Maui welcomes basketball fans
By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Peter Boylan
A basketball tournament featuring elite schools facing off in a high school-sized gym is not only fun for basketball fans, it's a boon for any economy, and no one knows that better than newly elected Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares.
As the former director for the Parks and Recreation Department of Maui County, Tavares helped coordinate nearly a dozen Maui Invitational basketball tournaments and knows the kinds of opportunities the tournament creates for businesses and non-profits.
Since 1984, the EA Sports Maui Invitational — played in 2,400-seat Lahaina Civic Center during Thanksgiving week — has raised more than $110 million for the local economy during a usual lull in the tourism season, according to the Maui Visitors Bureau. The tournament, which starts today and continues tomorrow and Wednesday, requires a staff of more than 300. The organizer, KemperSports, hires more than 80 percent of those workers locally.
In 2005, the sold out tournament produced $12.1 million in revenue.
"It's a huge spark because all those people are all over eating out and shopping," said Tavares, who has been to more than 10 Invitationals during her time as Parks and Recreation director. "We've always had a real successful time with the Maui Invitational. It seems like each year the field is amazing."
More than 5,000 visitors, boosters, officials, team and game personnel, media, sponsors and basketball fans from around the country, come to Maui in November, which is usually a down season for hotel occupancy.
"It's an amazing event that touches a lot of local people in a lot of different ways," said Dave Greeley vice-president and general manager of KemperSports, operator of the invitational since 1990.
The Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Sheraton Maui Resort and Hyatt Regency Resort & Spa all host thousands of boosters who annually accompany their teams to Maui.
The tournament also benefits local organizations and charities, including the Boy Scouts of America-Maui County Council's Camp Maluhia, YMCA of Hawaii, Lahainaluna High School, Aloha House, and Starwish Foundation of Hawaii and Young Life.
The Boy Scouts operate a booth selling $2 beverages and $10 game programs outside of the civic center.
"The sheer number of people that are there and the folks that come are guests and visitors to our island and they are bringing dollars into our island," said Robert Fawcett, executive for the Boy Scouts of America-Maui County Council. "It's helped us tremendously. It's one of our very important fundraisers that we do every year. The only thing I have to do is get enough man- power to run the booth."
Half of this year's eight-team field is ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 and includes last year's national runner-up UCLA alongside Kentucky, Memphis, Georgia Tech, Purdue, Oklahoma, DePaul and host Chaminade.
The Invitational's fields are perennially packed with college basketball's marquee teams, making tickets tough to get while generating a buzz among sports fans in Lahaina and across the country.
Fewer than 30 percent of the available tickets are sold locally, and more than 2,000 people will cram the stands of the Lahaina Civic Center, eager to see some of the best college basketball teams in the country.
KemperSports officials acknowledged the tournament's primary ticket commitment lies with alumni and booster groups of participating teams in part because teams are reimbursed 100 percent of their travel-related expenses, allowing teams from smaller conferences to attend.
Officials declined to discuss the number of tickets made available to each school and the Maui community, nor would Greeley comment on ticket prices or how much it costs to run the tournament, saying the information is proprietary.
"We'd love to have more tickets but given the popularity of the event (it is difficult)," said Greeley.
Tickets were sold at Anthony's Coffee on Hana Highway in Paia, Maui Taco at Kamaole Beach Center in Kihei, Maui Taco at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center in Kahului and Maui Tacos Napili Plaza.
Tickets to some games are still available online at www.mauiinvitational.com.
In Honolulu, O'ahu Travel, Inc., sells more than 100 all-tournament passes as part of packages, including airfare, hotel and rental car.
Prices range from $600 to $2,000, according to the company. The packages were sold to local and Mainland customers.
The Maui Visitors Bureau is thankful for the Invitational, which has a long-term agreement with ESPN to broadcast live a minimum of nine tournament games each year through 2011.
The agreement beams brief images of Maui's beaches, Hale-akala, and the neighboring islands of Moloka'i and Lana'i to 10 million viewers each year.
For the second consecutive year, ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU, the 24-hour college sports network, will combine to offer live television coverage of all 12 tournament games, according to KemperSports.
Furthermore, with the exorbitant cost of shipping television equipment to Maui, ESPN rents as much of it as it can locally.
"It's incredible to see the impact a three-day tournament has on our local economy each year," said Terryl Vencl, executive director of the Maui Visitors Bureau, on the tournament Website. "Not to mention the year-round promotional benefits Maui derives from TV, radio, print and Internet coverage and exposure."
Reach Peter Boylan at email@example.com.