The 2021 CIAA basketball tournament week, which begins Tuesday, won’t have basketball, but it will have almost everything it’s always had during its 76-year history. And, it will have a new host city: Baltimore.
The tournament is virtual this year, so Baltimore, in its first year hosting the event after a 15-year run in Charlotte, North Carolina, will be represented virtually, right down to its downtown convention center replicated on the tournament’s virtual platform.
Officials with the conference and the city are excited now. They’re just as excited, if not more, about next year, when they fully expect to put on the show they had hoped for this year.
“Part of the message here is to pre-promote for 2022,” Al Hutchinson, the president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, said in an introductory Zoom conference on Feb. 18 for the five-day event.
“2022 is going to be mind-blowing in attendance,” Hutchinson continued, speaking of the time when presumably lockdowns and quarantines will be over and live events can resume. “By February 2022, people are going to be bursting at the seams.”
In the meantime, the 2021 tournament, dubbed the Virtual Vibe, was planned to engage students, alumni, fans and visitors who normally would flood into the city and to pull in newcomers who might consider taking part next year.
Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) commissioner Jacqie McWilliams described the tournament, in person and virtually, as “Black tourism,” and said that putting all the familiar elements online can’t help but boost business. Baltimore and the CIAA are aiming for 150,000 to 200,000 visitors for the 2022 tournament, McWilliams said. The 2019 tournament, the last year for which financial data is available, brought $43.7 million in direct spending to Charlotte.
This year’s version could potentially reach fans thousands of miles from the member schools, McWilliams added, but events such as the annual high school and middle school days and virtual clubhouses for each school can attract incoming students who will consider attending a historically Black university.
“We’re building out, bigger virtually, in the virtual space,” McWilliams said.
Clyde Doughty, the athletic director at host college Bowie State, said, “Thank God for technology.”
The technology helps the Baltimore visitors bureau, which collaborated with the CIAA to make the city’s footprint as visible as possible. Besides the rendition of the convention center and the city landmarks, Visit Baltimore will host an online welcome reception – DJed by MC Lyte, among others – that will include Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford.
The CIAA caught a big break in 2020 by finishing its tournament in Charlotte less than two weeks before the…
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