Alaskans from Barrow to Yakutat will be able to get roundtrip airfare to Anchorage in November as part of their Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout ticket packages, a basketball bonanza made possible by $2 million from the state legislature.
Travel will be available from 18 airports and is complimentary with the purchase of a $127 general admission ticket package, the university said Friday.
The deal was made possible by a capital budget appropriation approved by Gov. Sean Parnell a year ago. It's available on a first-come, first-serve basis beginning at 12:01 p.m. Wednesday.
About 1,500 Alaskans will be able to take advantage of the offer, according to UAA, the host of the annual Thanksgiving week tournament. This year's event runs Nov. 20-24.
Besides the free airfare, ticket packages will include offers of discounted hotels and car rentals will also be available to those who buy ticket packages.
UAA athletic director Steve Cobb said the influx of visitors during Shootout week is expected to have a $2 million economic impact on Anchorage.
It should also help fill seats at Sullivan Arena, where crowds have dwindled over the years. Last year, many afternoon games drew one or two thousands fans to an arena that holds about 8,000 for basketball.
"We're hoping to pick up a thousand Shootout fans," Cobb said. "It'll be significant."
The $2 million was an appropriation request by Haines lawmaker Bill Thomas. Thomas asked for $2.5 million for the Shootout and Parnell trimmed the request to $2 million.
Cobb said he knows there will be criticism over the use of state money for a basketball tournament.
"Anytime you choose to spend money on something people will say, 'What else could you have done with it?' '' he said. "We see so many ways this helps. More ticket sales for us, it makes it easier for Alaskans to attend, it creates a great atmosphere for our teams, and there's the economic impact to Anchorage."
The $2 million covers a three-year period and is UAA's to spend as it likes.
About $400,000 will be used this year to buy airline tickets, Cobb said. In an arrangement between the university and the three participating airlines -- Alaska Airlines, Era Alaska and PenAir -- UAA will get the tickets at a discounted rate.
Travel will be available from Barrow, Bethel, Cordova, Dillingham, Fairbanks, Homer, Juneau, Kenai, Ketchikan, King Salmon, Kodiak, Kotzebue, Nome, Petersburg, Sitka, Valdez, Wrangell and Yakutat.
"We're going to try this for a year," Cobb said. "We'll see how it works and how people respond."
In 2013, some of the money will be used to increase the amount UAA pays teams to come to the tournament. Without the payments, most Division I teams won't come to the Shootout, which features seven Division I men's teams, three Division I women's teams plus UAA's Division II men's and women's teams.
Last year's appearance fees for the men's teams ranged from $55,000 to $110,000, according to Cobb. A number of Lower 48 tournaments offer far more -- there's one that guarantees $250,000 to every team -- and their games air on prominent networks like ESPN, which ended its longtime relationship with the Shootout a couple of years ago.
The 35-year-old Shootout was once one of college basketball's marquee event. But as teams like Kentucky, Duke and Syracuse opted to play in tournaments that offer bigger appearance fees and better TV exposure, the Shootout lost much of its appeal. Last year's tournament, headlined by Murray State, drew dismal crowds.
An appeal to the Legislature reaped $2 million in last year's capital budget as well as a tax credit for the Shootout. The tournament has yet to benefit from the tax credit, Cobb said.
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.