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The granddaddy of conference basketball tournaments will add a new twist next month with a fifth day of competition to accommodate the enlarged 15-team ACC.
Not only will the three-game first day have its own ticket, separate from the other four days, but league officials also have scheduled a concert featuring country artist Scotty McCreery and sold a presenting sponsorship of the tournament’s first day to Food Lion, an ACC corporate partner.
“From a marketing standpoint, there’s a very different approach to the extra round of the tournament,” Tim Lynde, the ACC’s senior associate commissioner for brand marketing, said of the 60-year-old event, which will be played March 12-16 in Greensboro. “We want the first day to have its own identity.”
From 2005 through last season, the tournament ran Thursday through Sunday. Tickets for all four days sold in books of 11 games, whose price ranged from $297 to $396.
That will continue to be the case for those four days, but the conference, concerned about the possibility of no-shows, decided against selling tickets to the Wednesday session as part of the book. Wednesday-only tickets will sell separately for $35, and most of them will be general admission rather than reserved seating. Two-game sessions beginning Thursday start at a face value of $43.
The conference has struggled to fill seats Thursdays, so it took a new approach to Wednesday.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
The conference has had a tough time filling its venues on Thursday, a day when no seed higher than No. 5 plays. That problem could have been exacerbated on Wednesday, when seeds 10 through 15 are in action.
“We want Wednesday to be a great college basketball event, in and of itself,” said Amy Yakola, the league’s senior associate commissioner for communications. “We had to figure out how to make that happen. We thought by making it more of a community event and marketing more directly to Greensboro and the area, we could provide a good value for folks who haven’t been able to go to the ACC tournament in the past.”
Knowing that the league would add Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse this season, the ACC started planning for this year’s event soon after the 2013 tournament.
A tournament subcommittee was formed to study ways to make the fifth day more attractive to fans. Karl Hicks, the league’s senior associate commissioner for men’s basketball at the time, spearheaded the committee, comprising three athletic directors, three development directors and three ticket directors from schools around the conference.
Hicks subsequently left to be deputy AD at Florida State in January, but by then the course was set to make the first day an event unto itself.
“This was new for us, so we started with a blank slate,” said Lynde, who joined the ACC a year ago after stints at IMG College and Home Depot.
Food Lion’s presenting sponsorship was sold by Raycom Sports, the ACC’s rights holder. Terms were not available, but it’s an incremental spend over what the grocery chain already pays for its corporate partnership.
A separate logo was created to complete the unique look and feel for the first day. Food Lion will use that in its point-of-sale material in its 1,200 stores throughout the Southeast.
Additional branding for Food Lion will come during breaks in the action throughout the tournament, and in the ACC Network broadcasts of the games, which are produced by Raycom.
“We realized that we had to do more than roll out the basketballs and expect people to show up,” Lynde said. “We thought a lot about pricing and what was reasonable for people on a Wednesday.”
Later this year, the NCAA will select future sites for the Final Four from 2017 through 2020.
Of the eight venues that are finalists for those four spots, most have hosted previous Final Fours or tournament regionals, meaning that the NCAA has a good idea of what to expect.
But how does the NCAA evaluate sites like Atlanta and Minneapolis, both of which will have new domed stadiums by then? Or San Antonio’s Alamodome, which has not been the site for a Final Four since 2008, the year before the NCAA started putting the basketball court in the middle of the football field and building out temporary seating?
The NCAA has turned to the Colonnade Group, a Birmingham, Ala.-based event business, to assist it in evaluating seating, capacity and various costs for each site.
Hitting that requirement won’t be a problem at AT&T Stadium, where a record Final Four crowd of 80,000 is expected in early April. Each year since the NCAA went to the “in the round” seating system, attendance for the championship game has topped 70,000. Last year’s game in Atlanta set the championship game record with 74,326.
But the Alamodome, for example, lists a capacity of 65,000. How could the NCAA be certain that its unique seating configuration wouldn’t alter that number?
“The seating system we use can fit in any stadium,” said L.J. Wright, the NCAA’s director of the men’s basketball championship. “There are seats, however, that are covered up when we build the temporary seating. All that must be taken into account.”
Colonnade uses laser measurements, blueprints and its own evaluations to determine how the seating system will fit into a stadium, even those in Atlanta and Minneapolis, which aren’t built yet.
A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. Some stadiums are more oval, some are rectangular, and some, like AT&T Stadium, are not symmetrical at all, said Robbie Robertson, Colonnade’s president and CEO.
“They’re all somewhat similar, but none of them are the same,” Robertson said.
Working with Staging Concepts, the manufacturer that provides the risers and rails for the seating system, Colonnade builds the basketball court first and then the seats around it. The court sits on a stage that’s as high as it’s permitted to be — 29.5 inches. Code typically requires a railing at 30 inches.
From the sides of the rectangular stage, Colonnade then builds out press row and the temporary seats that will go across the edges of the football field, over the concrete wall and atop the permanent seats. Somewhere about a third or half of the way up the lower level, the temporary seats will be built to merge seamlessly with the permanent seats.
By the time it’s finished, the temporary seats look like they are a permanent part of the stadium.
Colonnade creates computerized seating diagrams that take every seat into account. That provides NCAA executives like Wright a visual image of a dome’s seating configuration when they are selecting sites.
Colonnade also builds in expenses for equipment, freight costs and labor.
Still, complications arise. During an installation at Reliant Stadium in Houston several years ago, a manager neglected to measure the size of the warehouse doors leading into the bowels of the stadium. Some of the seating equipment wouldn’t fit through the doors, which meant that it had to be altered. Precious hours were lost in the setup phase.
Those stories, however, have been few and far between, especially now that Colonnade’s team has set up the NCAA’s unique seating system in so many of the current domes.
“What happens is that you learn not to assume anything because you’re dealing with very tight specs,” Robertson said. “You know the old saying about assumptions. That definitely applies here.”