If you run a business in the Baltimore area, Thomas Yeager and Robert Goodman will be looking for you at the next networking event you attend.
Yeager, commissioner of the Colonial Athletic Association, and Goodman, the conference's senior associate commissioner for marketing, are trying to grow the CAA's basketball tournament, which will be held for the second year in a row at the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore, March 6-9.
Last year, the CAA's first in Baltimore after a 24-year run in Richmond, Va., the tournament drew 19,065 fans for five sessions, an average of 3,813 in the 11,000-14,000-seat arena. The final between the University of Delaware and William & Mary drew an announced crowd of 5,414.
Yeager and Goodman know there is room for improvement, and they are getting creative with the city's business community.
"We think it's the kind of event, as an employer, whether it's an employee perk or employee outing, that's attractive," said Yeager, who has been the conference's only commissioner in its 29-year history.
"We're creating some opportunities to get in as a sponsor, with special hospitality opportunities where you don't have to exhaust your entire budget. We're speaking to groups all over the city, and we're willing to tailor some kind of opportunity to everybody's interest."
Larry Fiorino met Goodman at the Sports Boosters of Maryland's banquet. After the usual small talk, Goodman made his pitch to Fiorino, the founder and president of Timonium-based G1440, a web design business.
Fiorino said he bought a sponsorship package that includes 50 tickets, his company's logo appearing in a rotation on the arena video board, two complimentary tickets to the final and a customized e-card that he can use as an invitation.
The CAA's website lists that package at $600, and it says it is valued at more than $2,000. It also says that 70 percent of the price of the package is tax deductible.
Fiorino said G1440 used to have Orioles season tickets, but he gave them up a couple of years ago.
"One of the things I love about it is it solves a problem we had when we had Orioles tickets," Fiorino said. "Everybody wanted to go to the Saturday night games, but it was tougher to get rid of a ticket for a Tuesday afternoon game."
Instead of tickets, G1440's package includes vouchers that can be used to get the best available seats for any of the five CAA championship sessions at the arena.
Fiorino will use the tickets for both his 75 employees and his customers, he said.
"It's great timing, right before March Madness, and a great product," said Fiornio, a graduate of CAA member school Towson University. "It's a very nice thing we can do for our employees and customers."
Other premium ticket packages available range from $1,000 ("MVP Partner," valued at more than $3,500) to $2,500 ("The Coaches Box," valued at $4,000).
Goodman, the CAA's marketer, said he was at about 20 networking events in the region in January and has sold packages at all the levels.
"I'm out there trying to meet as many people as I can," Goodman said. "I'm trying to connect the dots, get them interested in college basketball, championship sports. It's a great way for them to thank their employees, thank their clients."
The CAA is being aggressive in its attempt to boost attendance because it has to.
You can buy a book of tickets for all five sessions for between $80 and $200, or a ticket for a single session for between $20 and $50. But not too many folks will pay that price.
In addition to the packages that Goodman is selling, free tickets are available to youth basketball players, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and first responders. And families and friends of all of those group members can buy tickets at a steep discount.
Yeager said he knows he has to balance filling the arena with people who bought sharply discounted tickets with the need to turn a profit.
"Obviously, there's a business element that we need, because this championship helps support the other 22 championships that we offer," Yeager said. "So it can't be 35,000 people at a buck a piece.
"But, since it is a showcase that serves to establish the brand of the CAA, we have to have people there when TV (the championship game is televised by NBC Sports Network) comes on. If there aren't fans in the stands when that happens, then the network might not come back."
Whatever happens this March, the CAA will be back at the Royal Farms Arena in 2016, which will be the third year of a three-year contract.
When asked what he would consider a successful tournament, Yeager said "a sellout."
He also said he is looking for continuously incremental growth of the tournament.
"We've been spoiled in some ways, because we came off 24 years in Richmond, where the last couple of years were sellouts," Yeager said. "The first couple of years of that 24-year run weren't sellouts. We were pleased with the first year, but we recognize that we have some opportunities."
For CAA Men's Basketball Championship tickets, click here.