Friday, September 29, 2023

Trump goes blank for 40 seconds mid-speech during South Dakota event, raising more questions about HIS age and mental acuity as 2024 election approaches


Donald Trump went blank, abruptly stopping his speech and staring awkwardly at the audience for about 40 seconds, during a recent event in South Dakota. The incident adds to the mounting evidence that Trump, at age 77, is cognitively impaired, mentally unhinged, or both. That Trump would go silent for about 40 seconds is particularly alarming because this was the same speech where he claimed, as president, he would have the power to prosecute political opponents, even creating phony cases against them. This came about one week before Trump said he would have media organizations and their employees prosecuted for treason if they produced news reports that displeased him -- and he suggested Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, should be put to death for treason because he communicated with his Chinese counterparts (as other Trump staff members had requested) to reassure them that Trump would not invade their country following the events of January 6.

(Note: Video of Trump's 40-second pause can be viewed here.)

Polls continue to show Americans are concerned that President Joe Biden, at age 80, is too old to serve a full second term and might have eroding mental faculties. But Trump, Biden's likely opponent in the 2024 election, keeps providing evidence that his age and declining mental acuity should also be of concern. CNN's Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, analyzes these issues in an opinion piece under the headline "Trump's gaffes should raise questions about his fitness for office":  

A Fox News poll released last week found that 52% of Americans don’t believe 77-year-old Donald Trump has the “mental soundness to serve” as president. That same poll showed 61% of Americans have the same concern about President Joe Biden, who is 80. But while there is extensive media coverage about Biden’s age and gaffes, Trump, for the most part, gets a pass.

For example, at a September 8 rally in South Dakota, the 2024 GOP presidential front-runner abruptly stopped mid-speech for 40 seconds as he awkwardly looked at the audience, his eyes darting around. Some of his supporters online asserted that Trump — who had just said the United States was “the greatest nation in the history of the world” — was overcome with emotion. Have you ever seen Trump overcome with emotion? It’s hard for me to buy that explanation.

Regardless of the reason for the pause, imagine if Biden had abruptly stopped a speech midway through and began looking around the audience for more than half a minute? Much of the media — and I don’t mean just right-wing outlets — would likely ask if Biden had become confused or had fallen ill, or if the teleprompter stopped working and he wasn’t mentally able to fill the time? Such a clip of Biden would probably be played nonstop on cable news and dissected by pundits and even doctors specializing in cognitive issues.

But with Trump, there was no notice, although Frank Bruni took note of his lapses into incoherence in a recent New York Times column with the headline “Trump Is Really Old, Too.”

Trump also went off the rails in a speech, ironically, not far from the White House. Writes Obeidallah: 

Then there was Trump’s gaffe-filled speech Friday at the Washington, DC, Pray Vote Stand Summit that some observers dubbed a “word salad.” But that framing is not close to what happened. Trump — who faces 91 felony charges in four criminal cases — confusingly invoked former President Barack Obama’s name twice and apparently forgot World War II had already happened.

After calling Biden “cognitively impaired” (talk about irony!), Trump claimed the president was leading us into World War II. Of course, that global conflict ended in 1945, a year before Trump was born.

Trump then mistakenly referred to Obama in two instances. First Trump declared, “As you know, crooked Joe Biden and the radical left thugs have weaponized law enforcement to arrest their leading political opponent, and leading by a lot, including Obama — I’ll tell you what.” Obviously, Obama is not running for president in 2024.

Trump later stated, “With Obama, we won an election that everyone said couldn’t be won.” Apparently realizing his mistake, Trump then quickly said, “Hillary Clinton,” who was his opponent in 2016.

The media seems to have a double standard when it comes to coverage of any verbal missteps Biden makes and Trump's over-the-top ravings, And Obeidallah notes that Trump's tendency to lie relentlessly might be a sign of a delusional disorder:

Again, if Biden had made those types of mistakes, many in the media likely would have covered them as part of the narrative that the octogenarian president lacks the mental soundness to do the job for another four years.

