Howard Bison wide receiver Robert Mercer is double-teamed by Hampton Pirate defenders during Hampton's 34-7 win in the Nation's Football Classic at RFK Stadium in southeast D.C. on Saturday, Sept. 17. /Photo by John E. De Freitas
Howard Bison wide receiver Robert Mercer is double-teamed by Hampton Pirate defenders during Hampton's 34-7 win in the Nation's Football Classic at RFK Stadium in southeast D.C. on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. (John E. De Freitas/The Washington Informer)

For the past six years, the football teams of historically black colleges and universities faced off in the annual AT&T Nation’s Football Classic at the historic RFK Stadium in Southeast. But this year, the fledgling fall tradition will not take place.

Events DC, the official convention and sports authority for the District and manager of the grounds that house RFK Stadium, announced late last month the discontinuation of the game due to “a shift in corporate priorities.”

Initiated in 2011 in partnership with title sponsorship from AT&T and partnership with Pepsi, the game specifically featured HBCU football teams in an effort to honor the heritage of the participating institutions, drawing crowds of thousands each year.

“It was a great recognition to the academic program in the schools, but also to recognized HBCUs,” said Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who received bachelor’s and law degrees from Howard in 1982 and 1986, respectively. “I can’t believe it. It is an event for all us to get together besides homecoming. It is also to raise money for both schools [playing in the game].”

But Events DC felt it was time to move on.

“Events DC enjoyed the exciting matchups and great relationships with our local partner, Howard University, and visiting schools Hampton University and Morehouse College for the Nation’s Football Classic over the past six years,” said Events DC President and CEO Gregory A. O’Dell in a statement. “The annual Classic in Washington, D.C., was more than just a game, with ancillary activities celebrating the passion and tradition of HBCUs. As our organization continues to evolve, we feel it is the right time to shift our efforts onto other exciting programming as well as the implementation of our short-term redevelopment project for the historic RFK Stadium-Armory Campus.”

The renovation of the 190-acre RFK campus it will include a food market, multi-purpose recreational fields, a sports and entertainment complex and revitalization of the waterfront area. Following the redevelopment, Events DC plans to host short-term programs they feel better serve the surrounding neighborhood.

Events DC’s mission is to generate economic and community benefits through promotion of attractions, business, athletic, entertainment and cultural activities. It boasts that it generates over $400 million annually in total economic impact and hosted 2 million guests at more than 320 events across its venues last year.

They say they expect their events on the books for this year to generate $600 million in spending in the city.

“Events DC’s mission is to generate economic impact for Washington, D.C., as well as community benefits for our residents,” said an Events DC representative. “The Nation’s Football Classic, despite never generating enough direct revenue to financially support itself, made a significant economic impact on the city year-over-year. It is our goal to continue to expand our portfolio to further drive community benefits and city’s economic engine.”

As the organization tries to drive younger generations to the city and sustain growth in the city’s prosperity, it says it seeks more innovation in their projects.

“Though we are sad to discontinue one of our primary produced events, we are now able to pivot our investments from one larger event to several smaller ones as we continue to activate the RFK Stadium-Armory campus and beyond,” said Erik A. Moses, Events DC senior vice president and managing director of sports, entertainment, and special events.

The organization says hopes to produce and support events that “feature the District’s diverse entertainment, sports and culinary scenes.”

“We would like to thank all the students, alumni, faculty and sponsors whose tremendous support since the Classic’s unveiling made this event a staple for the regional HBCU community over the past six years — especially Howard University, a true partner each year since the Classic’s unveiling,” Moses said.

Events DC said it has had ongoing conversations with the universities throughout the year regarding the future of the game, and the decision to not move forward with it was made in early June.

Ancillary events for the game will continue this fall, including Technoir’s Innovators Classic, a live pitch completion for minority startups and the Diversity in Sports forum, a panel discussion and career fair for upcoming sports industry leaders.

The universities could not be reached for comment.

William J. Ford contributed to this story.

Tatyana Hopkins – Washington Informer Contributing Writer

Tatyana Hopkins has always wanted to make the world a better place. Growing up she knew she wanted to be a journalist. To her there were too many issues in the world to pick a career that would force her...

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