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How sweet will Big Apple taste at 2016 NCAAs in NYC’s MSG?
Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today.
I want to be a part of it, New York, New York.
These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it,
New York, New York.
I wanna wake up, in a city that doesn’t sleep.
And find I’m king of the hill, top of the heap.
These little town blues, are melting away.
I’ll make a brand new start of it, in old New York.
If I can make it there,
I’ll make it anywhere.
It’s up to you, New York, New York.
New York, New York.
I want to wake up, in a city that never sleeps.
And find I’m A-number-one, top of the list, king of the hill, A-number-1…
These little town blues, are melting away.
I’m gonna make a brand new start of it,
in old New York, and…
If I can make it there, I’m gone make it anywhere.
It’s up to you, New York, New York!
— from the song, “New York, New York”
By Mike Finn
Frank Sinatra may not have been thinking about the college sport of wrestling when he first sung this well-known verse in 1977, but it certainly fits when it comes to the 2016 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships that will be held in the “Big Apple” and the historic Madison Square Garden next March.
There is no doubt that the largest city in the United States and those associated with Madison Square Garden — which has hosted some of sports and entertainment’s greatest moments — are ready to host the “Super Bowl” of college wrestling.
“Any time an event gets to play in Madison Square Garden, be it an entertainer or sports figure, they made it,” said Joel Fisher, the executive vice president for MSG Sports. “We are equipped to host the biggest events like an NBA All-Star Game a world heavyweight championship. U2 is ready to host eight sold-out concerts. We’ve hosted Billy Joel. We’ve hosted the Pope and for wrestling to get that same stage, they should be very proud of it. We are certainly proud that they are coming here.”
The big question is whether wrestling fans — many of whom have made the annual trek to the Division I tournament for at least a quarter of a century and have seen it grow taking place in college arenas to more metropolitan cities like St. Louis in record numbers — are ready for the size of New York City and everything that goes with spending three days (March 17-19, 2016) in a city that has 8.4 million residents and brings in over 54 million visitors annually.
That certainly is in stark contrast to St. Louis — which has hosted the NCAAs seven times since 2000, including last March — which has a population of over 318,000 and draws 21.5 millions visitors per year.
Anthony Holman, who has served as the NCAA liaison to the National Championships for the past six years, had those same thoughts when the NCAA announced in 2013 that the 2016 national tournament would be held in Madison Square Garden.
“My concerns were many of the same things that many fans have like cost of hotels, the volunteer base and the union labor,” admitted Holman, who believed many of those questions were answered in June when he made a three-day site visit to New York and Madison Square Garden, which has existed since 1879.
“While those things were general concerns, I feel like the experience we’re going to be able to provide and the history of the venue an the amenities of the venue, the vibrancy of the city, the locale (will offset concerns).”
Not only is this the first time that the Division I tournament will be held in New York City, it is also the first time since 1950 — when the NCAA Final Four was held in MSG — the fabled arena hosted a national college tournament in any sport. The current Madison Square Garden — the fourth building in the 134-year history of arena — also just underwent a one billion dollar renovation.
Holman believes the timing was right for New York City and Madison Square Garden to host this event, which was first held in 1928 and just broke an attendance record of 113,013 last March in St. Louis.
“If it is a risk, it is a calculated one,” said Holman. “Our fan base has been tremendously loyal and we don’t want to take that for granted. But our fan base also is not getting any younger and this was an opportunity to move our championships to the most famous arena in the world.”
Hofstra University, located on New York’s Long Island, is the host school for the 2016 NCAAs and Holman believes there is a fan base on the East Coast, which is hungry to watch the national tournament.
“We do have a incredible fan base of Northeastern folks who don’t traditionally make it to the Midwest for our Championships,” said Holman. “34 of the 77 Division I wrestling programs are within 400 miles of New York City.”
So what should fans expect to see in New York City, which has a seemingly endless number of locations to visit; be it Times Square, which is less than a mile to the northeast of MSG on 7th Avenue, or the Statue of Liberty, located four miles to the south just off the southern edge of Manhattan?
There is no doubt hotel rooms will be more expensive. While the average cost of a hotel is $271, there are deals out there and fans are asked to check out NYC and Company, the local convention and tourism business that created a special website — http://www.nycgo.com/ncaa-wrestling — for those who are interested in attending the event.
“The Garden and the New York City Convention and Visitor’s Bureau was very helpful with us in securing hotel blocks for our fans, when tickets went on sale at a discounted rate,” Holman said.
Holman hopes fans experience the “priceless” appeal of being part of something historic and also believes fans will discover not everything about NYC is expensive.
“Yes it is New York City and won’t lie by saying that it’s not as expensive as St. Louis. In terms of flying, the flights will be less expensive because of the sheer volume of flights coming into New York. But we believe that not having to park and drive and instead using public transportation will also allow fans to enjoy the culture of one of the greatest cities in the world.”
In addition to plenty of taxicabs, there is New York’s subway system that can be found at Penn Station, which sits literally below Madison Square Garden.
There also is the question of safety in such a large city.
“I believe that all the research shows that New York City is one of the safest locations in the United States,” said Fisher. “As far as the Garden, we pride ourselves in that we put on so many events to appeal to so many types of people and have such great experience. Our No. 1 concern for any event that we do is for our guests’ safety. We take tremendous pride in making sure that everyone who comes to Madison Square Garden has a great overall guest experience and that safety is at the top of that list.
“We are involved with the New York City police. All of our security people have incredible experience and that’s our priority”
Wrestling has been part of New York City’s recent history, including the Grapple in the Garden, a dual-meet event that has been held in Madison Square Garden the past three Decembers and have hosted the likes of Iowa, Oklahoma State and Cornell.
There also is USA Wrestling’s outdoor spring event in Times Square the past five years, hosting freestyle exhibitions against the likes of wrestlers from Russia and Cuba to benefit the Beat the Streets program in New York. Madison Square Garden also hosted the FILA World Championships in 2003.
Holman believe these events will help bring in volunteers to handle a double-elimination tournament, which features 330 wrestlers over three days.
“When you talk about a fan base and local community doing it the right way, St. Louis has been a cut above,” Holman said. “Bill Crum is a legendary guy and is heading up the volunteers in New York and we have a great relationship with the Beat The Streets chapter and Hofstra University is the host institution and they have a strong wrestling base.
“I feel confident after visiting with them that they have more than enough folks to make this happen. It was something that we were concerned about. But I think folks will be surprised with all the love and passion these people have for wrestling in that region of the country as well.” Holman also believes the most important people to take care of are the wrestlers, who will make history next March.
“The experience for the student-athlete is always paramount,” he said. “We’ve heard from many of our institutions that have competed in the Grapple in the Garden what a special thing that is and how great (it is) that we are putting on our show in that venue as well.”
The national tournament will return to St. Louis in 2017 and then to Cleveland in 2018. By then, the NCAA will announce another set of locations to host the tournament, including places that are considered non-traditional wrestling venues.
“St. Louis is a proven commodity, a hotbed for wrestling so we know we can go back there in 2017 so it makes sense to take the championship to a non-traditional wrestling market,” Holman said. “A place like Atlanta or another Southeastern location could certainly be considered in the future as well.”
So if the NCAA National Championships — and its fans — can make it in New York in 2016, they can indeed make it anywhere. n