Now that the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament has been saved, the grunt work begins for Modie Cox and event organizers as they try to win back fans who aren’t happy the event is leaving its longtime Buffalo home.
What had been the worst kept secret in Western New York over the past week is now official. The 24th edition of the Gus Macker Tournament is moving from the heart of downtown to Darien Lake Theme Park, roughly 50 minutes away in Genesee County.
The two-day tournament is scheduled for July 19-20, with organizers reducing the participation cost per four-man team from $160 to $148 ($37 per person). Registration fees also include two days of free admission into Darien Lake for participants, while organizers say they will cover tourney costs and park admission for 100 youths from city community centers, as well as fees for an additional community center team for each sponsor. Visit macker.com to register.
Tournament spectators and family members of participants can park and watch the tournament for free. If they want to also go into the amusement park, they can purchase discounted tickets for $25.
“We’re very excited to be hosting the games this year and look forward to continuing this great Buffalo tradition,” said Darien Lake spokesman Vince Nicoletti during a Thursday morning news conference at City Hall.
Buffalo PAL will be the main charity to benefit from Darien Lake covering tournament expenses.
The Macker has been a fundraiser for PAL for years, but the organization lost its main sponsor – ex-Buffalo Bill Terrance McGee – after last year’s event, forcing Cox to search for new sponsors. PAL made a minimal amount of money off the Macker last year – about $5,000 – and Cox hopes the new deal will result in PAL making closer to at least $30,000.
The money will help fund the organization’s various after-school and sports programs.
“We’re so thankful to Darien Lake for stepping up to sponsor the tournament this year because without them we wouldn’t have been able to have it this year,” Cox said. “It was just too taxing for a single organization like us to do this on our own. So when we were looking for a partner to step up and do this, there was no better partner than Darien Lake.”
PAL will be responsible for getting and assigning referees for games, organizing volunteers and will run the entire show from start to finish, from setting up courts and brackets to working the trophy tent with Macker officials. PAL won’t have to run any concessions like it did downtown. Darien Lake will handle the hard costs (security, trophies, T-shirts, etc.).
While participants and fans have been thrown olive branches of a sort in the form of discounted admission into the theme park, Cox knows he has to win back some support from a community that feels like it’s had its beloved tournament taken away from it all because of money. Past tournament champions and fans who have become used to being among the 50,000 spectators to attend an event that was part of Buffalo’s festival season have voiced their displeasure quite vociferously.
“We’ve held them hostage with this decision for a long time, but we’re going to ensure that the tournament is a success,” Cox said. “We realize the community is not happy with the decision but once they realize what’s entailed, when they realize the benefit of a tournament being held at Darien Lake versus downtown Buffalo, I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised and very happy we made the decision to move the tournament out to Darien Lake.”
Said Nicoletti: “We recognize we’re not in downtown Buffalo and realize how important this event is to those who live in the city. ... We’re hard at work to ensure that everyone has a chance and even more opportunity to participate and spectate as in the past.”
Organizers are trying to find transportation sponsors to help cover costs of busing Buffalo youths to and from the tournament.
“Some of these kids have been part of this for five, six, seven years playing the Gus Macker,” Cox said. “To take that away from them doesn’t sit well with me, so we’re going to do everything we humanly can do to ensure that those kids will have the same opportunity to get out to Darien Lake.”
Macker owner Scott McNeal said Rochester will be part of the tournament’s marketing since Darien Lake is roughly 45 minutes away from the Flower City. He remains hopeful there will be good participant turnout despite relocation, the new date and lengthy contract negotiations.
He also said it would likely take a couple of years to attract the large number of participants (more than 3,000) Buffalo’s event did, a sign that the move to Darien Lake will be for more than just this year. The Buffalo tourney ranked in the top five nationally in terms of player participation in recent years. McNeal said Darien Lake can hold up to at least 700 courts.
“We don’t feel we’re taking it away from Buffalo,” McNeal said. “We really appreciate all their support over the years. We just think we’re trying to find a more perfect setting for it. Financially it’s been tough for the PAL group.
“It probably allows us to really build a newer product and try to go toward what we feel our demographic is which is youth. ... We’re trying to be more of a basketball festival than a tournament.”