When the ACC Tournament is in Brooklyn, it doesn’t feel like home

By R.L. Bynum

NEW YORK — There is lots to dislike about the expanded ACC, and including Brooklyn in the rotation for the league’s tradition-rich tournament is near the top of the list.

The Barclays Center does an excellent job of staging the tournament and that would be fine if was located in a city that knew the history of the ACC’s crown jewel event, cared more about college basketball and was passionate about the results.

That isn’t the case in Brooklyn, and that’s not the arena’s fault.

It’s a pro sports city, and even the New Yorkers who care about college basketball are more inclined to follow the Big East Tournament, which is a fixture at historic Madison Square Garden.

There were plenty of empty seats after the first Friday semifinal between Duke and Miami started, although it was the best crowd of the tournament.

I understand that Syracuse fans probably love coming to Brooklyn but there were still lots of empty seats when the Orange lost to Duke in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Yes, a losing season likely has something to do with that.

How has attendance been? For the first three days, we can only go by the eye test because the box scores distributed to the media didn’t include attendance figures. The crowds weren’t good and the upper arena was mostly empty. Obviously, crowds aren’t that big on Tuesday and sometimes Wednesday no matter where the event is held.

There finally was an official attendance figure given for Friday’s semifinal session on the UNC-Virginia Tech box score, listed as 15,994.

Charlotte and Greensboro embrace the event, and both have a history of filling arenas from the quarterfinals on. In Greensboro, there is tailgating and, in none-pandemic years, a Fan Fest. Grabbing a bite to eat at Stamey’s Barbeque before heading to the Greensboro Coliseum is as much a part of the tournament as buzzer-beating shots controversies and memorable finishes.

In Brooklyn, if you stray more than a block away from the arena, you’re unlikely to find many people who have any clue that the event is happening. The bigger concern around here is whether the Nets’ Kyrie Irving will finally be able to play in Brooklyn Nets home games.

This is the third time I’ve covered the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn. All three times, I’ve been welcomed by an Airbnb host who had no idea what I was talking about when I told them why I was here. They may not be sports fans. But I’m guessing that folks in Greensboro and Charlotte who care nothing about sports are still well-aware that the tournament is in town because of the economic impact.

When I got back to my Airbnb on Thursday night, I was talking to one of the other people staying there and told him I was covering the basketball tournament. His reply? “Did you see Creighton win?” No, that would be the Big East Tournament. The kicker was that he used to be a Syracuse student.

I enjoyed an excellent calzone for lunch Friday at a neighborhood pizzeria near my Airbnb. It’s exactly one mile from the arena. While it was cooking, I had a nice conversation with the proprietor about how the pandemic has been for him.

When he found out I was from North Carolina, he asked why I was in Brooklyn. When I told him “ACC Tournament,” he gave me a quizzical look. When I explained what it was, he said, “oh, I think I have heard about that.”

On the subway ride Saturday to JFK Airport, I was talking to a nice man who helped me get on the correct A train. When I found out he lived in Brooklyn, I had to ask the question. No, he didn’t know that the ACC Tournament was being played this week. He was happy to talk about the Nets, though.

The ACC doesn’t come to New York City because it expects the city to notice, let along to fall in love with the event like they do in Charlotte or Greensboro.

It’s also not because of the media exposure because there hasn’t been so much as a mention on the back pages of the New York tabloids of the ACC Tournament this week. The closest to an ACC mention was a tease to a story about the New York Giants’ pursuit of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

The driving force to get the event to Brooklyn for the first time in 2017 and 2018 were the university presidents who see coming to New York as an opportunity to attract rich alums to help with academic fundraising. If it returns to Brooklyn, the school president will likely be the reason.

Fortunately, the ACC Tournament returns to its natural home in Greensboro next season before heading to Washington, D.C., for the 2024 event.


Where it goes from there hasn’t been determined and may be revealed at the league’s spring meetings.

Brooklyn will likely be in the mix for 2024. Here’s hoping that if the league decides to go out of state, it hopes for Atlanta. Maybe a greater amount of Atlantans will know the event is going on.  

Top photo courtesy of the ACC

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