AUSTIN (AP) — The rise in popularity of South by Southwest is forcing organizers of the state boys’ basketball tournament to consider either a change in venue or new dates for games that once drew more than 100,000 spectators.
Attendance over the past 10 years for tournament games at the Frank Erwin Center has dropped to less than 70,000. A factor in the decline is the difficulty in finding affordable hotel rooms, according to Charles Breithaupt, executive director of the University Interscholastic League, the governing body for high school sports in Texas.
South by Southwest, the festival concluding this weekend in Austin that’s risen to draw an international audience, is driving the price of rooms up to $250 to $450 a night. The result is basketball teams forced to find lodging in surrounding towns, and in some case up to an hour away. Many fans decided to stay away; the Erwin center was about half full for some title games last weekend.
The festival, meanwhile, has grown from a relatively sleepy event in 1987 to one that drew 85,000 registrants last year, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“We’re worried about it, because hotel space is at a premium,” Breithaupt told the Star-Telegram. “Our folks are not going to spend $300 to $400 a night on a hotel — if they can get them.”
The UIL this year secured 15 rooms for players and coaches for each team at a reduced rate of about $200 per night, Breithaupt said.
The UIL may move the three-day tournament to an earlier weekend, but that would shorten the basketball season. If that doesn’t boost attendance then organizers may move it out of Austin by 2016.
Ponder coach Jude Stanley told The Dallas Morning News his team stayed in Round Rock last weekend and had to be out of the hotel at 5:50 a.m. Friday for the 8:30 tipoff of its state semifinal. When Ponder earned a spot in the tournament in 2010, Stanley said, the team stayed less than 5 miles from the arena.
DeSoto coach Chris Dyer said he’d prefer the tournament move to Dallas or rotate among locations that include Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. At least the hotels would be cheaper than Austin, he said.
“Five hundred dollars a night for a hotel? Come on,” Dyer told the Morning News. “Most of them are high school teachers, high school coaches.”
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