When MAAC fans descend on Albany this March, they may see some changes from last year’s experience.
Notably, the conference has decided to alternate their format, which will give the league’s best team a day off between their quarterfinal and semifinal games. Commissioner Rich Ensor hopes that the new format, which puts all the men’s contests at night, will help attract fans over the course of the five night event.
“I think for the fans it’s probably better because it gives you two night games, so particularly if you’re working through Friday you can still get to Albany to see the night games on Friday night,” Ensor said. “We’ll have to evaluate it after a year and see what the coaches think, though when it comes to tournament formats you’re always tinkering with them to see what works best for the group.”
The coaches and administrators expressed their opinion to alternate the format to reward the regular season’s best teams. The conference worked with the Times Union Center to alternate the schedule and it is contracted to have the same format next year, but Ensor said that “it’s always subject to change” whether or not they keep the format in 2017.
While rewarding the best team’s is key, Ensor said he would like to see the attendance to the Albany venue increase. Last season only 27,417 fans descended on the arena for the tournament and while comparing that number to the 2010 attendance record of 53,569 last set when Siena’s arena hosted the event, the hope is fans will flock to the event. In 2010, the Saints were busy locking up another championship at home and this Siena team hopes to improve on an eighth place finish in the MAAC, which should help bring back fans.
The MAAC, as well as Siena and Canisius, have hired the Atlanta-based Aspire Group to help with sales and marketing for the tournament.
“On Monday night, no matter who’s playing that’s a big arena and absent Siena being there we’re always challenged to get a good looking crowd,” Ensor said. “If you have three or four thousand, which isn’t a bad crowd, it doesn’t look all that well sometimes on the broadcast. So we’re working hard to improve those optics on Monday night.”
Another reason the conference would like to improve that number, especially for the championship game, is because the MAAC championship game moves into the 7pm slot on ESPN.
“It’s symbolic of just the recognition that the league is getting better exposure and better ratings,” Ensor said. “Some of that is due to our overall commitment to ESPN and how we do the ESPN deal and with the school production sites that are coming online for ESPN3.”
The conference plans to have up to 150 ESPN3 broadcasts this season featuring their schools and most recently Iona joined a group of Canisius, Siena, Monmouth and Quinnipiac who have broadcasted events via ESPN3 school productions.
However there is one thing that the conference has yet to have for their tournament in recent years, a title sponsor.
“We want to improve the attendance in Albany and get folks used to again back into the routine of coming there and we’re trying to build our sponsorship base,” Ensor said. “That’s difficult these days, not just for us but for any conference, the traditional media that you sell as part of a sponsorship has become less valuable because there’s so much of it.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.