Besides these mistakes, there’s another issue unique to Trump, which demands more attention. It’s his assertion that he won the 2020 election. Sure, he could just be claiming he won so his base will not view him as a loser, but there is a good-faith question that needs to be explored of whether such a claim is delusional.

Just last month, Trump again said he won Georgia in 2020 despite that being patently false. Trump continues to make the same claim for the overall 2020 results despite his own officials after the election — including then-Attorney General William Barr — informing him there was no evidence to support his bogus assertions. And the former president must know his 60-plus election challenges in court all failed, including in cases before Trump-appointed judges.

Further undermining Trump’s claims he won in 2020 is something he mentioned in his speech  in Washington, and that is polling. Trump is now touting polls that he’s leading Biden. (In reality, the two are locked in a tight race within the margin of error in a hypothetical match-up.) Well, the polls in the weeks before the 2020 election showed Biden winning by an average of 10 points. A Fox News poll released just days before the 2020 election had Biden up by 8 percentage points. If Trump had been up by that margin and then lost in 2020, perhaps it would have bolstered his claims of election wrongdoing. Instead, the polls predicted Biden would win — and he did.

Trump’s gaffes may simply be mistakes. But his continued false claims that he won the 2020 election warn us that he is either one of the most committed liars we’ve ever seen or his views are delusional. In either case, for the sake of our nation, Trump can never again be trusted to be the commander in chief.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Two historically Black universities had the foresight almost three decades ago to trademark the name "Magic City Classic"; so where are the licensing fees?

Empty seats are hard to find at the Magic City Classic.

Almost 30 years ago, participants in the nation's top college football game involving Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) made the wise decision to trademark the name "Magic City Classic," which is played annually before packed crowds at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. Licensing fees from the trademark should have generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for Alabama State (ASU) and Alabama A&M (AA&MU), the two schools that square off each year in the Classic. But longtime attorney and sports enthusiast Donald Watkins says that apparently has not happened, raising this question: Where did the licensing-fee money go? Under the headline "Magic City Classic: Where’s the License Fee Money?" Watkins writes:

On September 19, 1995, Alabama State University (ASU) and Alabama A&M University (AA&MU) had the foresight to trademark the name “Magic City Classic.” [Click here to read the trademark ownership record issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.]

ASU and AA&MU intended to commercialize and profit from the use of their trademarked “Magic City Classic” with respect to all “entertainment services, namely organizing collegiate football games and parades associated therewith, along with social and recreational events, including, concerts, dances, band and other competitions, live entertainment and performances and fund raisers such as golf tournaments.”

Generally, a trademark owner gives merchandisers permission to use his/her trademark if you pay him/her a licensing fee and sign a licensing agreement incorporating the specific terms of any commercial and noncommercial use.

The license-fee money from the Magic City Classic trademark was supposed to be split 50/50 between ASU and AA&MU.

From 2017 to 2021, the trademarked name “Magic City Classic” was used by hundreds of vendors and merchandisers each and every year that the Alabama Sports Council, Inc., and Bruno Event Team produced, promoted, and managed the Classic. This trademark should have yielded hundreds of thousands of dollars in licensing fees each year, especially since the Classic has evolved into the "Super Bowl of HBCU football."

So. what's going on? Watkins says the answer to that question begins with Eventive Sports (formerly Bruno Event Team), a Birmingham-based company, specializing in event management and promotion,  headed by CEO Gene Hallman. Writes Watkins:

In May 2023, the Bruno Event Team (now known as Eventive Sports) provided ASU and AA&MU financial statements for the Magic City Classic for 2017 to 2021. All of them follow the format of the financial statement for 2021, which is hyperlinked here.

All of the financial statements begin with a section on “Revenue.” None of them lists money from “licensing fees” anywhere in the statements.

