Champagne bottles popped and streamers fell from the ceiling. The celebration at the Sprint Center meeting room had commenced.
Kansas City was awarded the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament into the next decade, the conference announced on Thursday at its annual spring meetings in Irving, Texas. Sprint Center will remain site of the men’s hoop tourney through 2020.
Kansas City had bid for all four years that the basketball tournaments was up for grabs, and landed the league’s premier event.
A history of success may have been its greatest strength.
“Kansas City has set an exceedingly high bar,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.
High enough to keep the tournament it has held since 2010 and for 14 of the 19 years the Big 12 has been in existence.
“The relationship with the Big 12 means so much to our city and our region,” said Kathy Nelson, president of the Kansas City Sports Commission.
But Kansas City had to prove itself in the process. The stakes are high — an estimated $9 million in economic impact annually, according to Ronnie Burt, president and CEO of the Kansas City Visitors and Convention Association. The other cities that have held Big 12 tournaments, Oklahoma City and Dallas, also made bids.
“We never took this process for granted,” Burt said. “We never thought like we had it, and that was our approach. We had to look at this as if we never had it before because we knew we had competition.”
The last time the Big 12 awarded the event to Kansas City, in 2012, it was a matter of tacking on two years to an existing deal.
There were no gimmies this time.
“We felt it was time to go through a complete bid process and give others a crack at it,” Bowlsby said. “Kansas City has always made promises and over-delivered. We felt good about the other suitors, but Kansas City has a lot of advantages it has earned.”
The men’s tournament at Sprint Center plays to capacity crowds, one of the few conference tournaments nationally that fills its arena on a consistent basis.
It’s helped that the most successful teams in recent years are the ones closest to Kansas City and have the league’s most passionate basketball fan bases. Iowa State has won the last two tournaments, Kansas has won four of the seven tournaments played at Sprint Center, and Kansas State has reached the championship game twice in that span.
Missouri won the 2012 tournament, and a few months later changed affiliation to the Southeastern Conference, leaving the state without a team. But that hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm for the Big 12 ournament.
“There were some concerns after the departure of Missouri,” Bowlsby said. “But the last couple of years, I don’t know how the tournament could have been better. Great crowds, great environment outside the venue, and Sprint Center does an impeccable job hosting events.
“It’s just a lot of things that are right about it.”
The women’s tournament was awarded to Oklahoma City through 2019, and the baseball tournament to Oklahoma City through 2020.
Kansas City also bid for the women’s tournament. Not getting that event meant the calendar opened and Sprint Center was awarded the Big 12 wrestling tournament. It will be held on March 5-6, 2016.
“We haven’t had wrestling here, but we are ready for it,” said Brenda Tinnen, Sprint Center Senior vice president and general manager.
Four Big 12 schools compete in wrestling: Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
Through 2012, the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were played in the same city during the same week. Starting in 2013, the men and women have played in different cities, with the women competing about a week earlier than the men. That order will continue for the Big 12.
Kansas City’s basketball calendar in March will remain busy for the next few years. Besides the Big 12, the MIAA men’s and women’s and NAIA men’s tournaments will continue to be held at Municipal Auditorium. And the NAIA women’s tournament will be back at the Independence Events Center in 2016, the second year of a two-year agreement.
The MIAA is under contract through 2018, and the NAIA through 2016. The NAIA is working with the city on a men’s tourney extension it hopes to finalize this summer.
The 2017 men’s NCAA Midwest Regional and the 2018 women’s NCAA regional are set for Sprint Center.
Also, the WAC, the home base for UMKC, is exploring Kansas City as a possible tournament site.
Basketball isn’t the only NCAA championship headed to Kansas City. In 2015-16, the College Cup, the Division I men’s soccer championship, is set for Sporting Park, with the Division III men’s and women’s championship to be held at Swope Soccer Village. Also, the Division II football championship returns to Sporting Park.
“What it means is as much fun has we had to day, we have a lot of work to do,” Nelson said.