It's still a full seven months until the MAAC men's and women's post-season basketball tournaments are played at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass.
But, the league and both arena and civic officials in the western Mass. area, have already been working to make the conference's premier event a success in its initial appearance at the venue.
Preparation began immediately after the league decided to allow the MassMutual Center to host the event for a three-year window starting this coming season. And, the results were evident at this past season's conference tournament in Bridgeport, Conn., as officials from the Springfield facility had a daily booth set up to distribute brochures and other promotional items all centered around the new slogan "MAACachusetts."
The affiliation is a perfect union of a basketball-minded community ... remember, Springfield is the birthplace of the sport and home of the Basketball Hall of Fame ... with a mid-sized arena (slightly over 7,000 for basketball), and a league whose school administrators wanted their event on a neutral court.
Springfield had formerly hosted the Division II level's Elite Eight, that division's championship event. But the traditional lack of regional teams in the event ... Bellarmine of Louisville, Ky., played BYU-Hawaii in this past season's championship game ... meant few fans followed their respective teams to the event.
After six years in Springfield, the Elite Eight tournament has opted to move to the Bank of Kentucky Center in Heighland Heights, Ky., for the next two years, in part to attract larger crowds.
Even with limited crowds and just an eight-team field the Division II event, according to reports, meant between $1.2 million and $1.6 million was spent on hotels, meals, tickets and other related items.
With 20 teams (10 men's and 10 women's), civic administrators estimate the MAAC tournament will mean more than double that total will be spent in each of the coming three seasons. And, MAAC fans traditionally travel fairly well, and they should be coming out to Springfield which is about a 90-mile drive away from three confererence schools (Siena, Marist and Fairfield), and just slightly farther than that for three others (Manhattan, St. Peter's and Iona).
And, with six years of experience hosting a tournament, the community was already well-versed in doing so and was up to speed in preparing for and promoting the upcoming three-year run of the MAAC event as soon as it was announced as the site.
"We've already done quite a bit," said Nate Harris the MassMutual Center's marketing manager. "We've done everything fron setting up local planning committees to working with hotels and restaurants."
The community is already set to place street banners throughout the city trumpeting the presence of the tournament, and the arena already has a MAAC display featuring trophies and photos.
Maybe the best aspect of moving the event to Springfield is an affiliation with the Hall of Fame, which will also have a display related to the MAAC.
The display will celebrate the history of the conference, the experience of being a student athlete and raise awareness of the annual conference championship held just a few blocks away.
The Hall also gives basketball fans attending an event a world-class sport-related venue to visit in their spare time.
Harris said community businesses will also be virtual welcome centers for MAAC teams and fans.
"The community wants this to be a postive experience for fans and players at hotels, restaurants and shops," said Harris. "We've partnered with a well-organized convention and visitors bureau that helps with relationships with hotels and restaurants to get them involved. It means that when teams check into hotels, hotel personnel will be able to suggest places for teams and fans to go to in Springfield to eat or just to hang out."
The potential aspect is that the event will be hosted, for the first time since 1989, by a venue without a "home" team.
"We're optimistic that we'll do well, even though we're a neutral site," added Harris. "One thing we have is a convention center attached to the arena, so we're able to facilitate alumni groups and other gatherings. Plus, we're a basketball city. This area is geared for basketball. There's a strong hoop following. And, now, we've got a Division I event here with winners here advancing to the NCAA tournament."
Crowds can't approach the 10,000+ numbers that turned out at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., when Siena played tournament games there. But, even crowds less than half that size won't look anemic in a smaller facility.
"We talked to a lot of fans in Bridgeport (site of last season's tournament) when we were promoting this coming season's tournament," said Harris. "We learned that a lot of people were willing to drive there from the other schools, and we're encouraged that a lot of them will drive to Springfield, too. Actually, we're pretty much right in the middle of things for most of the schools in the league."
There's even a website (http://www.maacachusetts.com/) devoted to promoting the upcoming event.
"We're well under way in terms of promoting and administering the event," added Harris. "We're constantly building relationships and we're very excited to be hosting the event."
And, very active in ensuring it will be a success, a process that started more than a year in advance.