A casual observer to the annual Magic City Classic events described in ASU’s and AA&MU’s trademark-ownership record knows that hundreds of vendors locally and across America have used the trademarked name “Magic City Classic” to sell millions of dollars in merchandise and drive tens of thousands of paying patrons to their parties, bars, clubs, private receptions, concerts, and Classic-related events where the trademarked name was used to make money.

The Internet is littered with the commercial marketing of the “Magic City Classic“ name for private commercial purposes between 2017 to 2021. (An example of the commercial use of the Classic name is depicted in a 2021 image at the end of this post.)

Where is the license-fee money from all of the commercial vendors across America who used the trademarked name "Magic City Classic" to sell goods and services? It does not appear that ASU and AA&MU got this license-fee money between 2017 and 2021.

In an upcoming article in this series of investigative articles, we will tell you who got 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.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Debt from Birmingham hosting the 2022 World Games is driving the financial scandal that now plagues the Magic City Classic, a top football draw

The Magic City Classic parade through downtown Birmingham.

A sizable debt left from Birmingham hosting the 2022 World Games is driving the financial irregularities now plaguing the Magic City Classic, which is held annually at Legion Field and has become one of the top draws in college football involving historically Black universities (Alabama A&M and Alabama State). That's from an article by longtime Alabama attorney and sports enthusiast Donald Watkins, who writes under the headline "Magic City Classic Promoters Ran Up Massive Debt With 2022 World Games":

The sports promoters at the center of the financial scandal involving the Magic City Classic are the same guys who ran up $15 million in debt with the World Games 2022. We are talking about World Games 2022 CEO Nick Sellers and Bruno Event Team CEO Gene Hallman.

According to the Regions Bank news site, Doing More Today, the Bruno Event Team was “The Secret Behind the World Games.” Of course, the World Games were a financial bust.

While World Games vendors struggled to get paid, the Bruno Event Team (now Eventive Sports) found a way to make millions of dollars from the debt-ridden World Games.

Watkins focuses on this fundamental question: Who Bailed out the World Games, and Why Does this Matter for the Magic City Classic?

World Games promoters Nick Sellers and Gene Hallman failed to meet their financial projections for this sports event, in a big way. So, who bailed them out?

The answer to this question begins with the city of Birmingham, Alabama. Remember, Nick Sellers and Gene Hallman also promoted and managed the Magic City Classic together from 2017 to 2020, via the Alabama Sports Council, Inc. After Sellers left the Council in 2020, Hallman continued to promote the Classic with the Council’s new chairman, Birmingham businessman Larry Thornton.

Since 2017, the city of Birmingham and Jefferson County have been the Alabama Sports Council's financial partners in producing and promoting the Magic City Classic.

Birmingham has developed a habit of bailing out various White entities, and that has put a strain on the Magic City Classic, which is one of the city's primary cash cows. Writes Watkins:

Apart from the Classic, the taxpayer “piggy bank” for bailing out struggling, cash-strapped, White organizations and institutions in Birmingham since 2017 has been the city of Birmingham. For example, in March 2018, the city committed $90 million in neighborhood improvement funds to help build a new football stadium for the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

In July 2023, the city gave $5 million to the developers of a new downtown open-air amphitheater.

In August 2023, the city gave financially destitute Birmingham-Southern College (BSC) $5 million to keep this historically White, private college afloat. Additionally, city officials, together with Jefferson County legislators, served as the proud drum majors for $30 million in loans to BSC from the state of Alabama. In stark contrast, these same officials have not lifted one finger to help Alabama A&M University (AA&MU) collect the $527,280,064 debt the state owes this historically Black institution. They have been as quiet as a church mouse on this important subject in the Black community.

In August 2022, the city of Birmingham gave the World Games $5 million from its reserve-fund money for debt relief. In exchange for this much-needed cash, Nick Sellers promised to provide “data and professional consulting services … to better assist the city in hosting future large-scale international sports and entertainment events,” including a database of sponsors, volunteers and corporate donors and training on security protocols.

