The America East Conference Women's Basketball Tournament, which is coming to Maine in 2017 and 2018 for the first time in 20 years, is expected to have an economic impact of $2 million each year in games and related festivities, its sponsors said.
This year's tournament will be held at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland March 2-5. The winner will earn a bid to the 2017 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament.
The University of New Hampshire has clinched the top seed going into the Portland matches, said Brian Corcoran, CEO of Shamrock Sports & Entertainment, which fronted $45,000 as a guarantee to reserve the Cross Insurance Arena for the three-day event.
"The University of New Hampshire is only an hour's drive from Portland, and they're the No. 1 seed going into the tourney," Corcoran told Mainebiz in an interview Tuesday morning. Corcoran also was a Mainebiz 2016 Next winner for his contributions to bring sports fans and money to the state.
Corcoran said the economic impact of the tournament was derived from the Greater Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau, which estimated how many people are expected to come from out of town and spend money on hotels, food and other attractions. Some 12,000 fans are expected during the games.
Corcoran said the money Shamrock fronted for the venue was half of its operating budget for the event, which includes advertising, promotions and staff. It has help from corporate sponsors, including title partner Gorham Savings Bank, which he said kicked in a low five-figure amount.
Other official partners contributing $5,000 are Harvard Pilgrim, Live & Work in Maine, MaineHealth, Macpage, MaineToday, MEMIC, Pratt Abbott, Quirk Auto Group, Unum, Visit Maine, WCSH6 and WLBZ2.
Five of the eight schools playing are within a five- to eight-hour drive of Portland, he said. They are UNH, University of Vermont, UMaine, University of Albany, Stony Brook University, University of Binghamton, University of Maryland Baltimore County and University of Hartford.
"We hope to bring in a lot of people because UNH and the University of Maine are rivals in basketball and other sports," Corcoran added. He said women's basketball is so popular at UMaine in Orono, that it attracts about the same number of fans on average as the Red Claws professional NBA Development team.
The games are Saturday, March 4, from 12-4 p.m. and 6-10 p.m. and on Sunday, March 5, from 2-6 p.m.
There are several side events as well, including #Sherules from 5-7 p.m. on March 2 at the University of Southern Maine's Hannaford Hall, where he hopes to attract about 400 young women and emphasize empowerment through sports.
There's also a fan fest on Friday, March 3, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Arena that will be an interactive day where families can experience Maine through interactive photo booths and meet some Red Claws representatives.
America East, along with Shamrock and the Maine Sports Commission, announced that the event was coming to Maine last December. The decision was supported unanimously by the conference's athletic directors.
"Maine has some of the most passionate women's basketball fans in the country and we are looking forward to taking our championship to Portland in both 2017 and 2018," America East Commissioner Amy Huchthausen said in a statement at the time.
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