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March madness descends

Nick LoVerde

There is nothing in sports—nothing in life, period—quite like March Madness. Buffalo has been fortunate to host NCAA tournament games on four other occasions, and they have been, without question, the most important sporting events to be held in Western New York in recent years. The second and third round affairs hit the First Niagara Center on March 20 and 22, so expect a throng of tourists, sports fans, and national media in local hotels, restaurants, and beyond. Preparations have taken place for more than a year, and will continue right up until tip-off. In December, Spree spoke to VP of Arena Services Thomas Ahern, and he and his team were hard at work.

So when did the planning for this year’s tourney begin?
We actually started planning and holding dates for this event in February 2012 and submitted our intent to bid on June 19 of that year. The planning process is ongoing and continues into early March. We just recently hosted the MAAC and NCAA for a formal site visit and venue operations manual review. There are constant communications regarding ticket sales and promotions, venue operations, and various tournament logistics.

How does preparing for March Madness compare to preparing for other arena events, like Sabres games and concerts? Specifically, what do you need to have ready for the players?
[With all of these, we are] working hand in hand with several different entities—NCAA, MAAC, Niagara University, Canisius College, Buffalo Niagara Sports Commission, the NFTA, and eight visiting teams, students, fans, bands. The schools come prepared and equipped with most everything they need. We provide shower towels and toiletries, a training room, local doctors, some limited catering. Sponsors send in sport drinks and water, the NCAA sends in the court, goals, and team chairs.

How about the national media and fans?
We have to boost up our internet signals/connections, create a larger media work space, larger media dining and duplication rooms, and a separate press conference area. The arena will provide concessions, parking, guest services—what we would normally provide for a special event. Our guests are also supported by our CVB/Sports Commission at the area hotels and street corners, and in arena visitor information stands. Getting folks to restaurants in between sessions is our biggest challenge.

Let’s say it’s game day. What will you be up to when the games are actually being played ?
Supporting our team here at First Niagara Center. Most notably our director of arena operations, Beth Guiliani Gatto, who will take this event—and every event she runs—from good to great.

What do you hope out of town visitors will take with them from this trip to the Queen City?
We want them to remember Buffalo and their experience here at the arena with a smile. We want people to truly appreciate why we all choose to live here.

Do you have a dream match-up?
We would love to see a local team or two get into the big dance—Canisius, Niagara, UB, St. Bona, Cornell, Syracuse. Whomever they play would be a dream match-up in my book.

How thrilled will you be to actually watch the games get started?
There is absolutely a thrill that comes over you when you see so much hard work and planning turn into great moments and memories for so many people. Knowing you had a hand in creating that is what it’s all about.       

UB grad Christopher Schobert writes about film and more for various outlets, and blogs at FilmSwoon.com. His jump shot is weak at best

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