Baltimore Embraces Its Roots With CIAA Basketball Tournament

CIAA Press Conference|Brian Graham, Augusta Sports Council|Al Hutchinson, Baltimore
Al Hutchinson, BaltimoreThe nation’s first African-American athletic conference, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, has selected Baltimore as the official site of the 2021-2023 CIAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament. The event gives Visit Baltimore President and CEO Al Hutchinson a chance to showcase the city to visitors and student-athletes who know little about Charm City.[inlinead align="left"][/inlinead]Baltimore celebrates its African American history and culture, offering visitors a welcoming experience with great restaurants, memorable hotels and world-class attractions, including its renowned aquarium. Connect recently caught up with Hutchinson to chat about Baltimore’s legacy as a sports town and the selection for the city as the first new location for the CIAA Basketball Tournament since 2005.

What makes Baltimore an ideal setting for a basketball tournament?

Baltimore has a long and storied basketball history. Charm City molded superstars like Carmelo Anthony, Keith Booth, Michael Lloyd, Skip Wise, Sam Cassell, Muggsy Bogues and so many other basketball greats. Baltimore boasts two of the most sophisticated and frequently emulated modern, professional stadiums in the country: Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium, both nestled in the heart of downtown. Our condensed city footprint with the convention center and Royal Farms Arena within two blocks of one another with 3,000 hotel rooms within a three-block radius makes the ideal setting for this tournament.

What are some of Baltimore’s facilities and attractions that athletes and fans should explore?

In Baltimore, the story of the African-American experience comes alive and we encourage student-athletes and fans to take advantage of this opportunity to explore. Significant Baltimore black history and cultural sites include Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum. Fans can also taste award-winning food from Baltimore’s African American-owned restaurants and chefs. In fact, attendees can check out Ida B’s Table while they’re in town, which is within walking distance of the arena and the brainchild of Food Network ‘Chopped’ winner Chef David Thomas.

What should casual fans expect to experience at the CIAA Tournament?

This tournament is a tremendous opportunity for our hospitality and tourism community—hotels, restaurants, retail, and more— to roll out the red carpet and make meaningful social and business connections over the last week in February. Our entire tourism and hospitality community is excited to join in partnership with the CIAA team to make the 2021, 2022 and 2023 tournament experience an exciting and enriching one for both the athletes and attendees alike.

The tournament has been held in Charlotte for the past 13 years. Will Baltimore have the opportunity to host beyond 2023?

College basketball tournaments like this often rotate geographically, so it’s a true testament to Charlotte that it hosted the tournament for so many years. Baltimore's goal is to partner with the CIAA to ensure successful tournaments in 2021, 2022 and 2023. Based on the success of the tournament for both the City of Baltimore and the CIAA, we’re open to discussing a longer-term relationship.

What are some of the initial steps to marketing and promoting the selection of Baltimore for the CIAA Tournament?

Moving forward, Visit Baltimore and the local organizing committee will work together to market and promote the tournament. This group will aim to create a citywide “happening” that stretches beyond the court, yet keeps the focus on the tournament, associated scholarships, and the power of sports in unifying communities.

Are there specific markets you want to reach?

We want to touch the CIAA network of alumni who have moved up north to New York, Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey and other areas in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions. This will be an opportunity for the CIAA to re-engage those who felt Charlotte was too far of a hike to make a trip and for us to introduce Baltimore to a new visitor. Of course, we still want to maintain a great relationship with those who have been Charlotte loyalists.

What are your plans to bring basketball fans to Baltimore?

Baltimore understands that the CIAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament is about more than just basketball. It’s about community and bringing together these incredible HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities), so we’ll aim to create an environment on and off the basketball court that does just that. We’re hoping to attract fans who want to learn about Baltimore’s legacy as a sports town and experience the cultural renaissance currently taking place. We want fans to know that there’s a lot to explore outside the walls of Royal Farms Arena.

What do you want people to know about Baltimore?

Baltimore offers the perks of a big city without the price tag, plus the bonus of being located directly on the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. The Baltimore Convention Center campus and Royal Farms Arena are steps away from beautiful waterfront views, and the Baltimore Water Taxi is waiting to take you to other waterfront neighborhoods such as Fell’s Point, Federal Hill, Harbor East, and Canton.