March Madness, the men’s college basketball tournament that was supposed to start today, might be cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak, but NEPA Pizza Madness goes on.
With the traditional NCAA tournament brackets canceled this year and social distancing being strongly encouraged, locals are being encouraged to play along online to crown a regional pizza champion over the coming weeks.
Voting is open through Monday for the first round of NEPA Pizza Madness, a 7-year-old contest run by a local pizza aficionado who operates a website that reviews slices and cuts from area shops.
Just like the NCAA tournament, there are 32 contests to vote on in the first round, drawing matchups like Franco’s in Wilkes-Barre versus Benito’s in Hazleton and Colarusso’s in Clarks Summit versus Vince the Pizza Prince in Scranton.
“Every year, I find it as a way to get 64 pizzerias in the spotlight,” said NEPA Pizza Madness organizer Jim Mirabelli, who runs nepapizzareview.com. “For me, it’s not about the winner. The intent is to get people to take a look at other pizza they might not have tried before. It’s really about exposure for the little guy. It’s not really a pizza tournament. It’s a small business celebration.”
One side of the bracket is all pizza shops from Luzerne County. The other side of the bracket is mostly pizza shops from Lackawanna County.
The 64 entrants were awarded their spots on a first-come-first-serve basis when Mirabelli announced the contest on Facebook.
“I like owner sign ups because it gets them invested and it really is a social media thing and it gets owners active on social media,” Mirabelli, 37, of Clarks Summit, said. “It’s a way to drive traffic to your business for free.”
The bracket features a photo of each business’ pizza and contact information.
First round match ups were chosen by a random number generator.
Online users can vote once a day during each round of NEPA Pizza Madness until a champion is crowned on April 27.
Last year, about 100,000 votes were cast. So far, about 15,000 votes were cast since the contest opened Sunday.
As of Thursday afternoon, Benito’s had the most voters at 466 in its matchup against Franco’s, which had 369 votes.
Pizza Heaven in Luzerne is the lone two-time winner. Mirabelli said he never heard of the place until it won.
“That is my favorite part. Many of the winners I have not heard of many of these places prior to them winning,” Mirabelli said.
Winners are presented a trophy at the end of the year with the business’ name engraved on it.
“They keep it for the year and get to pass it around like the Stanley Cup,” Mirabelli said.
With the coronavirus social distancing hurting small businesses like pizza shops, NEPA Pizza Madness is a way to support them, Mirabelli said.
“Go out and find some of your favorite pizza, then cheer them on to victory, especially during this trying time for small business,” Mirabelli said. “Why not support pizza and small business?”
Source: Thanks https://m.citizensvoice.com/news/no-ncaa-tourney-try-nepa-pizza-madness-1.2609095