SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Savannah is a finalist to host The Basketball Tournament later this summer, WTOC has learned.
If selected, the tournament would be hosted later this month at the Savannah Convention Center. Players, officials, medical officials, and production crews would be quarantined at The Westin, according to Savannah Sports Council Director Rob Wells. No fans would be allowed at games.
The Basketball Tournament confirmed Savannah is being considered among four potential host cities.
“We have been in discussions with Savannah as a potential host,” a statement from The Tournament says. “We anticipate making a determination shortly.”
The tournament was originally scheduled to be hosted in Dayton, Ohio, but will be relocated because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Wells says discussions have been fast as the tournament hopes to begin play in late June.
“A month ago, we would have never even thought about this. So even to be considered for this event is incredible,” Wells says. “We’re just waiting to see at this point. We just hope to hear some good news."
Wells says the tournament would be in Savannah for nearly three weeks, and would bring in approximately 500 people at it’s populated peak. The Sports Council estimates it could mean around a $2 million economic impact for the city.
But Wells believes the exposure of the tournament being aired live on ESPN would be the biggest windfall for Savannah.
“In my opinion, it would be the biggest sporting event Savannah has ever hosted from a sheer exposure standpoint," Wells says. “Last year, they had nearly 50 hours of coverage on ESPN. I’m not talking about web streaming. I’m talking about on TV. To have the backdrop of River Street when they come in and out of every commercial, it’s a huge advertising piece.”
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp tweeted his support to host the tournament Thursday after visiting Savannah earlier this week:
That was news to Mayor Van Johnson and city officials.
“I found out about it on WTOC," said Mayor Johnson. "I found out about it on the news that drove me to the Tweet. And I’m like, I mean, it’d be nice if Savannah knew. You know, again, I don’t know if it was miscommunication or what the situation is. But you know, this is OUR city. So we want to make sure we’re properly notified of things happening in our city.”
Should the tournament come to Savannah, Wells says safety would be the biggest priority. But he was impressed with the plan the tournament brought to the table.
“They have an incredible health and safety plan that was put together through a partnership with Johns Hopkins University,” Wells said. “I’ve shared it with a few medical professionals here in Savannah. They were impressed by it. They’ve kind of thought of everything that could happen related to COVID.”
“We are excited about the potential to host the basketball tournament and will follow all the safety guidelines of the CDC, Department of health and promoter," Sherrie Spinks, general manager of the Savannah Convention Center, said in a statement.
The sports council hopes to hear a decision by early next week.