Whether the city has received $5 million worth of "data and professional consulting," a "database of sponsors, volunteers and corporate donors," and "training on security protocols" from World Games promoters, as promised, is an open question. If it has, no one at City Hall is talking about it. Instead, they are busy looking for the next failed project to bail out in a city that is reeling from decaying neighborhoods, failing schools, and a surge in violent street crime.

The bailout mentality goes beyond the City of Birmingham, but once again, the entities that benefit tend to be under White leadership, Watkins reports:

In September 2022, the Jefferson County Commission joined the city in the World Games bailout crusade by giving the debt-ridden Games a $4 million bailout In 2023, the state of Alabama and other entities picked up the tab for the remaining $6 million in World Games debt.

In 2021, Gene Hallman secured millions of dollars, via funding from UAB and the Jefferson County Department of Public Health, for the Bruno Event Team to work on COVID-related projects. Hallman's sports-management company: (a) oversaw a COVID program for college students that involved contact tracing; (b) managed an advertising campaign that encouraged Alabamians to get the controversial COVID-19 vaccines; and (c) distributed these vaccines on campuses for all college football programs in Alabama.

Reportedly, the Bruno Event Team's COVID contact tracing program was a “debacle,” while its software app for the program was considered a “joke.”

Against this backdrop, the city of Birmingham never conducted proper audits on the financial books and records of the World Games, or the Alabama Sports Council, or the Bruno Event Team, or the Magic City Classic, even though the city has poured millions of taxpayer dollars into the World Games and the Magic City Classic.

In the aftermath of the staggering and embarrassing World Games financial losses, Gene Hallman rebranded the Bruno Event Team to Eventive Sports. This rebranding was announced on March 14, 2023.

Who gets largely left out of the Magic City Classic cash flow? Watkins says it is Alabama A&M and Alabama State, the Black institutions that generate the funds in the first place:

The Magic City Classic is the largest historically Black college football Classic game in the country. It attracts more than 60,000 attendees each year, who purchase tickets to the game. The Classic is a "cash cow" for everybody affiliated with producing and promoting this event, except ASU and AA&MU.

Despite the demonstrated revenue generating power of the Magic City Classic, the money paid out to Alabama State University (ASU) and AA&MU after the game is little more than “pocket change” or “tip” money.

The entities that drove the Magic City Classic to become a mega-hit, have not been able to conduct a proper audit related to the event -- partly because documents they have received are largely useless for auditing purposes, Watkins reports:

Like the city of Birmingham and Jefferson County, neither ASU, nor AA&MU, has properly audited the financial books and records of the Alabama Sports Council or the Bruno Event Team. What is more, ASU and AA&MU have never known or certified all of the ways the Bruno Event Team derived tangible economic value for itself from the Magic City Classic platform.

In 2021, alone, the Alabama Sports Council and Bruno Event Team made between $1,289,378 and $1,487,258 in “management fees” for Magic City events that produced $3,897,417 in reported revenues that year. The $716,789 portion of the management fees that was paid to the Alabama Sports Council helped this non-profit entity end the 2021 tax year with a hefty $534,333 surplus of funds.

In an upcoming article in this series of investigative articles, we will tell you 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.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Trump, if re-elected, threatens to prosecute the media and his political enemies, a sure signal this guy is not mentally well and is unfit to serve in the office he seeks

Trump and Smudge, the cat of many memes

Donald Trump, if re-elected, is calling for his critics -- including media organizations and their employees, to be prosecuted for treason, according to a report at The New Republic. This came on the same weekend that Trump said Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and America's top military officer, deserves to be put to the death for treason. And it comes roughly one week after Trump said during a speech in South Dakota that, as president, he could prosecute his political enemies

If this does not convince Americans that Trump is mentally ill, dangerous, unfit to hold any public office (much less president), and -- to put it bluntly -- too ignorant to be allowed anywhere near the White House, it's hard to imagine what will.

