When the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts met in a preseason NFL game in August 2006, it was considered one of the biggest sporting events in recent memory to hit Jackson.
The good vibes quickly faded, though, when problems with traffic flow and management at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium left thousands of fans outside while the game played out inside.
Not enough concession stands were open. Too few admission gates were available. And the traffic was nightmarish.
By the time most folks reached their seats, it was well past halftime and the game’s biggest draws — Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, Saints QB Drew Brees and running backs Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush — had taken up residence on the side line. There was general outrage, most of it directed toward the Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium Commission, the agency that was responsible for managing game day operations.
The stadium officially came under new management July 1, when the Legislature shifted ownership to the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration.
Mike Lucius, the stadium’s new general manager, vows history will not repeat itself.
“We have implemented a traffic plan, as well as new polices on booking (events) and accounting,” Lucius said.
With those in place, Lucius and his team have focused their efforts since gaining control of the stadium on getting it and the field ready for Jackson State’s football season. The Tigers’ first home game is September 6 versus Stillman College.
A new concessions deal has been struck, Lucius said, one he calls a “good, sound contract, one that will pay us instead of us paying them.” The DFA purchased new equipment to maintain the field, with Lucius saying the playing surface “is in as good a shape, in my opinion, as it has been for quite some time.”
The Saints scrimmaged on the revamped field while they were in Jackson for training camp. Jackson State has held part of its preseason camp there, too.
“And there have been a lot of positive comments about it,” Lucius. “Everybody has been pleased with its condition.”
Lucius estimates the DFA has spent between $175,000 and $200,000 on the stadium and the field since taking over in July, money that was either generated by stadium events or funds secured through grants.
“We haven’t gotten any general fund money,” Lucius said. “We would like to keep it that way.”
One way to ensure that is to book as many events at the stadium as possible, Lucius said, as well as aggressively seeking available grant money.
“The event money can go directly back into the stadium,” he said.
Although the snarls with the Saints-Colts game seemingly blew any chance Jackson had of ever hosting another NFL preseason game, Lucius said he has talked with Saints officials and that they are open to giving it another shot.
“I’m hopeful that within two years we could have another exhibition game here,” Lucius said, adding that he has received initial inquiries into the stadium’s availability from the United States Football League, whose season runs from January to July, should a franchise want to locate in Jackson.
“It really has surprised me the number of inquiries we have gotten.”
As for the problems of the past, Lucius prefers to focus on the future.
“I’m not going to talk about what was,” he said. “I’m worried about what is going to be. Right now, we’re focusing on the football season and making sure the customer experience is as safe and enjoyable as possible.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .