Is Charlotte on the verge of losing the CIAA tournament?

While calling Charlotte a “great host,” a CIAA official said the time has come to consider new locations for the annual event, which has been a Charlotte mainstay since 2006.

Glenn H. Burkins

Qcitymetro file photo

The CIAA is asking other cities to bid for its annual basketball tournament, a popular event that Charlotte has hosted since 2006.

That means Charlotte and its rapidly expanding hospitality industry stands to lose this signature event, along with the million of dollars in annual revenue the CIAA tournament generates for hotels and local businesses. And as for Qcity residents, they would lose what is arguable one of the nations most popular black events — a weeklong party that attracts some of the biggest names in hip-hop.

While calling Charlotte a “great host,” CIAA Board Chair and Fayetteville State University President James A. Anderson said the time has come to consider new options. (The city’s contract with the CIAA  calls for the tournament to remain in Charlotte through 2020.)

“The Board believes it makes good business sense to re-evaluate the location and amenities for the future of the tournament,” he said in a statement Monday. “Being mindful of the footprint of the CIAA institutions in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and now South Carolina, it’s important to review all possible/potential locations to identify what’s best for our student-athletes, alumni, and fans.”

Putting the tournament out for bid does not mean that it will definitely leave Charlotte; organizer of popular events, such as the CIAA, often engage is a certain amount of gamesmanship when it’s time to renew a contract with a host city.

Tom Murray, who heads the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA), was quoted in the Charlotte Observer as saying the CRVA respects the CIAA’s decision to evaluate other cities. He did not say whether Charlotte would compete to keep the event.

“As with other significant conventions and events, once the CIAA issues a formal request for proposals, we will work with the city and other partners to assess the potential of submitting a bid for Charlotte to keep the tournament here,” he said.

The CIAA has been an economic boon for Charlotte

According to the CRVA, the tournament this year accounted for $28.8 million in direct spending on hotels, local transportation, food, shopping and entertainment. It accounted for an additional $9.7 million in indirect spending. In 2018, the CIAA brought more than 140,000 people to Charlotte for the weeklong event.

Despite the tournament’s economic impact – which totaled about $50.5 million this year, according to CRVA – the city has had an uneasy relationship with the CIAA. In recent years, the event has been marred by high-profile shootings unrelated to official events. In addition, visitors who come to the city during CIAA Week have complained that local businesses have engaged in price gouging. In 2015, the Ritz-Carlton acknowledged that one of its hotel bars had imposed a 15 percent surcharge – some critics called it a “black tax” — during tournament week.

Where better than Charlotte?

Finding a city better suited for the tournament won’t be easy. Although CIAA attendance has softened in recent years, Charlotte, with its growing hotel market, public transportation, an abundance of restaurants and bars and its compact central business district, is becoming a favored location for conventions and large sporting events.

A CIAA sub-committee made bid specifications available this week to cities interesting in hosting the tournament, starting in 2021. Tournament officials plan to announce its next host city in December. The agreement would be for three years.

“When evaluating prospective hosts, the committee will review each city’s competition venue, lodging and transportation, ability to create an advertising-free or “clean” zone to protect sponsors, and to prevent ambush marketing within that footprint,” officials said in the Monday statement. “The region’s overall commitment to the annual event, including a provision for scholarship dollars to be distributed to member institutions, will weigh heavily in the decision.”

Tournament venues in host cities must hold at least 8,000-10,000 fans, and host cities or regions must be able to provide at least 6,000 full-service hotel rooms within reasonable proximity to the competition venue, officials said.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on July 10, 2018 to provide more background and analysis.

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