SBJ/Feb. 24-March 2, 2014/Colleges

ACC, Food Lion give tourney’s first day a boost

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.

But the expanded league isn’t treating the extra day like the rest of its tournament.

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
“We just didn’t think it was the right thing to put the Wednesday ticket in the book,” Lynde said. “It might sell, but would the consumer be happy and would they use the ticket? Would that put people in the seats?”

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.”

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