A&M University (AA&MU) met with Mayor Randall Woodfin and his staff to discuss several topics relating to the recently concluded 2022 Magic City Classic. They questioned whether Gene Hallman’s Bruno Event Team had been skimming a 20% commission on the support money the city of Birmingham provided directly to Alabama State University (ASU) and AA&MU to play the Magic City Classic in Birmingham. They also expressed the need for an audit of the revenues and expenditures associated with the Classic.
The meeting occurred because the 2018 Legion Field Stadium Agreement had expired. The Agreement provided direct payments to ASU and AA&MU as an incentive to play the Classic in Birmingham. It was time to begin the discussions on a new agreement.
The AA&MU team thought the money that the Bruno Event Team provided to both universities was inadequate, and said so to Woodfin. They also wanted an audit of the monies generated from the Classic and the expenses paid out by the promoters of the event.
Financial Documents Prepared by the Event Promoters Raised Red Flags
In 2016, Hallman's company teamed with the Alabama Sports Council, Inc., to produce and promote the Magic City Class from 2017 to 2022. Their job was to grow revenues for the Classic while minimizing the expenses associated with producing and promoting a high quality event.
In 2017, the city paid ASU and AA&MU a total of $400,000 for the Classic, which was split on a 50/50 basis. In 2018, this amount increased to $425,000.
The 2018 Legion Field Stadium Agreement provided the following payments, which were also split on a 50/50 basis: (a) $650,000 in 2019, (b) $700,00 in 2020, (c) $750,000 in 2021, and (d) $800,000 in 2022.
In total, the city paid ASU and AA&MU a total of $3,725,000 to play in the Magic City Classic during this six year period. The Bruno Event Team's 20% commission on the city's support money, alone, would equal $748,725.
Reportedly, Gene Hallman considered the city's support payments as "sponsorship money" which, in his view, was subject to a 20% commission for his Bruno Event Team. To the consternation of Gene Hallman, AA&MU did not share this view. This matter was never resolved.
During this period, the Alabama Sports Council increased its "management fees"from $448,980 in 2017 to $770,469 in 2021, even though the number of major sports events under management by the Council remained the same.
What is more, the financial statements provided by the Bruno Event Team to AA&MU for 2021 showed total expenditures of $2,937,188 for the Fall and Spring Magic City Classic events that year. However, the Alabama Sports Council's tax return for 2021 reported total Magic Classic expenses of $3,269,979.
The $332,791 difference between the amount of expenses reported on the tax return and the amount reported in the financial statement provided to AA&MU is not explained or reconciled in the documents.
Magic City Classic Revenues and Expenses Have Never Been Properly Audited by ASU or AA&MU
From 2017 to 2022, neither ASU, nor AA&MU, has ever audited the financial books and records of the Bruno Event Team or Alabama Sports Council with respect to Magic City Classic revenues and expenses. The universities simply trusted the two sports promoters to do the right thing during this period.
To this date, there has been no independent audit by a qualified and capable sports accounting firm on what the actual revenues and expenses were for Magic City Classic events from 2017 to 2021. [Tax returns and financial reports for the 2022 Magic City Classic are not publicly available.]
The Bruno Event Team, together with the chairman of the Alabama Sports Council from 2016 to 2020 (Nick Sellers), ran up a $15 million deficit with their management of the World Games 2022. The city, together with Jefferson County, the state of Alabama, and other entities, had to bailout the World Games with a $15 million debt relief package.
Yet, no official at the city of Birmingham, or ASU, or Jefferson County, has pushed to audit the books and records of the Alabama Sports Council or Bruno Event Team with respect to the revenues and expenses related to the Magic City Classic.
No public reason or justification has ever been provided for why the Magic City Classic's financial books and records have never been properly audited by certified public accountants who specialize in sports accounting.
Magic City "Grifting"
Interestingly, some public officials whose actions, or lack thereof, financially benefitted the Alabama Sports Council, the Bruno Event Team, and World Games 2022 saw a significant upturn in their personal financial wellbeing between 2017 to 2021.
In one case, a key public official experienced substantial debt relief in his personal finances, even though no new income or revenue was reported on his ethics forms as a source for reducing his personal debt obligations.
These public officials also saw lucrative Magic City Classic event contracts awarded to their tight circle of friends, family members, surrogates, mistresses, and lovers, with little to no deliverables expected or provided.
Some of these officials enjoyed free access to luxurious beach homes, hotels and resort accommodations for romantic getaways, private jet rides, fine dining, and other valuable perks that are not disclosed on their Alabama Ethics Commission annual disclosure forms.
The endless stream of tangible economic benefits that flowed to certain public officials involved in the Magic City Classic financial decisions that benefitted the event's producers and promoters appears to follow the Clarence Thomas model of "gifting" and "grifting."
Finally, the Bruno Event Team is known to have provided certain public officials and “influencers” who were NOT part of Magic City Classic game-day operations with free admission tickets, parking passes, and VIP access beyond the number authorized in the Agreement between the city and the participating universities. The public officials in this category also worked to thwart public accountability and transparency with respect to the financial books and records of Magic City Classic events.
In an upcoming article in this series of investigative articles, we will tell you who got the the money from the 2021 Magic City Classic events, how they got it, and why they did not want their names revealed in the annual financial statements that were eventually provided to ASU, AA&MU, and the city of Birmingham.