It's hard to rank Trump's nutty statements, but for purposes of this post, we will stipulate that his threat to prosecute the media for engaging in Constitutionally protected speech (by, you know, the First Amendment) is No. 1. Of all people, a president should understand the rights to free speech and a free press; after all, it's called the First Amendment for a reason -- many scholars see it as the most important provision in our founding documents, a building block of what it means to live in our democracy. That Trump doesn't get that  indicates he is too dim-witted and hard-headed to serve in the office he seeks.

How alarming are Trump's statements of the past 8-10 days? The New Republic (TNR) gives an idea with this headline: "Trump Goes Full Deranged, Suggests Charging People He Doesn't Like With Treason." If that is not clear enough, TNR adds this sub-headline: "This is not a joke. Donald Trump is stating very plainly what he would do if re-elected." Torri Otten provides the appropriate tone with these words from an article dated 9/25/23:

Donald Trump went over the edge over the weekend and began calling for his detractors to be prosecuted or even put to death.

They are almost all dishonest and corrupt, but Comcast, with its one-sided and vicious coverage by NBC NEWS, and in particular MSNBC, often and correctly referred to as MSDNC (Democrat National Committee!), should be investigated for its ‘Country Threatening Treason,’” he wrote on Truth Social Sunday night.

“I say up front, openly, and proudly, that when I WIN the Presidency of the United States … the LameStream Media will be thoroughly scrutinized for their knowingly dishonest and corrupt coverage of people, things, and events,” he said. “They are a true threat to Democracy and are, in fact, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE! The Fake News Media should pay a big price for what they have done to our once great Country!”

Trump has never been a fan of news outlets that give him the slightest bit of negative or unbiased coverage. He even turned on his once-favorite Fox News after the network confirmed Arizona voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

But the fact that he is threatening to censor news outlets through federal regulatory powers is terrifying, not to mention a huge violation of the Constitution.

Otten is right on target. That polls tell us large swaths of the American electorate do not grasp the reality that Donald Trump is a raving lunatic, and that he probably is incompetent to run a corner lemonade stand . . . well those folks could do us all a huge favor and stay at home on election day.

How does Trump con his MAGA followers into believing he actually is fit to serve as president? Consider his words above: "The LameStream Media . . . are a true threat to Democracy and are, in fact, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!" 

Psychologists call this "projection." Trump, of course, is the real threat to Democracy -- a genuine enemy of the people. But he uses projection to lull the MAGA crowd into a false sense of security, providing a distraction from the issues that really cause their fears and anxieties -- and confirms their prejudices. It's a subtle rhetorical device that essentially amounts to saying, "Hey, look over there. Those are your enemies." Trump makes regular use of projection, and it's a big part of his con-man act.

Let's return to Tori Otten's piece, where she provides background on Trump's recent ravings:

Trump’s threat to the news media was actually his second attempt to menace detractors this past weekend alone. On Friday, he slammed Mark Milley, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggesting that perhaps he also committed treason.

“This guy turned out to be a Woke train wreck who, if the Fake News reporting is correct, was actually dealing with China to give them a heads up on the thinking of the President of the United States,” Trump said on Truth Social. “This is an act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH!”

Trump was referring to two phone calls Milley made to Beijing, one during Trump’s last months in office and the second in the aftermath of the January 6 riot. The calls, which were to assure China that Trump was not planning to attack the country, were done at the direction of other Trump administration officials.

Trump, of course, appointed Milley to his role in 2018—but since then has repeatedly lashed out at the general. His Friday comments came after The Atlantic published a profile of Milley that described how he “protected the Constitution from Donald Trump.”

It should go without saying, but Trump making comments like this is incredibly dangerous. His followers have shown themselves quick to spring to action. Hundreds of January 6 defendants have said they descended on Washington because Trump personally called on them.

