ATLANTIC CITY — An additional form of March Madness will take up residence in Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall next year.
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference basketball championship tournament, for both men and women, will be held at Boardwalk Hall for the first time, alongside an esports tournament to be held in the hall’s Adrian Phillips Theater.
On Wednesday, representatives from marketing, student affairs and athletic departments at MAAC colleges — which include New Jersey schools Monmouth, Rider and St. Peter’s universities — toured Boardwalk Hall and watched presentations on the amenities the venue and the city have to offer.
Atlantic City was announced as the location last year. The conference described the resort as a neutral site that wouldn’t give any one team an advantage. The event has been held numerous times in Buffalo, near Niagara University, and in Albany, near Sienna University, both of which are members of the MAAC.
The men’s and women’s tournaments are set for March 10 to 14. The winner of each will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve been looking for a neutral site for some time. Our coaches wanted to have that type of environment for their teams to compete against each other,” said MAAC Commissioner Richard Ensor. “But for our membership as a whole, they wanted a destination site. Someplace where their fans, alumni, donors would want to come spend a weekend, enjoy their time in the basketball venue but also outside the venue.”
The conference issued a report last year that the tournament could bring about $3.7 million to the resort.
“We’re on pace for that,” said Jim McDonald, assistant general manager at Boardwalk Hall. “The bottom line is ... we’re hoping for 30,000-40,000 attendees to come and view the tournament. Some people will be in the market for five to six days.”
Atlantic City beat out arenas in Connecticut, Long Island and Albany for the right to host the event.
“Many of the cities we played at in the past just didn’t have those types of (recreation) options,” Ensor said. “So with the shopping, the dining and the sports gambling, we think that’s gonna really appeal to many of our demographics that attend basketball championships.”
Next year will be the second time MAAC has an esports tournament and the first time it has been tied to the basketball tournament, which has been held in Albany 19 times since 1982 and will stay in Atlantic City through 2022.
Players will compete in “League of Legends,” “Overwatch,” “Rocket League” and “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.” The conference hopes to bring a younger demographic into the fold with the addition, said Kiernan Ensor, MAAC esports director.
“We see esports as the hook, the lure, to get them inside the arena and then expose them to MAAC basketball,” Kiernan Ensor said. “So we really think that they ... pair hand in hand very well. Meaning, the young with the old, and the old with the new. And this facility in particular, having the Adrian Phillips Theater alongside the arena, is the ideal location to hold an esports tournament.”
The tournament’s final is typically held the Monday before Selection Sunday for March Madness, but next year will be played on the Saturday before, as the hall is booked that Monday for the NJSIAA Individual Wrestling Championships.
Having the final on a Saturday will cater to sports bettors who want to visit one of the city’s sports books for March Madness, Commissioner Ensor said.
“I think many people think the Atlantic City atmosphere is gonna become what the Super Bowl’s been for Vegas,” he said. “It’s gonna just drive a lot of interest in attendance, because you can go to games here and you can sit in all the game halls and watch all the other tournaments, (and) come back for another game. So there’s a lot of good synergy there, and we hope it attracts our younger demographics here.”