CLEVELAND — Two years ago this week the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Basketball Tournament became the COVID-19 canary in the coal mine, the first of many dominos to fall when on a Tuesday they announced they would hold the tournament without fans followed by the decision to cancel the tournament altogether just two days later.
It was the first of many dominoes to fall that year as all college and professional sports leagues shut down.
In 2021, the MAC Tournament went on at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse but with no fans in the opening rounds and limited fans on Friday and Saturday but for the first time in three years the MAC is back without restrictions.
"Thank goodness,” said Jon Steinbrecher who has been MAC Commissioner since 2009, 10 years after the tournament started calling Cleveland home.
"For 23 years it's always on the calendar, we're the second longest-running conference basketball tournament at a single venue in the country."
And while it generates more than $15 million a year in economic impact, it has done so quietly. Fourteen games are played out over four days from 11 a.m. into the night. As a result, there's not one big crowd but an ever-changing crowd depending on which teams are playing.
“You have the men and the women which is great, you have multiple games so you’re right, you have crowds in, crowds out, crowds in crowds out,” said David Gilbert President and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. “You know all of those people need places to go to eat before and after, they need places to stay and we certainly need that right now.”
"In the years this tournament has been in Cleveland, nearly a million people have attended so it comes out to be, give or take, 50,000 total attendees every year, many of those people are from out of market," Gilbert said.
Helping to build on the excitement the folks at Tower City are looking to continue the momentum started over NBA All-Star Weekend.
"We're the official hub for the MAC Tournament,” said Jason Russell, Tower City’s Director of Operations. “We’re going to have pep rallies here with the pep bands and the cheerleaders from all of the different teams that are participating in the tournament this weekend. We're going to be parading through Tower City, we've got family-friendly events for kids to come out that are free for everyone to do, create pennants for their team, and also a pop-a-shot tournament for anyone who wants to show off their shooting skills."
The basketball games will be live-streamed in the Skylight Concourse, there will also be face painting, balloon twisting as well as “Net Cut” photo opportunities where you can place yourself in the role of your favorite team emerging victorious.