Carrier Classic coming to town
MOUNT PLEASANT -- The flight deck of the World War II-era aircraft carrier Yorktown hasn't seen combat action in decades, but this fall it could become a battleground for top-tier college basketball teams.
The Patriots Point Development Authority is working with the Morale Entertainment Foundation of Georgia to bring the second annual Carrier Classic basketball games to the former warship anchored in Charleston Harbor.
Details are being worked out, but a men's game and a women's game would be played Nov. 9 at Patriots Point.
The University of Connecticut already has committed as one of the two men's teams.
"We are talking with five others," said Mike Whalen, founder and managing partner of the nonprofit Morale Entertainment Foundation. "We expect to have an announcement right after the NCAA basketball tournament."
The two women's teams will be Ohio State University and the University of Notre Dame. There was no women's game last year.
The first event last year was aboard the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson near San Diego and featured North Carolina and Michigan State. President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and several other dignitaries were among the spectators.
"We still have to get a contract done, but we are very optimistic we will come to an agreement," Whalen said.
The event will require the construction of a 4,000-seat spectator stand along with a floor, lighting and scoreboard, a process that could take up to nine days to set up.
As a backup in case of inclement weather, Whalen hopes to talk with the College of Charleston, The Citadel or North Charleston Coliseum officials.
The title sponsor has not been determined. Last year it was Quicken Loans, and other sponsors included Coca-Cola and Sears.
Money raised from the event will go to military-related charities yet to be determined, but Whalen said the Congressional Medal of Honor Society would be a recipient, since the museum is on the Yorktown.
"This is a big event," Patriots Point Executive Director Mac Burdette said. "It will give us national exposure worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in free advertising, and it could have a significant economic impact on the Charleston region."
Whalen said last year's event generated about 12,000 hotel room nights for San Diego for the 8,200-seat game, and it generated about $12 million for that area's economy, by his estimates.
About 350 wounded veterans also were brought in last year for the game, and plans call for bringing in a proportional number to the Yorktown event.
The older Yorktown is smaller than the Carl Vinson, so it can't hold as many seats. The Yorktown is 888 feet long and 196 feet wide. The Carl Vinson is 1,092 feet long and 252 feet wide.
Burdette estimated that the event will generate between 6,000 and 7,000 room nights for Charleston-area hotels, and organizers will have to rent cranes and other equipment for the event.
"The impact could be significant," Burdette said.
He hopes the contract can be finalized by month's end with an official announcement and more details of the event after the NCAA tournament, which will conclude April 2.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or on Twitter at @warrenlancewise.
The Morale Entertainment Foundation was hoping for a repeat performance of the Carrier Classic on the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson on Veterans Day weekend in November, but learned that it would not be available.
Foundation officials then approached the World War II-era aircraft carrier Midway, also in San Diego, but Midway officials decided to take on their own event, according to Mike Whalen, Morale Entertainment founder and managing partner.
The Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough law firm, which has offices throughout the Southeast, including Atlanta and Charleston, does pro bono work for the foundation. One of its attorneys, Rusty Pickering of Atlanta, recently was in Charleston and suggested the Yorktown to Whalen.
Whalen started Googling the Yorktown for its specifications and determined it would work. The firm connected him with John Hagerty, the former chairman of Patriots Point Development Authority, and he pointed Whalen to Mac Burdette, Patriots Point's executive director.