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!

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