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Baltimore hopes ESPN-aired basketball tournament assists in image rebound

Jen Todd, executive vice president of The Basketball Tournament, discusses the event returning to Baltimore in August as Mayor Catherine Pugh looks on during a news conference at Morgan State University on Wednesday. (The Daily Record/Adam Bednar)

Jen Todd, executive vice president of The Basketball Tournament, discusses the event returning to Baltimore in August as Mayor Catherine Pugh looks on during a news conference Wednesday at Morgan State University. (The Daily Record/Adam Bednar)

The Basketball Tournament is set to return to Baltimore next month and city tourism officials Wednesday touted the event as a major opportunity for exposure for the city and host Morgan State University.

“It makes perfect sense to bring (the tournament) back again and improve on what we’ve done,” said Jen Todd, executive vice president of The Basketball Tournament.

Al Hutchinson, president and CEO of the city’s tourism promotion agency Visit Baltimore, said and the tournament gives the city exposure beyond national headlines focused on crime and violence.

“There’s no other city where basketball should be played. Baltimore has a history of great basketball,” Hutchinson said.

The five-year-old tournament, which is televised on ESPN, is a 72-team national competition with a winner-take-all $2 million prize. Five-on-five teams, with 60 former NBA players and alumni squads from NCAA powers such as Georgetown, Ohio State, Syracuse and Gonzaga, enter the event through a handful of methods, but teams are primarily selected is by fan voting.

ESPN signed a multi-year broadcast rights agreement with the tournament in 2017 following a 140 percent increase in viewers age 18-to-34.

Morgan State University will host the semifinal and championship games at Talmadge L.Hill Field House on Aug. 2 and Aug. 3. Last year, host Coppin State University sold out all three games, and supporters anticipate a similar turn out this year at Morgan’s 4,000-seat field house.

Morgan State University President David Wilson touted the tournament’s potential to provide exposure for his school. A report commissioned by Morgan State released in June placed the university’s economic impact on Maryland at $1 billion, with $564 million in Baltimore alone.

“It’s an opportunity to look behind the curtain at the jewel of Baltimore city that is Morgan State University,” Wilson said.

Edward Scott, the university’s director of intercollegiate athletics, said he expects the atmosphere for the games to be comparable to when the Bears take on Coppin State. Calling the tournament a chance to create “shared value,” he said the event is “much more than an athletic event.”

Mayor Catherine Pugh’s office said hosting The Basketball Tournament is a reflection of Pugh’s desire to “showcase Baltimore as a world-class city capable of hosting elite level events and delivering a great experience for all visitors and participants.” The event has corporate sponsorship from companies such as Puma and Kaiser Permanente.

Tourism is a crucial industry in Baltimore, and the city has been fighting a reputation for danger since riots rocked the city in April 2015 and subsequent surge in murders.

Visitors spent $5.64 billion and generated $705 million in city and state taxes in 2016, according to the latest figures available from Visit Baltimore. The industry, according to Visit Baltimore’s fiscal years 2017-2018 annual report, created or supported 85,000 jobs in the region. In 2016, more than 10.6 million visitors made overnight trips to the city. Of those trips, 54 percent were made to visit friends and relatives; 28 percent were for leisure; and 18 percent were business trips.


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