Coming Soon: The Rest of the Magic City Classic Story
Updated: Sep 27
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on September 26, 2023
A Commentary and Editorial Opinion
On September 27, 2022, a podcast featuring then-Jackson State University head football coach Deion Sanders by the company “Earn Your Leisure” was uploaded to YouTube.
During his interview, Coach Sanders made the following comment:
“How can we have 60,000 people in the stadium, and you told me we sold out? I check the receipts and we only sold 28,000 tickets? Y’all better find out who’s stealing because that affects my pocket.”
Sanders had a clause in his contract that stated if a Jackson State game sold over 30,000 tickets, then he would receive 10% of the total revenue of ticket sales.
In December 2022, Coach Sanders left Jackson State to accept the head football coaching job at the University of Colorado.
At the time, I did not understand Deion Sanders’ comments. Now that I have reviewed and published the Form 990 tax returns filed by the Alabama Sports Council for 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021, I fully understand what Coach Sanders was saying.
What is more, the Magic City Classic-related financial statements prepared by the Bruno Event Team and submitted to Alabama State University (ASU) and Alabama A&M University (AA&MU) for 2017 to 2021 have added more clarity and context to the type of concerns Sanders was expressing about the money from these Classic football games.
The Magic City Classic is the largest historically black college football Classic game in the country. It attracts over 60,000 attendees each year who purchase tickets to the game. The festivities kick off on the Wednesday before the game and include a press conference, luncheons, pep rally, parade, pre-game tailgate party, and halftime show.
Despite these highly profitable Magic City Classic events, the money paid out to ASU and AA&MU after the game was little more than “pocket change” or “tip” money.
Something is mighty wrong with this financial picture.
In Deion Sanders’ case, he simply accused somebody at Jackson State of “stealing” his money. The university denied his allegation.
The situation with the Magic City Classic is far more complicated and insidious than Sanders’ predicament at Jackson State. Here, officials at ASU and AA&MU were grossly negligent in their oversight of the highly questionable Magic City Classic financial expenditures that were made by the Alabama Sports Council and Bruno Event Team.
Did entities and individuals affiliated with the Magic City Classic pocket money that should have flowed into the bank accounts of ASU and AA&MU?
Here is one clue that will help you answer this question:
In 2021, the Alabama Sports Council and Bruno Event Team pocketed between $1,289,378 and $1,487,258 in “management fees” for Magic City events that grossed $3,897,417 in revenues that year. These fee payments, alone, accounted for 33% to 38% of the Magic City Classic revenues in 2021. The precise percentage of the fees is difficult to determine because the financial documentation that was submitted to ASU and AA&MU is too vague, ambiguous, and incomplete to make such a determination.
The management fee payment to the Alabama Sports Council was so lucrative that it helped this non-profit organization end the 2021 tax year with a hefty $534,333 surplus of funds.
In our next article in this exclusive investigative series of articles, we will disclose who got the rest of 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.
We followed the money and connected the dots.
This is one hot mess!