RALEIGH, N.C. — The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is establishing its geographical footprint in the Triangle, and it's leaving quite an impression on some fans.
“I've enjoyed being in Raleigh,” said MEAC fan Jewel Long. “I enjoy the change in venue.”
“So far, so good,” said MEAC fan Cliffton Wood. “I say thumbs up to Raleigh.”
Instead of trying to sell the tournament to the general public, tournament organizers took a more focused approach this year to growing attendance numbers.
“We really put more emphasis on marketing to our institutions and alumni, all within a 150 radius of Wake County and the city of Raleigh,” said MEAC commissioner Dr. Dennis Thomas.
Thomas said the tournament attracted about 23,000 fans during the five-day tournament in 2006.
Tournament and city leaders want to expand the boundaries of the MEAC beyond the RBC Center. They hope the traffic generated there will spill out onto restaurant and entertainment destinations like Glenwood South and Fayetteville Street, which will help out businesses banking on a bump in their own bottom line.
Yancy's on Fayetteville Street, for one, has already started to see its share of the MEAC clientele.
“The coach, the basketball team, assistant coaches, everybody was in here,” said Yancy’s owner Harvey Yancy.
The city is in the second year of a three-year contract as host city of the MEAC. For its part, city leaders said they are looking for a bigger payday. Based on conference figures, the tournament brought in $3 million last year. This year's economic target is set at $5 million.
“In three or four years, it may be twice that much,” said Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker. “This has the potential to be a big-time tournament and it takes a few years to grow it, but we're well underway.”
The MEAC is expanding this summer. Winston-Salem State, formerly of the CIAA, is slated to join the conference in July.