How the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas became a hot spot for basketball powerhouses like UConn

For UConn’s men’s and women’s basketball teams to compete in Battle 4 Atlantis, which offers a first chance to experience just how good they really are, a major structure at the Caribbean’s largest resort must undergo a complete makeover.

A 200,000 square foot convention center at Atlantis Paradise Island becomes a 4,000 seat basketball arena with the installation of a court, seats, scoreboards and everything needed to host basketball high-level college ball and its elaborate television production.

After a year of planning, the final heavy work creates a venue that nationally ranked teams and branded programs in each bracket are used to for November MTEs (multi-team events) – a fort, from fans to above-the-court “arena” for basketball as usual.

“Look, people say, ‘Oh my god, you’re playing in a ballroom, the lights are dim,'” said Lea Miller-Tooley, founder and CEO of Complete Sports Management, the marketing agency that developed the event in 2011.” When you walk in there and you see it and you see the camaraderie of the fans and you have that kind of access to a team that you’ve followed for years – you don’t get this to Storrs. It’s such a unique atmosphere and that’s, for me, the coolest part.

Geno Auriemma and the second-ranked women of the Huskies open Saturday against Minnesota and would be in line to face No. 1 South Carolina in Monday’s championship game, marking the conclusion of the first women’s tournament at Atlantis. Dan Hurley and his No. 23-ranked Huskies open Atlantis’ 10th Men’s Tournament on Wednesday against No. 21 Auburn in a field that includes last season’s national champion Baylor and Arizona State, coached by Bobby Hurley, Dan’s brother.

Want to see a more interesting stack of teams? Expect the second half of the NCAA Tournament in March. Playing the competition on-site at this neutral November venue, surrounded by pools and palm trees, can only help every team get this far. It’s important basketball that takes place in the heart of a playground otherwise designed to distract visitors from the rigors of everyday life at home.

It’s an expensive trip.

According to UConn’s contracts with the event, the men’s team will receive $110,000 for their appearance – an appearance fee of $75,000 (paid in three installments of $25,000), a travel allowance of $25,000 $ and up to $10,000 in meals. But the women’s team actually has to pay $1,857 per person in the travel party. Both teams will charter flights to the Bahamas — which, given it’s an international flight around Thanksgiving, costs around $100,000 per team, round trip.

Atlantis is huge, with 3,400 rooms spread across five hotel towers, a 140-acre marine water park, waterslides, lazy rivers, restaurants, entertainment venues, a spa, and miles of white sand. Want to swim with dolphins and sip pina coladas under the sun? It is the place.

Hosting a basketball tournament was the brainchild of Miller-Tooley, who learned that Atlantis would be ending its partnership with Michael Jordan’s annual golf event in 2011 and tried to fill that void. touristic. She set out to make UConn the first marquee participant in the event, even while waiting for a change in NCAA legislation that allowed exempt tournaments, those whose combined games count as one in the amount allowed on the schedule, to take place in the Bahamas.

“So I started stalking Jim Calhoun,” Miller-Tooley said. “I went to 15 games in the 2010-11 season. I didn’t know they were going to win the national championship. But I sold the idea to Coach before it was even legal. We won the legislation in January 2011, and from there, it was off to the races. I went to Istanbul, Turkey, to recruit Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) and Duke. I did the foreign tour from Louisville to recruit Rick Pitino (and Louisville) for 2012.

“It became explosive. We were the best tournament in the last 10 years. Maui was the eternal powerhouse. But if you look at the fields, the sponsorships, the television – from soup to nuts, we are by far the best event and I’m really proud of that.

The matches have been on ESPN since 2017. The women’s championship match and third place match will be on ESPN, Miller-Tooley said, with the rest available on

UConn will be participating for the third time. The event was canceled last season due to the pandemic. Atlantis itself also closed and reopened at reduced capacity in December.

“And what we saw in July and August was that we had very high occupancy as American residents started to travel as vaccination rates increased,” said Vaughn Roberts, senior vice president. government affairs at Atlantis. “We were able to slowly level up and then grasp our ability to run large crowds, large numbers of guests and manage protocols. We are very confident now.

“I would say we have the safest tournament in college basketball,” Miller-Tooley said.

Roberts said fans at games need to be vaccinated. Anyone traveling to the Bahamas must take a COVID-19 test. Roberts said the station currently has about 5,500 employees, down from a peak of about 7,000. He said the vaccination rate among executive-level employees is 80-90% and 50% at lower levels. The resort has on-site COVID testing, which is required of employees weekly.

Basketball games will operate at 75% capacity to allow for additional spacing. Miller-Tooley said she expects most men’s games to be complete and women’s games to be around 50% (with UConn games higher than that). Ticket sales are underway and locals are attending the games.

The event is a source of income for the station and the marketing agency, as well as for the local economy.

“Coming out of the pandemic is really exciting,” Roberts said. “We are making a significant investment in the tournament, as is the Ministry of Tourism, which is a government agency responsible for tourism. Not only does it bring guests to the resort for the tournament, but it gives the resort and destination exposure on media broadcast channels and through team participation. Sports tourism is a natural opportunity here for the Bahamas.

UConn’s women’s team departed Connecticut and arrived in the Bahamas on Thursday. The Huskies will practice Friday morning and participate in a tournament press conference this afternoon. Next up is Minnesota and coach Lindsay Whalen, who played six years with the Connecticut Sun and played for Geno Auriemma as part of the 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic teams.

UConn will face No. 23 South Florida or Syracuse in the second round. South Carolina opens against Buffalo and would advance to face No. 9 Oregon or Oklahoma. If both teams advance, Sunday’s championship would mark the collision of the top two teams in the country, which meet on January 27 at Columbia , South Carolina.

The UConn men arrive in the Bahamas on Monday evening. After playing Auburn on Wednesday, they will face either Loyola or Michigan State on Thursday. Friday’s final game will be against Syracuse, Virginia Commonwealth, No. 9 Baylor or Arizona State.

Atlantis hosts many events, from concerts and conventions to poker and slot machine tournaments. Complete Sports Management operates the nearby Bahamas Bowl, the only college football bowl played outside of the United States. Ice Cube’s Big3 Basketball League Playoffs were held at Atlantis this year, with Complete Sports Management as their partner.

“But by far the Battle 4 Atlantis has been around the longest and was a pioneer in space for us,” Roberts said.

Complete Sports Management handles everything from sponsor negotiations, television contracts (the details of which Miller-Tooley wouldn’t divulge), tournament grounds and more. Atlantis is responsible for the box office, site rebuilding, halftime shows, concessions and more.

“It’s the fun time and the part where you reap the rewards, the fruits of your labor,” said Miller-Tooley, whose husband Jim Tooley is the CEO of USA Basketball. The two have a long-standing friendship with both UConn coaches. Auriemma was, and is, heavily involved in American basketball beyond his Olympic stints. Complete Sports Management arranged an overseas tour for Rhode Island when Hurley was coaching there.

“Obviously this year we’re just trying to get back on track, but the event has become so much more than dribbling and playing basketball,” Miller-Tooley said. “From basketball to personal play, this is a life-changing event for everyone.”; @ManthonyHearst