Halifax was home to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national men’s basketball tournament for 24 years and some folks wondered if the games could draw significant interest if held outside of Atlantic Canada. However, the positive response of spectators and TV viewers to the 2008 championship, that took place in Ottawa, proves that fans of university basketball are alive, well and living across Canada.
Carleton University and Senators Sports & Entertainment jointly hosted the 2008 CIS “Final 8” National Championship Tournament, which was held in Scotiabank Place from March 12 to March 14. Attendance averaged 7,000 spectators per game with about 9,000 fans watching on Saturday night as the Acadia University Axemen eliminated the five-time national champions, the Carleton Ravens, 82-80. More than 8,000 people then returned on Sunday to watch the Brock University Badgers edge Acadia 64–61 to win the championship.
Five of the tournament games were broadcast on The Score Television Network, a Canadian cable sports news specialty channel available to over 5.4 million households. Jennifer Brenning, the director of athletics and recreation at Carleton, believes that the television ratings (which set a new CIS record for viewership of the men’s basketball championship) are a valid measure of the event’s success this year.
“118,000 viewers were tuned into the Saturday night game and 374,000 people in total watched the five games broadcast by The Score,” she says. “With these numbers, the 2008 championship attracted about 50 per cent more viewers than in previous years. Clearly, communities across Canada are interested in these games.”
Brenning credits the university’s partnership with Senators Sports & Entertainment for ensuring that the championship was well-attended—in particular, the Senators organization was able to provide both a world-class venue and expertise in marketing and ticket sales.
She also believes that the visiting teams enjoyed being in the nation’s capital, despite the distance of the venue from the downtown core.
“We had the out-of-town teams in a downtown hotel so that they could easily walk to Parliament Hill,” she says. “For some of the players and their families, this was the first time they had been in Ottawa so we were able to offer them a unique opportunity.”
Carleton will host the national championship in 2009 and 2010. Bidding for 2011 and 2012 will begin next year and Brenning expects other universities to be interested in hosting the tournament.
“Our goal is to build up the championship so that other universities will want to take it on. It is good for the Ottawa community to see this calibre of basketball and it is good for the overall profile of the sport for the event to be held across the country.”
According to Geoff Publow, the director of strategic development for Senators Sports & Entertainment, the organization is pleased with the success of the 2008 CIS “Final 8” and to be working with Carleton.
“Our partnership with Carleton, which includes the CIS ‘Final 8’, the MBNA Capital Hoops Classic and other university sporting events, continues to strengthen. The response of basketball fans in Ottawa and across the country in terms of both attendance and viewership is a great indication of how this event has grown to be a premier national championship.”
While the Ravens did not win a sixth straight national basketball championship, their season can only be described as a success. With a 22-0 conference record, the March 15 game was the team’s only loss in 2007–08 and forward Aaron Doornekamp was named the CIS male athlete of the year.