When the Ohio State and Marquette men’s basketball teams tip off today in the second annual Carrier Classic — this year held on the USS Yorktown in Charleston Harbor — the winner will be the state of South Carolina.
The harbor will be the backdrop for one of the year’s biggest college basketball games, a nationally-televised affair played on a court and bleachers set up on the World War II carrier’s flight deck. The broadcast promises to keep up the national exposure generated by last summer’s PGA Championship golf tournament and the announcement that Charleston has been named by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler magazine as the No. 1 tourist destination in the world.
“You can’t buy that kind of coverage,” said Marion Edmonds, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. “They’ll flesh out the broadcast with lots of local color. It has tremendous potential to keep the positive spin about South Carolina going.”
In addition the men’s game between 2012 NCAA tournament Final Four team Ohio State and Sweet 16 team Marquette, the event will include a women’s game between the 2012 NCAA championship runner up Notre Dame and Ohio State, which finished No. 16 in the AP Top 25.
Both games will be telecast live on the new NBC Sports Network, a 24-7 sports channel similar to ESPN. The women’s game will tip-off at 4 p.m., and the men’s game will follow 7 p.m.
Last year’s inaugural Carrier Classic — held aboard the active-duty, San Diego-based carrier Carl Vinson — drew 10.2 million viewers to its ESPN Veteran’s Day broadcast and ranked No. 2 out of 389 regular season college basketball games. It didn’t hurt that President Barack Obama attended the game between the University of North Carolina and Michigan State University.
This year, the organizers chose South Carolina for a couple of reasons. For one, the Carl Vinson wasn’t available this year. The other is the weather.
“We thought about the Intrepid in New York, but the weather didn’t work there,” said George Moore, the associate producer of the event for the nonprofit Morale Entertainment group. “We needed somewhere warm enough to have an outdoor basketball game.”
The group was also considering the Lexington in Corpus Christi, Texas.
“But we got such a warm reception from everyone” in Charleston, Moore said. “Everyone wanted to help. We felt so comfortable, we started negotiations right away.”
Mac Burdette, executive director of Patriot’s Point, said the event also will be a boon to that attraction, which operates the Yorktown and two other WWII Navy vessels, the national Medal of Honor Museum and a Vietnam War fire base on the Mount Pleasant side of the harbor, among other features.
The publicity, he said, will probably be worth $1 million or more to the attraction, which is owned by the state but doesn’t receive any funding from the Legislature.
“Our whole marketing budget for the year is only $500,000,” Burdette said. “So this is a million dollar opportunity for us.”
It’s also one big challenge.
The court, lights and bleachers all have to be set up, which requires moving around many of the vintage aircraft on the deck. And arrangements have to be made to evacuate 4,000 people from the ship in the event of an emergency.
“We have to meet all of the fire codes just like we were a basketball arena in Columbia,” Burdette said. “We’ve had some big events here, but by far this is the most complicated thing that Patriot’s Point has done in its 40 years of existence.”
Half of the 4,000 tickets will go to the military. The rest are sold to the public or given to the schools for distribution.
A few tickets priced from $500 to $2,500 were still available at press time and are available through the Website carrierclassic.org.
All of the profits from the event go to support U.S. troops through organizations such as the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, the Wounded Warrior Project and the Medal of Honor Society.
But in addition to the charities, Charleston and South Carolina can also expect a return. The two teams are both from the Midwest – Ohio and Wisconsin — the prime market for the state’s beaches, mountains and other attractions, Burdette said.
“It will make people out there want to come and visit Charleston and the rest of South Carolina,” he said. “It will be a long-term benefit to the state.”