Southern Miss

C-USA baseball tourney returns to Biloxi for 2020 with hopes of making it long term

When Tim Bennett and Overtime Sports first attracted the Conference USA baseball tournament to Biloxi for the 2017 season, he said that he hoped to make MGM Park the long-term home of the event.

Through his hard work and the increased sponsorship of The First bank, Bennett was able to announce Friday that the C-USA tournament will be in Biloxi for at least a fourth consecutive season in 2020.

After easily breaking attendance marks for the C-USA tournament in 2017, crowds were significantly smaller in 2018 due to a steady stream of storms that seemed to encircle MGM Park. Games were delayed by thunderstorms, forcing competition to often reach well into early the next morning.

Bennett lost money on last year’s event and he admitted Friday that he will pay C-USA more money in each of the next two seasons to keep the tournament at MGM Park.

“A lot of what I have done in the past is through private funding,” Bennett said. “I’m extremely happy that I have a partner in (The First CEO) Hoppy Cole and other businesses have stepped in and said they want to help keep the tournament here. It takes sponsorship to keep these events here.”

This will mark the second consecutive year that The First bank will serve as the title sponsor for the tournament.

“Our financial commitment (to the C-USA tournament) has increased fairly significantly,” Cole said Friday. “But the value that (Bennett has) provided has increased significantly. Our board is committed to reinvesting in the community. We’re headquartered in South Mississippi, but we operate in five states now. We’re a a Mississippi company and that’s important for us. It’s good for business in South Mississippi, Biloxi and across the Gulf Coast. Our board is committed to making this sort of commitment to keep this event here. We feel strongly that it will only continue to grow.”

Bennett did not give a specific number when asked how much he will be paying C-USA in each of the next two years, but he said it will be “over six figures.”

Biloxi’s third edition of the C-USA tourney is set for May 22-26 and a red hot Southern Miss baseball team appears ready to make a run at a second consecutive title. The Golden Eagles are 30-13 overall and in first place in the conference with a mark of 17-4.

The 2017 title game featured a Southern Miss-Rice battle that drew a crowd of 5,216, easily eclipsing the previous attendance record of 3,810 for a C-USA title game.

USM played FAU in the title game last year, but the crowd dropped to 2,206 after weather caused havoc with the schedule all week. The Eagles also didn’t clinch a spot in the championship until beating Charlotte earlier that morning, forcing fans across South Mississippi to make a late call on whether to travel to MGM Park.

Bennett said Friday that the support of USM fans through attendance is “critical” to the future success of the tournament in Biloxi.

“We’d like to make this a long-term event, the same as the SEC has in Hoover, Alabama,” he said. “We’re going to have to get more support from Coast business owners in order to make that happen. For now, we’ll continue to do one year at a time until we get to that level to make a long-term commitment. Once we make a long-term commitment of 5-10 years, we can’t pull out. Until we get there, we’ll continue to go year by year. That puts us in danger because other cities are taking stabs at the tournament.”

Bennett estimates that there’s $6 million spent on the Coast each year in relation to the C-USA tournament.

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.