Update: Shortly after the publication of this story, the NCAA announced it was canceling the March Madness tournament completely.
Atlanta Sports Council President Dan Corso says his organization is in a “wait-and-see mode” and in “uncharted waters” following the announcement by the NCAA to exclude fans from March Madness basketball games due to coronavirus concerns.
Speaking at a March 12 meeting of the Buckhead Business Association at Maggiano’s Little Italy, Corso added that he respects the National Basketball Association’s decision to suspend the rest of its season. “It’s the times we’re in right now. It’s pretty surreal. This is a global situation and it’s not just about sports. It’s affecting people’s lives.”
The ASC is a division of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce focused on recruiting major sports events to come to the city, such as the NCAA’s Final Four and the Super Bowl.
The Final Four is currently scheduled for Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the fifth time the city has hosted the event. The semifinals will take place on April 4 and the championship game is two days later. The exclusion of fans could have big impacts on the hotel and hospitality industries in Buckhead and around the metro area.
Corso said the previous 15 hours “are a great example of how things are never really consistent. Life changes quickly and you need to be able to adapt and adjust.”
The ASC was to meet several times this week with representatives of the NCAA and its partners, Corso said, “and as we gather information and look at different considerations and issues related to hosting the event and their decision to go with empty venues, we will see how that impacts us.”
Asked what venues will be used now that the big ones are no longer necessary, Corso said, “I don’t have that information, but we will be talking about that in the next couple of days. We are in uncharted waters here, and so is the NCAA. We don’t know what the decision will be tomorrow or next week or two weeks from now.”
The role of the ASC “is to plan logistics and operations of the event on behalf of the NCAA and we’ve been busy on that for the last two and a half years, and will continue to do that depending on the shape that it takes. At the end of the day we’re going to take their lead. It’s their event and their decision and we respect that. We’re their partner and will continue to organize the event as it is or as it will be, in lockstep with the NCAA,” he said.
An audience member asked about the economic effect on Atlanta businesses such as hotels and car rental companies. “It remains to be seen,” Corso replied. “I don’t know what the impact on visitation will be.”
WSB-TV reporter Heather Catlin, guest host of the breakfast event, asked Corso what sport authorities can learn from the COVID-19 outbreak in planning future events. “It’s not just the team owners,” he said. “I think cities are going to have to put in some kind of protection as well. If something on the level of a pandemic happens again, what are the actions that are going to have to take place?”