Monday, April 4, 2011

I pretty much assumed this long before the official numbers were released today: last month's CIAA Tournament drew a colossal crowd. The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority said today that it estimates attendance for official 2011 CIAA Tournament events exceeded 190,000 and provided an economic impact of $44.3 million to the local economy, a 19 percent increase from last year. Both numbers are records for the tournament, which took place February 28 through March 5. It's been held annually in Charlotte since 2006 and is contracted to be here through 2014.

The CRVA stated the attendance figures for "official" CIAA events, which primarily includes the six days of basketball games at Time Warner Cable Arena and the Fan Experience the CIAA puts on for three days at Charlotte Convention Center. But anyone who's ever visited Charlotte that last week in February/first week in March knows it's also the hundreds of unofficial events held during CIAA Week that draw large crowds--the parties, concerts, comedy shows, mixers, etc. In fact, the head of MAZ Entertainment, one of Charlotte's largest party promoters who holds several events during CIAA each year, posted the photo you see below to his Facebook page over the weekend. Thousands of people attended this party they threw at Founders Hall in Uptown on March 5. My guess is this was probably the largest party of CIAA Week, but there were literally hundreds more going on at bars, nightclubs, and hotel ballrooms.

MAZ's Founders Hall Finale was one of the largest parties during CIAA Week.

It's impossible to accurately count how many people actually visited Charlotte during CIAA Week. Even the CRVA's figures don't exclude duplications, meaning if you attended an official CIAA event on Thursday and Friday you would've been counted twice as a visitor. But that's fine because they don't have methods of including all the people who came to Charlotte that week just to go to parties. So the most important figure is the $44.3 million, which represents the money spent at Charlotte hotels, restaurants, and other businesses that week. This has become the economic boon the Queen City looks forward to each winter, which is typically a slow tourist season here. That money adds to tax revenue and helps create and sustain jobs.

As the CIAA Tournament continues to grow, as it has done each year in Charlotte, conference officials need to make more strides to draw visitors to official events, particularly the basketball games. There were dozens of games played over six days at the arena between the men and women's teams from the CIAA's 13 colleges and universities. Attendance at many of these games was meek, especially in comparison to the kind of crowds that were turning out for parties and concerts taking place at other venues. CIAA schools have enrollments that range from 750 to 7,000 students, so its tournament games will never draw the kind of attendance that the ACC Tournament, with its large schools, does. But CIAA officials can do a better job of selling the CIAA experience at its games and events, which differs from larger sports conferences.

Tournament officials can't stop the parties, but they've clamped down on the use of the word "CIAA," prohibiting promoters from using language for unofficial events like CIAA After-Party, CIAA Celebrity Bash, or CIAA Takeover, when those planned parties having nothing to do with the actual CIAA Tournament. Official events bring in revenue, of which a large percentage goes to scholarships for CIAA schools and supports many of the conference's education initiatives.

I often hear people saying "I'm going to Charlotte for CIAA" and many of them can't even tell you what those four letters stand for. To most people, those letters have become synonymous with "go to Charlotte and party as much as I can and pay entirely too much for admission into events but I think it's worth it because everybody's going to be there." The four letters, by the way, stand for Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association; it competes in NCAA Division II; it's made up of 13 historically black colleges and universities located along the East Coast, from North Carolina to Pennsylvania; the basketball tournament has been held every year since 1946; and the conference as a whole, which consists of several other collegiate sports like football, baseball, volleyball, and track, celebrates its 100th year in 2012.

The CIAA turns 100 years old next year. Its 2012 tournament logo pays tribute to Charlotte.

My suggestion is that some of the city's more reliable and respectable party promoters begin contributing at least 10 percent of the proceeds from their events that week to the CIAA's General Scholarship Fund. The same goes for the bars and nightclubs that are charging those promoters astronomical rates to rent their venues. If it wasn't for the tournament being here and the tens of thousands of people it draws, this would be a slow winter week and you wouldn't be raking in piles of money.

I moved to Charlotte six months before the CIAA Tournament moved here, so I've attended events each year. I've seen how the number of parties has skyrocketed, and they don't really excite me anymore. I make efforts now to attend events that are more cultural in nature. And I even attend some games. I suspect the record attendance will continue. There are people who'd never visited Charlotte before until they came here for CIAA. And as word continues to spread about how many parties are thrown, how many celebrities show up, and how fine the chicks are (the way dudes talk), people will continue to swarm. I just hope they don't ruin a good thing.

You can re-live the experience through the coverage I provided during CIAA Week on Charlotte magazine's website at It also includes photos from several events.

1 comment :

  1. Great article!! And I totally agree with the idea of party promoters making a donation to the CIAA scholarship fund. That is a wonderful idea.


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