NEW YORK — I asked the proprietor of my temporary Airbnb home in Brooklyn if she knew that the ACC Tournament was going on. With a confused look on her face, she asked, “What is the ACC?”
Do you think that anybody in Greensboro or Charlotte would have been stumped?
While both cities, particularly Greensboro with its rich event history, embrace the ACC Tournament and are thrilled to be its host, much of Brooklyn seems to be either indifferent or unaware.
Staging one of the marquee southern sporting events north of the Mason-Dixon Line for the first time is out of the way for the fans of the majority of the schools. And the ACC Tournament never has been played in a city that forces fans to dig deeper into their wallets.
For the second consecutive year, fans could take a subway to the games rather than head down I-40. Conveniently, there are three subway stations close by and one right next to the arena. Like when the tournament was in Washington last season, beer is an option, and you can also buy cocktails.
At sunset on Friday, the Empire State Building was even adorned with lights representing the colors of the league’s teams. I’ve seen a New York transit bus in Manhattan with the ACC Tournament promoted on each side. I’ve seen the ACC Tournament promoted with a small placard on a subway train.
Given that the conference decided to take its treasured event to Brooklyn for two consecutive seasons, officials have done everything right. The Barclays Center is a modern venue and has done a terrific job staging the ACC Tournament. That is something that the league and the facility can control.
But all the marketing in the world can’t make the metro area care about the ACC. You can’t manufacture enthusiasm in the area. And you can’t manufacture the classic ACC Tournament atmosphere, which was lacking much of the week before Duke’s semifinal victory over North Carolina.
New York sports fans are much more worried about the prospect of Jay Cutler becoming the Jets quarterback or every Yankees or Mets spring-training storyline than Jim Boeheim’s profane ramblings about how the tournament should always be played in New York. Most probably have no opinion on Boeheim’s rant.
They are used to seeing teams from outside Brooklyn win at the Barclays Center, since the Nets haven’t won a game in the arena in 2017. But do they care?
While Boeheim sees little value in having a tournament in Greensboro, fans of many ACC schools love the old barn on Lee Street and can’t imagine attending games without their pregame visit to Stamey’s. There must be a reason that the ACC Fan Fests that were highly attended in Greensboro have disappeared since the event left the state for Washington last year. It could be that there isn’t a good place to have it.
The NYC fans who do care about college basketball are likely much more interested in the Big East Tournament, which has a rich tradition as an annual March event in Madison Square Garden. I saw a huge electronic sign at Times Square promoting the Big East Tournament.
There are some logical reasons for the conference to play its time-honored tournament in Brooklyn to get the exposure and an edge in marketing. But what if the tournament is simply an afterthought and swallowed by New York City?
Regarding publicity, The New York Times had only a few paragraphs deep in a college basketball roundup of its Friday edition. The Daily News did tease to the ACC Tournament off of its Friday back page, but the New York Post hadn’t even done that all week until Saturday. That Saturday edition had a small ACC tease on the bottom of the back page, which focused on Seton Hall’s narrow Big East loss to Villanova..
The fact that we had Duke and North Carolina battling in round three at the ACC Tournament should have the league office doing backflips because of the publicity. But within the five boroughs, it doesn’t mean anything if the Knicks’ woes are more important to New Yorkers.
UNC facing Duke in Brooklyn made as much sense as when the Tar Heels met N.C. State in Tampa, Fla., for the 2007 title.
There are so many indications that the tournament is out of place in Brooklyn, including promotions for Bojangles’, even though the closest location is in Pennsylvania.
Given the geographic expansion of the ACC, it does make sense to move the ACC Tournament to other parts of the league’s footprint. But it just doesn’t feel right.
HB2 isn’t to blame for the event being in Brooklyn this year and next. But if the General Assembly doesn’t repeal HB2, it won’t return in 2019 to its rightful place: North Carolina.