MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Southern Heritage Classic became the first football game canceled this fall because of coronavirus, based on everything we could find.
“It’s a tremendous loss,” founder Fred Jones said. “But we had no choice based on the information we were getting.”
The Southern Heritage Classic has been played for 30 years between Jackson State and Tennessee State. Two HBCU’s that meet in the middle for a showdown on the gridiron. Now, it won’t be played.
“It took a lot of nerve to be able to do that. I’ll say this, when I knew that the press release was going to go out, I sat in the same place for about four or five minutes before I could press the send button,” Jones said.
According to Jones, when Memphis didn’t enter “Phase 3″ of its re-opening plan, he knew he had to make a decision on the September event.
“The tough part, is that there’s a lot of money lost because we don’t play the game,” he said.
However, that’s not the hardest part for Jones. It’s the emotional weight that takes the biggest toll on him.
“It’s something the people look forward to, it’s in their spirits, it’s in everything they do around this game. And that’s been broken this year.”
President and CEO of Memphis Tourism Kevin Kane estimates a $20M-$25M financial hit to the City of Memphis. But, he called the tourism and sport industry resilient. He hopes new businesses and improvements brings a resurgence when things open again.
“Here around the fairgrounds and the beautiful Liberty Bowl Stadium, and other venues with the convention center, Renasant Convention Center, which should be finished in a few months, improvements to the airport, new hotel. Memphis is going to be ready, when the comeback comes back all the way,” Kane explained.
For the time being, Jones isn’t even focused on 2021. He said there’s so much that needs to happen to make sure his event can go on like it’s supposed to. “The two things that impact next year regardless of anything else, is a vaccine and a cure, if we don’t make progress on that. It could be a tough situation,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, Memphis Athletics and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl are continuing to make plans to play games this fall. With fans and social distancing protocols in place.