Republican lawmakers too quickly follow the former president’s commands. Another Trump supporter, Arizona Representative Paul Gosar, has also called for Milley to face death. In his newsletter Sunday, Gosar baselessly claimed that Milley and then–House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had worked to delay the National Guard’s response to the January 6 riot, to make Trump look bad.

“In a better society … General Milley would be hung,” Gosar wrote. “How this traitor remains in office is a question we need answered.”

(If it’s any consolation for Gosar, Milley retires on October 1.)

Gosar has shown himself remarkably willing to take up Trump’s call, even on the most extreme behavior. In December, Gosar posted on X, then called Twitter, backing Trump’s call to terminate the U.S. Constitution and overturn the 2020 election. He deleted the post an hour later, after it sparked backlash.

Gosar is the goofball that Stop the Steal organizer Ali Alexander claimed helped plan the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol. Alexander has strong ties to Alabama, and at last report, was the subject of a police report in Colorado, alleging he had attempted to obtain "d--k pics" from teen boys. In a post dated 5/2/23, the communications manager for the Johnstown, CO, Police Department said the allegations against Alexander were under investigation. Our research indicates Alexander could face 2-6 years in prison and a $500,000 fine if prosecuted and convicted for "online solicitation of a minor" in Colorado.

On top of that, Alexander has a well-documented criminal history from the days when he was known as Ali Akbar. He also has a history of seeking gay sex via the Grindr online app.

(Note: I've included a meme of Trump and Smudge the Cat in an effort to add some levity to this post. But there is nothing amusing about the subject matter. If you are an American, Republican or Democrat, Trump is a threat to your way of life. I pray we get that before it's too late.)

A story that started with Deion Sanders raises this question: Where did the millions of dollars from Alabama's mega-hit Magic City Classic wind up going?


Bands perform at halftime of the Magic City Classic.

One of the first signs (at least of a sign becoming public) that college football games involving Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) could make big money and involve odd financial arrangements involved Deion Sanders, who has been the biggest story in college sports this year at the University of Colorado and previously was head coach at Jackson State in Mississippi. Sanders realized something was wrong with the way funds were disbursed for some of Jackson State's biggest games -- and the oddities affected his pocketbook, so he complained about it publicly.

Donald Watkins, longtime attorney and sports enthusiast, has uncovered similar oddities surrounding the Magic City Classic, which pits Alabama A&M vs. Alabama State and is played every fall at Legion Field in Birmingham. (The 2023 game is set for 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 28 and will be televised on ESPN+.) Watkins has analyzed documents related to the Magic City Classic and found three major themes: (1) The event brings in millions of dollars, and it involves peculiar financial agreements that hardly are models of transparency; (2) The agreements appear to allow White-owned business entities (event managers, promoters, etc.) to come out way ahead financially, while the Black institutions that generate the big dollars are left with relative "tip money" for their efforts; and (3) Watkins calls the situation a "rip off" of the universities, one that has left alumni, students and patrons "bewildered and heartbroken" (and probably more than a little angry).

Here is one more oddity: Alabama's somnolent mainstream press, which has been known to more or less sleep through some of the state's most important stories ("Alabama has corrupt courts? Nah, our readers aren't interested in that.") is not sleeping through this one. (formerly The Birmingham News) ran multiple stories in recent days (see here and here.) and appears poised to produce more.

How did an issue that apparently became known because of Deion Sanders in Mississippi move next door to Alabama? Donald Watkins provides insight on that question under the headline "Coming Soon:The Rest of the Magic City Classic Story":

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 more than 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.

Watkins did not immediately realize the Sanders podcast would introduce a major story to his home state:

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 more than 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.

The peculiar financial picture surrounding the Magic City Classic, it turns out, is more complicated than the Deion Sanders story, Watkins reports:

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 nonprofit organization end the 2021 tax year with a hefty $534,333 surplus of funds.

