Over the last week there have been several conversations within the Rattler atmosphere about FAMU VP/Director of Athletics Tiffani-Dawn Sykes choosing to forgo FAMU’s participation in the 2024 Orange Blossom Classic. Additionally, her decision to raise prices on the popular “Investing in Champions” football support packages also drew some criticism.
In HBCU athletics, it is difficult to navigate the tough decisions that have to be made. We talked with Sykes about the decisions and her explanations are based on clear steps to the sustainability of FAMU Athletics.
“You can’t buy a gallon of gas for the same price as previously,” Sykes said in reference to raising the prices on the Investing in Champions packages. “As much as we would love to offer the same pricing offered in previous years for packages, it is fiscally irresponsible to do so.”
Sykes contends that a forensic audit of the offerings associated with the previous price breaks on the Investing in Champions packages resulted in the two most popular packages losing money. Additionally, the value of the most popular investment package itself was upside-down $150,000. Sykes contends that she was hired to implement her best efforts to fix the various issues within FAMU Athletics and reversing the trend of losing money requires tough decisions, which at some turns may be unpopular.
In the Investing in Champions packages, fans are supplied with tickets to the Florida Classic, and for the upper packages, they are offered club-level seating. FAMU Athletics does not receive those tickets free, they are charged for each of those tickets. Some packages even included parking at the Florida Classic and Battle of the Bands tickets, all paid for by Athletics. Florida Classic ticket prices have risen. In addition, for home games, some packages include the North End Zone club which accumulates food and beverage costs associated with each participant.
It has recently come to light that FAMU has declined an invitation for the 2024 Orange Blossom Classic. This is the final year of the initial contract for the restart of the Orange Blossom Classic which included games against the Jackson State Tigers in 2021, 2022, and 2023. Much has been made about FAMU’s not partaking in the game for 2024, but Tiffani-Dawn Sykes, speaking in an exclusive interview with HBCU Gameday stated that playing in the game would be counter to FAMU’s partnerships and growth of the Investing in Champions initiative.
“FAMU has enjoyed taking part in the Orange Blossom Classic. By all accounts, it has been a first-class game with exciting ancillary events,” Sykes said. “We sincerely appreciate the efforts of Miami Gardens and all the partners involved in perpetuating a unique cultural experience that helps not only the schools involved but youth in the area with valuable scholarships. Along with the game, bringing back the custom of the Marching ‘100’ stepping down the streets of Dade County is a part of FAMU’s athletic history that is steeped in FAMU tradition. While we do respect that, we have a responsibility to our season ticket holders, Investing in Champions members and local partners to bring a minimum of five to six home games to Tallahassee annually.”
FAMU will play Norfolk State to open up the 2024 season in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge. That game will be in Atlanta. With games also scheduled for the University of Miami (Miami), Troy University (Troy) and a bye week, If FAMU were to play in the Orange Blossom Classic in 2024, it would be 6 weeks into the season before FAMU played at home and that is not something Sykes can support.
“Our local government invested $10 million dollars for us to renovate our stadium, which was on the brink of being condemned. As good stewards of that investment and any possible future investments from them, we must be diligent in showing that we are good partners,” said Tiffani-Dawn Sykes. “For our season ticket holders to buy season tickets and parking and other amenities and not be able to use any of them until week 6, is not fair to our current investors and makes it difficult to cultivate new investors. I am making scheduling decisions not just for each individual year, but to forward FAMU Athletics’ mission of providing great value and being good stewards to all of our partners along with a competitive FCS schedule for now and for years to come.”