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College Basketball

‘The CIAA is here to stay’: Conference’s men’s, women’s basketball tournaments to remain in Baltimore through 2025

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will stay in Baltimore for at least another two years, through 2025.

Officials from the city and the nation’s oldest historically Black athletic conference made the joint announcement Wednesday afternoon that they had agreed to a two-year extension — less than four months after the tournaments’ five-day run at the now renamed Baltimore Arena in February.

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“We don’t see this as a transactional partnership,” CIAA Commissioner Jaquie McWilliams said. “We really see it as a relationship that we can grow together and how we can mix and blend our missions and our visions of our communities in giving greater Baltimore, but also the greater CIAA an opportunity to be bigger and better over the next year, but really over the next two years beyond that.”

Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott welcomed the extension.

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“Together, we showed truly to the country that Baltimore and the CIAA go together like crabs and Old Bay, highlighting the shared commitment to Black excellence between one of our nation’s oldest [historically Black colleges and universities] athletic conferences and one of its Blackest cities,” the Democratic mayor said. “It really has been a match made in heaven. … As a huge basketball fan and as the mayor of Baltimore, I could not be more excited to be a part of this announcement, that the CIAA is here to stay in Baltimore.”

The tournaments’ appearance in Baltimore was the CIAA’s first since 1952. The league of 12 men’s and women’s basketball programs from mostly HCBUs had moved its tournament north from Charlotte, North Carolina, where it had been for 15 years.

Baltimore and the CIAA had agreed to a three-year contract in January 2019 for the tournaments in 2021, 2022 and 2023, but the first year tournaments were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Next season would have been Baltimore’s final year before the conference considered another destination.

Both McWilliams and Dr. Aminta Breaux, president of Bowie State University who chairs the CIAA Board of Directors, said officials had discussed the idea of giving Baltimore a chance to recoup the 2021 tournament. Those conversations began to take shape in February after they experienced the city’s hospitality, which included the Orioles offering space in their headquarters to the presidents of the CIAA members and transportation provided by a Black-owned company.

“What we saw was an all-in commitment to the CIAA, and you have to pay attention to that,” Breaux said. “You have to focus in on that level of commitment that says, ‘Welcome, we want the CIAA here.’ And not only was it a commitment, but it panned out and it was realized from the efforts that we saw leading up to the tournament, during the tournament, and now with where we are today already planning ahead for even greater success. ...

“We are fully committed to working with this partnership and with the city of Baltimore. We want to be part of the economic driver in this area, and I believe that’s a valuable partnership.”

An economic impact report produced by the CIAA and Visit Baltimore last month showed the tournaments welcomed 36,390 unique attendees over 22 games that accounted for a direct spending impact of $13.9 million and a total economic impact of $19.6 million.

The 36,390 figure differs from the 66,000 announced March 14. The latter total was based on the number of fans who moved through the turnstiles at Royal Farms Arena during the tournaments. The former figure counts each fan once per entry and was used in the algorithm employed by Tourism Economics, a global travel data company, to help produce the economic impact totals.

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Those numbers pale in comparison to the annual $55 million economic impact the tournaments generated in Charlotte via spending at area restaurants, lodging, museums, attractions and other city landmarks. But CIAA and Baltimore officials had long tempered expectations, citing the chilling effect of the pandemic and the relative newness of the tournaments in a different city.

And Visit Baltimore president and executive director Al Hutchinson pointed out that the tournaments’ economic impact in Charlotte in its inaugural year of 2006 was $15.6 million. He also noted that for every $1 spent in and around the games in Baltimore, $3.73 was returned.

“It’s about celebrating great basketball with a great conference like the CIAA, but as everybody said, it’s more than that,” Hutchinson said. “It’s community, it’s a business opportunity, it’s about celebrating great brands — the CIAA’s brand, Bowie’s brand, Lincoln’s, Baltimore City’s brand, the state of Maryland.”

According to the same economic report, the tournaments supported 1,159 part-time and full-time jobs and generated $1.9 million in state and local taxes. The games also produced $11 million in participant and spectator spending off-site with $3.2 million spent in the food and beverage industry, $2.7 million in lodging, $2.1 million in entertainment and attractions, and $1.9 million in retail.

And 110 minority-owned businesses contracted by the Baltimore Sports Tourism Development Council to partner with the tournaments received a direct economic spend of just over $1 million, according to the report.

Hutchinson said the occupancy rate for Baltimore hotels from Feb. 24-26 was at 65.5% with an average daily rate of $167, the highest occupancy rate during that time since 2007. He also said hotels received $3,239,307 in revenue, the second-highest total over the same period since 2015.

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Hutchinson said February’s tournaments gave CIAA and city officials “a road map” of aspects to accentuate and strengthen for future tournaments. He predicted that next year’s event would attract more fans than last winter, which Scott wholeheartedly agreed with.

“We are going to make 2023′s tournament even bigger and better, and this is what we can do together,” he said. “We will have folks talking throughout the country how Baltimore and the CIAA are showcasing the best of beautiful, Black, amazing, excellent culture. … The best for Baltimore and the CIAA is yet to come.”


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