|Fred Jones Jr.|
Friday, September 9, 2016
There’s no denying the success of The Southern Heritage Classic
Looking back more than two decades ago, Fred Jones Jr. recalls the day he took a leap of faith – and a long with that leap a combination of moxie and aptitude – to create, package and brand the Southern Heritage Classic as one of Memphis’ biggest sports/entertainment venues.
“I had no track record in producing an event like this in Memphis, even though I was traveling all over the country participating in events already,” said Jones, who started out as an entertainment promoter. Even the “city fathers did not believe I could pull the Classic off.”
And since rivals Tennessee State University (TSU) and Jackson State University (JSU) were part of the equation, Jones had to convince the administration at both schools that he knew what he was doing. It was a tough sell, he said, even though the schools’ athletic directors were on board, but believed the game should be played on the gridiron in Memphis.
Twenty-seven years later, the two HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) will romp the gridiron once again on Saturday, Sept. 10 at 6 p.m. before an expected 50,000-plus Classic fans cheering on their favorite team, or alma mater, at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
The football game is the Classic’s signature event. However, prior to the kickoff, fans will be privy to other classic events over the course of three days – Sept. 8-10 – which includes two star-studded concerts, a parade, a fashion show, a golf tournament, and tailgating.
“You never know where anything will go,” said Jones, who was determined to see his idea come to fruition and to prove his naysayers wrong. “To get to 27 [years] is mission accomplish.”
In terms of corporate support, community involvement, government participation, and monetary value, what Jones has accomplished since the onset is tantamount to reaching the summit, a word he uses in the name of his company, Summit Management Corporation.
“As you track us over these first 26 years, the level of participation from corporate has increased,” said Jones, noting that FedEx has been a presenting sponsor for more than 20 years. “You can see the level of participation and the quality of our presentation.”
TSU and JSU can count on a payday of $325,000 apiece for their participation. The city of Memphis is reaping benefits as well, as residuals continue to be added to the coffers ever since Jones transformed a two-dimensional idea into an entertainment reality.
“You can’t deny the success of the Classic,” he said. “You can’t deny how the community feels about the event. You can’t deny that this is a quality event that has an impact on the community in many ways. The impact and the numbers are very clear.”
Jones said the combined total has been $10 million dollars over the course of the Classic. “But when you look at the numbers, the tale of the tape, it speaks volumes. Every survey that’s been done – the last one was two years ago – indicated that there’s a $21 million impact on the city of Memphis.”
But some people still think the “glass slippers will slip off any moment,” said Jones, who doesn’t entertain negatives. In fact, he has a contract with both schools through 2019. “We had preliminary discussions about going forward up to 2024. It’s an ongoing process.”
The enthusiasm for the Classic hasn’t waned over the years, which is good news to Jones, who intends to quarterback the Classic for years to come. Then he’ll toss it to someone who’ll take it farther than where he’s been able to take it.
“It [Classic] was built to get to 27, to 50 [years],” said Jones, noting that his son, Nathanial Jones, is “very capable” of stepping in and keeping the event going. “I want the event to go on forever. It will go on as long as there is support for the event from fans, the government, and corporate.”
If there is a barometer for Jones’ success, it is this: “As long as the people are giving me clear indications that they are satisfied with the work that we’re doing, we’ll be good.”
For more information, visit www.southernheritageclassic.com or call the Summit Management Corporation at (901) 398-6655 or 1-800-332-1991.