Before the Atlantic Coast Conference yanked its annual Memorial Day-week baseball championship from Myrtle Beach, where it had been scheduled for a three-year run starting next year before civil-rights activists complained about South Carolina flying the Confederate flag at its capitol, boosters claimed it would bring $10 million a year into the state. That’s a field of dreams, but Greensboro could nevertheless score economically when the event goes there next year and in 2012. A lucky break such as a final consisting of teams from Tar Heel schools would ice the cake.
“It’s pure baseball,” says Amy Yakola, an ACC associate commissioner. “The tournament did well in Durham last year, even when the final pitted Virginia and Florida State.” Held at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the event attracted about 40,000 fans. As part of the rotation agreement when the ACC pulled the tournament from South Carolina, it will return to Durham in 2011 and 2013.
How much the series is worth to a city is debatable. Despite Myrtle Beach’s high estimates, Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau chief operating officer Shelly Green put the figure at about $3.9 million last year. Yakola says other host cities have estimated $2.6 million to $2.9 million. The top eight teams in the conference play 13 games, and when circumstances click, they are well attended. In Jacksonville, Fla., which hosted the tournament three years, attendance was estimated at 55,000 to 75,000 a year. There are other considerations. In Greensboro, the tournament will be played at NewBridge Bank Park, opened in 2005 at a cost of $21.5 million. Home of the minor-league Grasshoppers, the 7,500-seat park has luxury appointments, including mostly chair-backed seats and suites. The ACC tournament would almost guarantee sellouts.
The ACC has its headquarters in Greensboro, but Gate City boosters shouldn’t get their hopes up that the tournament will settle there. Or any one place. This year’s tournament originally was to be played in Boston’s major-league Fenway Park — Boston College is one of the conference’s 12 schools — but got sent down to the minors after other members complained about the expense of traveling to Beantown in the midst of a recession. The ACC then awarded it to Myrtle Beach for 2011 through 2013 before reneging. Commissioner John Swofford says schools press for “neutral sites” — South Carolina has only one ACC school, Clemson — which limits the likelihood of a permanent venue in the Triad. Four conference schools — UNC Chapel Hill, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest — are in the state.
The ACC’s balance sheet is a factor, too. Figures are secret, but Yakola says cities bid to host the tournament, banking on the fans it attracts and national television exposure. Fox Sports broadcasts the games, though terms of its contract are undisclosed.