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Meet the Game-Changers Bringing Tournaments to Buffalo

Buffalo has evolved into a top-tier destination for amateur sports – but don’t just take our word for it.

A growing number of local organizers, rights holders and other key stakeholders across the country have partnered with the Buffalo Niagara Sports Commission to make our city one of the best hosts in amateur sports. We chatted with some of those organizers responsible for bringing tournaments to Buffalo to find how our city stands apart as an amateur sports destination. Here’s what they had to say: 

Buffalo City Hall

“You’re going to have a great time when you’re in Buffalo.”

-Rich Ensor Chairman, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

NCAA Tournament

“You’re going to have a great time when you’re in Buffalo.”

For Rich Ensor, pitching Buffalo as a top-tier destination for amateur athletic tournaments is a slam dunk – but it wasn’t always that way.

Ensor, the longtime commissioner of the Metro Atlantic Athletic League Conference, has had a front-row seat to witness Buffalo’s transformation in recent decades. He was instrumental in Buffalo’s initial bid to land the NCAA Men’s Basketball First and Second Round Tournament in the year 2000. Back then, he touted the city’s accessibility to nearby tournament-eligible colleges, affordability, and the recently completed Marine Midland Arena (now the KeyBank Center) as competitive advantages.

Jumbo Jenga @ Canalside

In those days, the city blocks surrounding the new waterfront arena featured little else for visitors to enjoy. But as the MAAC  helped secure seven additional NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournaments and Frozen Four Championships between 2003 and 2019, Ensor slowly saw a change take place. The debut of new attractions at Canalside, the openings of the Marriott HarborCenter and Courtyard by Marriott, and a variety of new restaurants and breweries provide visitors with a host of options to enjoy the city just steps from the arena. 

These developments have helped Buffalo build and maintain a competitive edge for securing future athletic tournaments downtown, Ensor said. 

“I’ve been so impressed with what’s gone on down there and it just keeps getting better and better. It’s great to see the progress they’re making,” Ensor said. “Buffalo is easy to get to. You can jump on a flight and be here in 45 minutes. It has great hotels and is affordable. It has entertainment around the arena for the off-days. You’re going to have a great time when you’re in Buffalo.”

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Canalside Waterfront

“If you bring a team into town, that’s the first call you should be making. The Sports Commission can help with everything.”

-Traci Murphy Athletic Director, Daemen College

Women’s Basketball @ UB

Traci Murphy had just successfully bid to host a college basketball tournament during a global pandemic, and had only one month to plan it. 

Murphy, the athletic director at Daemen College, landed the NCAA East Regionals Division 2 Women’s Basketball  Tournament in early 2021, an event that brought eight collegiate teams to Buffalo from across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. The pandemic necessitated that the tournament feature no fans, and social distancing between games. And the added time crunch – COVID-19 had delayed the bidding process, leaving Murphy only one month to pull the event together – made planning even more difficult.

But Murphy was determined to deliver an exceptional experience for the participating teams, so she picked up the phone and called the Buffalo Niagara Sports Commission.

Nine-Eleven Tavern

Sports commission staff didn’t hesitate to offer assistance with securing hotel room blocks and arranging other logistical details on short notice, Murphy said. And the commission went above and beyond by assembling nearly 200 Buffalo-themed gift bags filled with goodies like sponge candy and a “Melted Snow” water bottle to ensure every attendee left with a positive experience and memories of the destination.

“The event that these teams were going to are once-in-a-lifetime events. The Sports Commission identifies that and respects it … We put our heads together and they figured out how to make the event in Buffalo so special,” Murphy said. “If you bring a team into town, that’s the first call you should be making. The Sports Commission can help with everything.”

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Shea’s Buffalo

 “The hotels and restaurants provide great hospitality to people from out of town as if they were their own neighbor.”

-TJ Day Head Coach, STAR Swimming

Swim Meet @ UB

TJ Day’s mantra for the swim club he coaches is “Whatever it Takes” – a motto he also sees Buffalo embrace every time the city hosts a national swimming tournament.

Day is the coach for STAR Swimming, a USA Swimming club team for children ages 6 to 18 that competes in Erie Community College’s Burt Flickinger Center downtown. In that role, he has bid on and secured two national USA Swimming Tournaments each year that bring thousands of athletes and their families into downtown Buffalo. 

Every time a tournament comes to town, Day sees partner hotels and restaurants step up and provide an extraordinary experience for the visiting teams and their families. 

 “The hotels and restaurants provide great hospitality to people from out of town as if they were their own neighbor,” Day said. “Coaches and families that come in, they recognize that. This town is the City of Good Neighbors. It really is a hospitable place.”

Roosevelt Plaza

Day also sees that “Whatever It Takes” mentality embodied in the Buffalo Niagara Sports Commission. 

“I’m very grateful to have the Buffalo Sports Commission in the city. They open their arms up every time we have an invitational coming up,” he said. They’re incredible - they don’t ask for anything in return. They are always there to lend a hand in times of need.” 

That hospitality combined with close proximity of downtown hotels and restaurants to the Flickinger Center is why STAR and Buffalo have succeeded as a tournament host time and again. Day loves to provide visiting teams with ideas for exploring Buffalo’s cool neighborhoods, nearby beaches and Niagara Falls in between swim meets. 

“We get a lot of emails saying ‘Thanks for providing this incredible environment and great opportunity for us. Our team had a great time,’” Day said. “We keep doing it so well that the word of mouth is getting out that Buffalo is going to host a great event. That’s what you want at the end of the day.” 

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Canalside Waterfront

“It’s everyone doing their part to make an event that children will remember for the rest of their lives.”

-Bob Schell Tournament Director, Amherst Youth Hockey

Amherst Tournament

Bob Schell knew he wanted to give back to the community that provided so much to him and his family by putting Buffalo on the amateur hockey map.

Schell flew out to Colorado Springs to make a pitch for the USA Hockey Nationals after watching his son grow up in Amherst Youth Hockey and becoming involved in that organization. Buffalo, he figured, was ready for its hockey moment. The region had one of the only arenas at the time with at least four sheets of ice under one roof, hotels in close proximity, a host of volunteers at the ready, and the largest youth hockey organization in the country in Amherst.

The pitch worked: USA Hockey selected Buffalo, and has chosen the destination to host 10 of the last 15 national youth hockey championships. The reason for the success, Schell said, is the joint collaboration between the Northtown Center, Amherst Youth Hockey, the town of Amherst, and the Buffalo Niagara Sports Commission.

Waterfront Ziplining

That organizing group strives to provide every visiting team with an extraordinary experience, Schell said, from having the Stanley Cup on view during the tournament to providing suggestions to visit Buffalo’s redeveloped waterfront, Niagara Falls and even the nearby Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. 

“It’s a community effort. It’s everyone doing their part to make an event that children will remember for the rest of their lives,” Schell said. “We understand that this is a national championship and we understand what USA Hockey wants. They want it done right.”

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Learn more about all the reasons Buffalo can’t be beat as a destination for amateur sports. Visit the Buffalo Niagara Sports Commission’s website. 

Buffalo Riverworks

Visit Buffalo Niagara

Visitor Information: 800.283.3256

Main Office: 716.852.0511

Main Fax: 716.852.0131

403 Main Street, Suite 630
Buffalo, New York 14203-1496