City Nets Slam-Dunk

City Nets Slam-Dunk

By CHRIS ECHEGARAY The Tampa Tribune

TAMPA, Fla. - The city has finished hosting the ACC college basketball tournament, held for the first time in Florida – and its success can be judged by degrees and percentages, said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission.

“For some people it was a 60-degree improvement from where they came from,” Higgins said of the city’s warm temperatures. “And I know restaurant owners who saw a 75 percent increase in business. That’s something they usually don’t see. This is a big-event town and we took it to the next level.”

The city known for Gasparilla, Guavaween, football and strip clubs has entered the world of big-time college basketball and seems to have scored a slam-dunk.

“It was a tremendous success,” Higgins said. “We got rave reviews.”

Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford gave his final grade on how Tampa fared.

“Without question,” it was an “A,” Swofford said. “The support was outstanding. Tampa gave it a unique flavor. I am extremely pleased.”

The ACC Tournament locations are selected through 2015, and Tampa will be given consideration for future ACC events. “It will be in the mix,” Swofford said.

Some 22,000-plus visitors are heading home, the University of North Carolina is the ACC champion, the echoes are fading in the St. Pete Times Forum, and the eclectic team colors dotting Channelside – Carolina blue, orange, maroon, burgundy, and red – are gone.

There’s no final tally, but the economic impact on the city was estimated to be more than $30 million, according to the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. The event was sold out, hotels were booked and local businesses benefited from the tournament.

“There’s people leaving with a lasting memory,” said Jeff Adams, chairman of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. “We are looking for them to come back. It was sunny outside and sunny inside.”

However, tickets were available before many games at steeply discounted prices. Tickets worth $66 sold for $10.

Some fans whose teams were eliminated were giving tickets away, making it a buyers’ market and hurting scalpers who thought they would make a killing.

Swofford acknowledged Tampa was a departure from traditional ACC basketball locations such as Greensboro, N.C., and Charlotte.

For a brand name like the ACC Tournament to leave an imprint, however, it has to grow beyond those venues. It should return to Tampa, said Russ Morcom, chairman of the Florida State University booster’s club.

“What’s not to like?” Morcom said. “It should come back to Florida – and why not Tampa? The weather was perfect and there’s a lot to do.

“Tampa did a great job. Once in a while, it would be good to have the ACC and its fans travel.”

ACC basketball traditionalists were disappointed with the lack of intense interest for the games. Some suggested Tampa was not a prime location for the tournament because, as one put it, “there was too much going on and other things to do.”

But other fans were pragmatic with their evaluation. Tampa was praised but it has to generate local interest in the tournament, Nicholas Walters said. Walters was among those taking part in FanFest, an area outside the Forum dedicated to fans.

“Florida is awesome,” Walters of Burlington, N.C., said. “I think it was great. I just think everyone is SEC [Southeastern Conference] around here.”

Fans left the Forum with the city’s skyline serving as the backdrop. Some were getting their last chance to see Ybor City, while others went for a bite at Channelside.

After this big event, the city is preparing for the NCAA women’s final four and the Super Bowl in 2009.