DESTIN, Fla. — Among the myriad topics that have come up at the Southeastern Conference spring meetings this week are the potential host cities for the league’s upcoming basketball tournaments.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Although the tournament is booked in Nashville and Atlanta through 2016, the 2017 and 2018 events are up for grabs, and Missouri athletic director Mike Alden says he’s already gone to bat for Kansas City and St. Louis.
“I’ve had the opportunity to say we have two cities in the state of Missouri that are interested in hosting those championships,” Alden said.
Of course, securing the tournament will be easier said than done. SEC commissioner Mike Slive acknowledged that Kansas City and St. Louis are on a list of cities interested, reportedly along with Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa, Fla., Orlando, Fla., and Memphis, Tenn.
“There’s no doubt they will have an opportunity to compete,” Slive said when asked about Kansas City, in particular. “They, like every other city, need to put their best foot forward and give our people a chance to evaluate it.”
The time to do that, Slive said, will come this summer, when the conference sends out Request for Proposals (RFPs) to the leaders of those cities.
“We send out the RFPs with all the various questions we have, and then they answer those,” Slive said.
Once the SEC has collected the bids, the league’s presidents and chancellors will vote with input from the athletic directors.
And while we’re still months away from any decision being made, one crucial criterion is arena size. Florida president Bernie Machen said the 2012 SEC tournament, which was in New Orleans, did not generate the revenue of the 2011 tournament, which was in Atlanta.
“We looked at the data today from New Orleans … revenue (was) down a little,” Machen said. “It had to do with seating capacity. We only had 17,000 seats in New Orleans, while the other place (The Georgia Dome) held 21,000.”
This future emphasis on arena size seemed to be reinforced by South Carolina president Harry Pastides, who — when asked about his thoughts on Kansas City as a potential host site — had a question of his own: How big is the arena?
When told the Sprint Center can accommodate around 20,000 people, Pastides nodded his head, seemingly satisfied.
“OK, that’s a good size,” Pastides said. “That’s something we’re very sensitive to. We need a place where a lot of fans can be a part of it.”
Location also will be considered. Ole Miss A.D. Ross Bjork stressed the importance of attendance, and Kansas City is easily the westernmost school in the new SEC.
“We know Kentucky fans will travel pretty much anywhere,” Bjork said, a comment echoed by Pastides and Machen. “But the rest of the league … we’ve got to make sure it makes sense from the standpoint of where fans can drive.”
However, both Bjork and Machen noted that the league is fairly open-minded when it comes to choosing host cities for the tournament. New Orleans and Tampa, two recent sites, aren’t necessarily what you would call centrally located.
“I don’t think we’re wedded, necessarily, to any one place,” Machen said.
Kansas City does have several things going for it. Several athletic directors and presidents noted its prior history hosting successful basketball tournaments — hello Big 12 — and that the Sprint Center and Power & Light District are centrally located, among other things.
And Machen, the chairman of the league’s presidents and chancellors committee, seemed to acknowledge those strengths, though he added that it remains to be seen whether his SEC comrades will feel the same way about essentially spending their spring break in the state of Missouri.
“I’d love to go up there,” Machen said. “I just don’t know if we’re going to get a lot of people wanting to go up there in March.”
“You want to keep the crowds there and let them have a good time, so there is some element of making it appealing to fans,” Machen added. “Most of them are going to take their spring break and vacation money doing (this) … it’s an important revenue stream.”
One that would ultimately prove to be a boon to Kansas City, Alden says, provided the city’s leaders put their best foot forward when the RFP comes this summer. Same goes for St. Louis.
“It’s about our communities in Missouri understanding that these events are not going to just come to our communities now,” Alden said. “There’s too much competition.
“People are really bidding on those things in a strong fashion, so it will really be important for St. Louis and Kansas City to step up and bring their ‘A’ game to get them.”
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.