When the Derrick Law Firm Kickoff Classic field was announced nearly a year ago, area football fans in the area weren’t exactly sure what to expect.
Sure, it was a nice opportunity for local teams Myrtle Beach and Conway to guarantee another game played either at home or in their back yard. But the addition of Class AAAA teams like Irmo and Northwestern to the schedule was something both teams had already done.
Consider Saturday’s games – the first of a six-year agreement between the city and 151 Sports Marketing to put on the event – the relative calm before the storm.
“I like this. This is sort of an appetizer of what’s to come,” organizer Mark Stafford said. “[For next year], we’re going to do our homework and see what match-ups are best.”
Starting in 2012, the Kickoff Classic will turn into a de facto Battle of the Carolinas. Four schools from North Carolina – Richmond County, Southeast Raleigh and Wilmington teams Hoggard and New Hanover – will join the mix to take on this year’s four squads.
It will increase the number of fans making their way to the beach and will be a solid sign for growth that had many wondering exactly what this would become. Regardless of who is playing, however, Saturday will be a major indication of what is to follow in the coming years.
It just so happens the event received a major boost at the last minute.
Last Friday, Northwestern, Conway’s opponent at 5 p.m. Saturday, went out and beat one of the top-ranked teams in the state when it defeated Gaffney 49-19. The victory shot the Trojans into several national rankings, not to mention put Conway on high alert.
“There aren’t many people who can say they rolled into Gaffney and put a good whooping on them,” Conway coach Chuck Jordan said. “Everybody’s brows were raised.
“I think it’s a good thing. I think Mark Stafford’s whole thing was to get good teams down here, and he did that.”
The Northwestern win last week gave Stafford enough reason to re-record radio ads promoting the event. After all, he was going to take advantage of the noise one of his participants was making.
“To me, it’s kind of put a whole different spin on the event,” he said. “Not only were we fired up to see them destroy Gaffney, but that’s permeated to the Grand Strand. A lot of people have said they’re going to come see them play.”
That boost was crucial, if for no other reason that advanced ticket sales were not where Stafford was hoping. The Kickoff Classic offered tickets online. However, with a 75-cent fee attached, they actually ended up costing a hair more than people who walk up and buy them at the gate Saturday.
Next season, there will be an incentive for buying them early.
It is part of the baby steps Stafford talked about in running his first football event. Still, it’s a good sign, especially for fans here on the Grand Strand.
Overall, Stafford is hoping for ticket sales for Saturday’s games to fall in the range of 3,000-4,000. Weather could either help that happen or prevent it.
Stafford can’t control that. What he does have power over, however, is logistics of making sure the players and coaches are taken care of in the matter in which they were promised. Beds ready for members of Northwestern and Irmo (which is actually not getting into town until Saturday) and meals delivered on time are important.
So, too, is making sure the primary three entities believe this has the organization to grow as 151 Sports Marketing has said it would.
“It’s important to form an alliance with your partners, and that’s the city of Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach High School and Conway High School,” Stafford said. “It’s important that everyone has confidence in each other. … There’s always a learning curve. But hopefully it will come out smelling like a rose.
“At the end of the day, if the fans walk out and say ‘these were two good football games,’ that’s our goal.”