Madison promised a red carpet to keep the state high school boys basketball tournament, and on Friday it rolled it out.
After nearly losing the tournament, the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau and partners are offering a fan package with new online ticket sales, special offers from hotels, restaurants and attractions, a WIAA "fan central" at UW-Madison's Union South, discounted parking at city and university lots and more.
"We're going to have a tremendous fan experience," bureau president Deb Archer told a group of the city, university and WIAA movers and shakers including Mayor Paul Soglin and UW athletic director Barry Alvarez at a press conference Friday at Camp Randall Stadium.
The bureau unveiled a new logo promoting the "The Championship Capital" and will advertise in newspapers and on radio and billboards, Archer said. The tournament runs March 7-9 at UW's Kohl Center.
The announcement came as the first of five WIAA state tournaments rolled into Madison on Friday with the start of the two-day boys swimming and diving championships.
WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson said his organization wanted to ensure the boys basketball tournament would be in high-quality facilities and accessible and affordable for fans.
"There were honest, genuine concerns on all sides," he said. "We are thrilled and excited going forward."
University vice chancellor Darrell Bazzell applauded the partnership, which includes the visitors bureau, university, the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Madison, Inc., the Business Improvement District, the city, and Dane County.
"This will continue to be a premier, special event and become better and better," he said.
A year ago, the Madison group lobbied hard to keep the boys and girls tournaments after it seemed the events might move due to questions over the availability of Kohl Center in 2013 and 2014.
The tournaments bring tens of thousands of players, coaches and fans and generate an estimated $9 million annually for Madison's economy.
In February 2012, the WIAA's Board of Control voted to move the tournaments to the Resch Center in the Green Bay suburb of Ashwaubenon unless the Kohl Center could be secured for its preferred dates in the second and third weekends in March.
In late April last year, the WIAA decided to keep the boys tournament in Madison through 2020 but moved the girls tournament to the Resch Center for at least 2013 and 2014. The breakthrough came when the university helped persuade the Big Ten to use neutral sites for its conference hockey tournaments, which debut in 2014.
Anderson said such "chafing" happens from time to time but has made the relationship between Madison and the WIAA stronger.
The Madison group wants the girls basketball tournament to return in 2015 and welcome other championships, Archer said later, noting many fan offerings for the boys basketball tournament are available for other state tournaments this winter.
The WIAA hosts roughly half of its tournaments in Madison but has history and relationships in other communities, Anderson said. The organization will continue to assess the site of the girls basketball tournament after 2014, he said.