Of the many festivities held in conjunction with the game, the most well-known and well-attended is the two-part Battle of the Bands, where both universities' marching bands—Grambling's "World Famed" Tiger Marching Band and Southern's Human Jukebox—perform. Following the Greek show, the two renowned bands stage elaborately choreographed performances on the Friday night before the game. The second part is held during the football game's halftime show. There is no official judge for the band event. Other festivities include a golf tournament, coaches luncheon, a concert/festival, tailgating, fashion show, pep rally, alumni functions, college recruitment fair, a Thanksgiving Day Parade (which was brought back in 2011), and a job fair for graduating students of both schools. An annual Grambling vs. Southern "Miss Bayou Classic" beauty pageant was also held from 1978 to 2002.
The Bayou Classic is a source of tourism revenue ($50 million) to the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana. 250,000 visitors descend upon New Orleans over the course of the events leading up to the game, and the national television audience has attracted between four and five million viewers. The success of the game has inspired the promotion of numerous other HBCU rivalries and "classics". In the past the stadium attendance had averaged between 50,000–70,000 annually. Hurricane Katrina brought some challenges, first with a one-year move to Houston, then with a slight drop-off in attendance upon the classic's return to New Orleans, followed by the Florida Classic and Magic City Classic gaining in prestige over that same time period. Though the Bayou Classic also lost its title sponsor in 2011 and GSU faced numerous issues during its 2013 season, officials in 2014 rejected suggestions to remove GSU as a participant and instead resolved to quickly rejuvenate the classic. Attendance has now climbed significantly each year since 2011 and is again near pre-Katrina levels. The game also remains nationally televised, although NBC did move the game broadcast over to its sister sports network in 2015.
Historically, Grambling State and Southern have arguably had the two most successful football teams in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Through the 2015 season Grambling has more SWAC football titles than any other school (23, not including their vacated 1975 title); Southern has the second most with 19. Grambling and SU also have more black national titles than any other SWAC schools; Grambling has the second most in the entire country with 14 total, while SU has the fourth most at the FCS-level (11). The two schools also represented the SWAC in 11 of the 12 Pelican Bowls and Heritage Bowls that were held. Through 2015 Florida A&M of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is the only FCS-level HBCU school with more football wins (588) than Southern (578) or Grambling (565).
Southern leads the overall series with Grambling, begun in 1932, by a 36–31 margin. Both teams are tied in the Bayou Classic era 21–all after Grambling State beat Southern 34–23 in 2015. Grambling claims the longest winning streak in the all-time series, 9 games from 1970 to 1978 (including SU's 1972 forfeit). Southern claims the longest winning streak in the Bayou Classic era, 8 games from 1993–2000 (the Jaguars also had a previous 8-game winning streak at the start of the series, in the games played between 1932–46). Grambling's 43–6 victory in 1980 ranks as the largest margin of victory in the Bayou Classic, while SU's 1935 victory (64–6) is the largest margin in the all-time series. Multiple trophies have been awarded to the winner of the Bayou Classic over the years. The most recent trophy, consisting of Waterford Crystal, was retired after the 2014 game after more than 25 years of service and presented to the Smithsonian Institution for its National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. A newly designed trophy has been showcased since the 2015 game.
People prominently involved in the series include Ace Mumford (SU coach from 1936–42 and again 1944–61, prior to the Bayou Classic phase of the series), Eddie Robinson (GSU coach from 1941–42 and again 1945–97), Doug Williams (GSU player from 1974–77, SU consultant in 1985, and GSU coach from 1998–2003 and again 2011–13), Marino Casem (SU athletic director from 1986–99 and coach from 1987–88 and again 1992), Pete Richardson (SU coach from 1993–2009), and Rod Broadway (GSU coach from 2007–10). Mumford once had the third most wins among all college football coaches (behind Pop Warner and Amos Alonzo Stagg), and Robinson later had the most. Today Robinson still has the third most wins (behind John Gagliardi and Joe Paterno) and also has the most wins among all who coached at HBCU schools; Mumford now has the fourth most wins among HBCU coaches behind Robinson, Billy Joe, and John Merritt. Broadway holds the distinction of being the only coach to have ever won a black national title at three different schools, one of which was Grambling.
Prior to 1974, though the game was viewed as a big rivalry between the two schools, it was not near the media spectacle that it is today. After it was re-branded as the Bayou Classic and moved to New Orleans, a trophy was added and numerous events were also scheduled to be held throughout the week leading up to the game itself. Games in the series played before 1974 are generally not included within the context of the Bayou Classic's historical lineage. SU led the series 15–10 up until that point. The annual game was known to be touted as a "classic" as early as the 1948 meeting, a game that the Jaguars won in an 18–0 upset before 10,000 fans. According to Ken Rappoport and Barry Wilner in their book Football Feuds: The Greatest College Football Rivalries (2007), a brawl during that game led to a suspension of the series for the next decade (a period in which the Jaguars won three black national championships) and complicated GSU's admittance to SWAC membership until shortly before the rivalry was resumed in 1959. With the renewal of the series in 1959, the game was again billed as a "classic" but proved a bittersweet return as five fans were killed in a vehicular accident on their way to the game. Rappoport and Wilner noted in their book that the series was again interrupted in 1972, this time due to unrest on host Southern's campus—which resulted in a forfeiture by SU. The game was then moved off-campus to a neutral site (Shreveport) the following year, drawing a large crowd of 40,000 and influencing the decision to create the Bayou Classic.