Two CIAA leaders weighed in with differing accounts of why the conference was seeking bids from other cities to host its annual basketball tournament.
The nation’s oldest African-American sports conference made the surprising announcement Monday that it’s looking for other possible locations starting in 2021. The tournament has been in Charlotte since 2006, and the conference moved its headquarters to the city in 2014.
CIAA board chair James Anderson told WFAE "All Things Considered" host Mark Rumsey that Charlotte’s been a “good host,” but that the conference has been consistently unhappy with the treatment of tournament-goers by the city’s hospitality industry. Anderson pointed to “price gouging” of hotels and restaurants as an example, saying that tournament attendees are often charged unfair “CIAA fees.”
“We can't seem to get the hotels in Charlotte to agree on at least a sensible range of prices versus some hotels being more renegade,” Anderson said. “[They] tend to price gouge at the last minute.”
Anderson said the problem isn’t as widespread as it used to be, but there are still hotels that charge surprise fees without giving a “reasonable explanation.”
In 2015, surcharges labeled as “CIAA service charges” were being added to Ritz-Carlton bills for tournament-goes. What came to be known as a “black tax,” the added service charges were denounced by patrons on social media, prompting the hotel to refund those charges.
Anderson said the Ritz-Carlton is not the “only offender.” He said the hotel has been willing to work with the conference on equitable pricing, while others have not.
But CIAA Commissioner Jacqui McWilliams said while there have been challenges with hotels and other businesses in the past, they’ve been addressed by conference and city officials.
“The CIAA, the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority and the City of Charlotte, we've worked together to forge a mutually beneficial relationship for our fans, alumni and student-athletes,” McWilliams said.
“We’re working with the hotel industry here, and also some of the local businesses, to assure that they're giving fair pricing to our constituents and our group,” she added.
She said Anderson’s view of hotels and other businesses “price gouging” fans is not held by the whole conference and all of its leadership.
"I want to go on record and just say the misleading information that was shared, that speaks to the challenges that we face with alumni based on lingering anecdotal experiences and it really doesn't reflect the current relationship with the city," McWilliams said. "What Anderson has spoken about are some concerns that we've had with our fans that have been impacted and it makes it appear like it's the entire community and it's not."
She said she's been pleased with how Charlotte has dealt with fans' pricing concerns and that it's important the conference address such problems in any city that holds the tournament.
Both Anderson and McWilliams said they hope Charlotte puts in a competitive bid to keep the tournament in the city.
“Just pragmatically speaking, a lot of our fans have gotten used to Charlotte,” Anderson said. “When you have the largest number of schools in North Carolina and Virginia, people are used to coming to Charlotte and enjoying Charlotte.”
“We’re headquartered in Charlotte. This is my home,” McWilliams added. “We love Charlotte and we love the things we’ve been able to do here in the last 13 years. I do hope Charlotte will submit a competitive bid.”
Head of the CRVA Tom Murray said the tournament's economic impact is the largest of any annual event that comes to Charlotte. He said he expects the city to submit a bid, but the CRVA needs to review the details of the process.
"We'll discuss it with the leadership in the city and the mayor to make sure that everyone's comfortable and that everyone wants to do that," Murray said. "My guess is that's what will happen."