In our next article in this exclusive investigative series of article, 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!

Monday, September 25, 2023

Attorney's review of financial documents related to Magic City Classic reveals an ugly tale of White business entities taking advantage of Black institutions

Fans pack Legion Field parking lots for Magic City Classic tailgating.

The Alabama Sports Council and its partner, Eventive Sports (formerly Bruno Event Team) have failed to provide financial documents related to the Magic City Classic football game, which is played annually at Legion Field in Birmingham. This has kept the participating universities -- historically Black Alabama A&M and Alabama State -- and the city of Birmingham from conducting a proper audit of the millions of dollars the classic generates. Donald Watkins, longtime Alabama attorney and sports enthusiast, calls this a "rip off" -- and it appears to be a case of White business entities taking advantage of public Black institutions. Under the headline "Magic City Classic Deals Spotlight An Inexcusable Lack of Financial Oversight by ASU and AA&MU." Watkins writes:

On September 22, 2023, I published an exclusive investigative article exposing the fact that the Alabama Sports Council ripped off Alabama State University (ASU) and Alabama A&M University (AA&MU) in producing the Magic City Classic in 2021. The article analyzed the Council’s Form 990 tax return for 2021, (which is the latest full-year tax return publicly available) and four prior years (i.e., 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020).

The article left thousands of ASU and AA&MU alumni and Magic City Classic patrons bewildered and heartbroken.

This article is about the inexcusable lack of financial oversight by ASU, AA&MU, and Birmingham City Hall over the millions of dollars made and spent from the nation’s oldest and biggest Black college-football Classic game, from 2017 to 2021. The groups that are hurt by this lack of oversight are the taxpayers of the state of Alabama and city of Birmingham and the loyal patrons who have built the Magic City Classic into the largest football game in the nation between two historically Black colleges.

Watkins' review of relevant documents shows that "lax institutional oversight permeates every aspect of the Magic City Classic financial deals." Many of the financial statements the universities and the city have received are worthless in terms of producing a meaningful audit, Watkins states:

From 2017 to 2021, ASU and AA&MU utterly and completely failed to: (a) understand the business model used by the Alabama Sports Council (the event producer) and Bruno Event Team (the "event planning manager") to create dynamic economic value for themselves, and (b) leverage their collective clout and resources to maximize Classic-related financial benefits for ASU and AA&MU.

Several months ago, Eventive Sports (formerly known as the Bruno Event Team) provided financial statements to ASU and AA&MU covering the period from 2017 to 2021 for Magic City Classic events. These statements contained bare minimum financial information, with no backup documentation for a proper financial audit of the event’s revenues and expenses.

From 2017 through 2021, the public officials who were supposed to be the guardians of the money produced by Magic City Classic events were NOT doing their jobs.

During the 2021 Fall Magic City Classic weekend, for example, trustees from ASU and AA&MU were busy getting into chic parties, sitting in skyboxes at the game (for free), and dining on catered food and drinks (for free), all while engaging in endless photo ops in and around Birmingham during the 2021 Classic weekend. Yet, the Bruno Event Team charged these extravagant trustee freebies as expense items to each institution.

Additionally, the officials in Birmingham City Hall who were supposed to subject the Magic City Classic events to proper financial due diligence and who pushed city taxpayers to subsidize the Classic with city services, perks, and direct cash to each university simply looked the other way.

As was the case with the universities, no one inside City Hall served as a guardian of the tax money the city of Birmingham invested in promoting the Magic City Classic events.

We will explain why the city's failure of financial oversight occurred in an upcoming article.

