HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the first time in it’s 36-year history, the Maui Jim Maui Invitational will not be held in it’s namesake location — moving over 4,000 miles to North Carolina.
On Friday morning, tournament officials made the announcement that the 2020 Maui Invitational will be moved to the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville, North Carolina.
The move is a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the recent schedule changes made by the NCAA Division I council — moving the start of the 2020 college basketball season to November 25th.
Trading the Aloha state for the Tar Heel state will be a big economic blow to the Valley Isle. The tournament has been one of the county’s biggest forms of revenue — bringing in thousands of visitors to Maui.
“We average about 18 to 30 million dollars, depending on which year, of income and revenue produced because of the tournament," said Maui County Mayor Mike Victorino. "So, it’s going to sorely missed this year. And that’s a direct revenue, we’re not talking about all the ancillary services.”
Despite the financial blow, the Maui Visitors Bureau — who has been a sponsor of the tournament since its inception in 1984 — issued a statement supporting the move, while also inviting the tournament back to Maui in 2021.
“On behalf of Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau, I’d like to express our support of Maui Jim Maui Invitational’s (MJMI) decision to move the tournament to North Carolina this year. We appreciate their consideration to protect the health and safety of our Maui community.” A Maui Visitors Bureau spokesperson told Hawaii News Now. “Given our strong relationship with the MJMI, we’re also confident that we will still have a strong presence both in aloha spirit and Maui branding throughout the tournament. We’ll look forward to extending our aloha and welcoming MJMI back in 2021.”
Victorino said he is confident the tournament will return to Maui in 2021. However, some tourism leaders disagree and fear the long-standing tradition may be over.
“Once you pull something away, you wonder if you can ever get it back again even when we return to normalcy," said Mufi Hannemann, Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association CEO. “It’s just unfortunate that it happened this way and I’m sure North Carolina is going to do everything to keep it there.”
Cool Cat Cafe has been a vendor at the Maui Invitational for 15 years. The General Manager was banking on the tournament to help boost his business.
“It’s been a struggle so far just staying afloat with COVID and we were really kind of hoping that stuff was going to start opening in October and hopefully that tournament was going to be there in November to try to jump-start what’s left of this year. But without that I’m sure it’s going to be pretty bleak," said Paul Kemp.
This year’s lineup includes the likes of Alabama, Davidson, Stanford and North Carolina — who will now stay in state.
Tournament host school Chaminade participates in the event every other year, so they will not be making the trip to the Tar Heel state.
For the health and safety of the athletes and staff participating, tournament officials will be operating under the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services guidance for mass gatherings — no announcements on whether fans will be in attendance or not.
The new official start date for the 2020 Maui Invitational will be announced soon.
The other major college basketball tournament that is held in the 808 is the Diamond Head Classic, which is rumored to be moving off island to Orlando — operating in a bubble format, much like the NBA.
While no official announcement has been made for the move, Diamond Head Classic officials issued a statement saying they are figuring out their next moves.
“ESPN Events continues to evaluate the next steps for our owned and operated events as conferences make decisions on their seasons,” a spokesperson said.