Watkins' review indicates someone needed to keep a close watch on the Alabama Sports Council (the "event producer") and Eventive Sports (the "event planning manager"), but it appears no one did. Meanwhile, the council and Eventive were not forthcoming with useful financial data. Writes Watkins:

ASU and AA&MU have never had full and complete access to the financial books and records of the Alabama Sports Council and the Bruno Event Team for the purpose of conducting proper annual audits on the Magic City Classic events handled by these contractors, from 2017 to 2021. As a result, the universities have never properly audited the money generated and expenses paid in connection with the Classic events during these years.

The financial books and records for the 2022 Magic City Classic, including the Alabama Sports Council's tax return for that year, have not been provided to the Internal Revenue Service or ASU and AA&MU.

In 2021, the Alabama Sports Council reported $5,878,430 in revenues on its tax return for sports events it produced that year. A whopping $3,897,417 (or 66.3%) was derived from Magic City Classic events (i.e., the Fall Magic City Classic and the much smaller Spring Magic City Classic).

As stated earlier, Eventive Sports provided AA&MU with financial statements for Magic City Classic events held from 2017 to 2021. For financial accountability, transparency, and auditing purposes, the financial statements are useless.

Why were Eventive's documents useless? Watkins explains:

A review of Eventive Sports' financial statement for the 2021 Fall Magic City Classic event illustrates this point. [Click here to read this financial statement.]

The financial statement provides virtually NO details on any item of revenue or expense. It is a “bare bones” financial statement for a multimillion-dollar event.

No vendor, professional service provider, consultant, or influencer is listed in the financial statement by name, address, amount paid, and nature and scope of services rendered.

No supporting documentation of any kind was supplied to aid the universities in verifying the reasonableness and/or necessity of the expenditures listed.

“A whopping $175,710 in undefined “Miscellaneous” expenses were listed across multiple categories in the 2021 financial statement.

There is $89,351 listed in “Food and Beverage” expenses, with no record of what vendor(s) provided this service. It is not known whether the food and beverage service for the Classic was provided by Five Star Concessions, LLC, which is co-owned by Gene Hallman and Ronald Bruno, or a third-party food and beverage vendor. If Five Star provided this service, in whole or in part, who vetted, waived, and/or approved this conflict of interest? Remember, the Alabama Sports Council paid the Bruno Event Team a management fee of $770,469 for the Magic City Classic events in 2021.

The “Celebrity Fee” is listed as $117,212. Yet, there is no itemization of all of the persons who feasted off this fee, and in what amounts.

There is no explanation for what the nonprofit Alabama Sports Council did to earn and/or retain a profit of $401,399 for the Fall Magic City Classic. Likewise, there is no explanation for what the Council did to earn and/or retain $226,039 for the Spring Magic City Classic event in 2021.

Were those the only insults to any notion of financial transparency? No, reports Watkins:

In a May 24, 2023, email from Eventive Sports to AA&MU, the Alabama Sports Council’s $716,789 in total Magic City Classic payments to itself in 2021 was characterized as a “management fee” that was charged to ASU and AA&MU on top of the $770,469 “event planning management" fee that was paid to Gene Hallman's Bruno Event Team that year.

Instead of conducting the proper due diligence and full audits on the financial books and records of the Alabama Sports Counsel and Bruno Event Team/Eventive Sports with respect to Classic-related revenues and expenses, ASU and AA&MU merely focused on the amount of money that the Alabama Sports Council paid to each university each year.

Between 2017 and 2021, ASU and AA&MU handled the financial dealings associated with the Magic City Classic like they were beggars in a charity line, rather than major players in a highly profitable college football Classic event.

One thing seems clear. The Magic City Classic is a smashing success, generating big dollars, But where has that money gone? Watkins writes:

ASU, AA&MU, and City Hall officials should have been asking the questions raised in this article. They apparently failed to do so -- each year. Why?

Our next article will focus on who got the money from the Magic City Classic, how they got it, and why they did not want their names revealed in the annual financial statements that were ultimately provided to ASU, AA&MU, and the city of Birmingham.

In investigative journalism, there is always a money trail available somewhere. All we did for this story was follow the money and connect the dots.