Nashville could be very close to becoming the “primary,” if not permanent, home of the SEC men’s basketball tournament.
At the annual league meetings in Destin, Fla., on Tuesday, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive told reporters that the athletic directors of all 14 schools had voted unanimously to explore a “primary” site for the event, which has rotated cities in recent years.
The announcement immediately fueled speculation that Nashville would be a frontrunner to land the event on a somewhat permanent basis.
Nashville Sports Council President and CEO Scott Ramsey was in attendance at various meetings in Destin and confirmed that Nashville would make a push to become the primary host city.
“We’ll pitch our strengths,” Ramsey said. “I think we’ve got a great downtown area and an arena relevant to what they want to do. We can create a great atmosphere and create demand for tickets, as well as offer space within the ‘backstage area’ for a media center and TV operations area. And we’ve proven to the SEC that the city, arena and sports council can work together very well.”
No timetable for a decision has been made, according to Ramsey, who said he was told that there would be in further communication next week.
“Right now they still have to talk through the process and decide how they want to approach it,” Ramsey said. “I assume they’ll look at a couple options, if it’s contacting recent host cities first or opening the event up to anyone who wants to bid.”
One SEC athletic director confirmed that Nashville is considered “the early leader” to grab the event, pending negotiations.
Bridgestone Arena has hosted the event four times already, including this March, and is scheduled to host again in 2015, ’16 and ’19, as well as host the women’s Final Four in 2014.
Atlanta will host the 2014 SEC Tournament, and the league has not announced a location for 2017-’18.
Ramsey said that he felt like the timeline for a deal would become clearer within “a week or two” following the league meetings.
Any long-term commitment involving Bridgestone Arena would have to involve its primary tenant and owner, the Nashville Predators, who hold priority over scheduling events in the building. Predators President and CEO Sean Henry confirmed that he had spoken with Ramsey regarding Bridgestone Arena annually housing the SEC Tournament.
“We’re committed to doing what’s best for the city and the Predators, which is one and the same, and we’re excited to keep the building as filled as possible,” Henry said.
The SEC announced an official attendance estimate of 168,452 fans over 13 games in five days at the 2013 event.
“[The SEC Tournament] is a great event for the city and the fans and a great draw to Nashville. Even this year with Ole Miss winning the final game, we saw fans traveling to the city from out of state and buying tickets on that Sunday,” Henry said.
Breaking down Nashville’s case to serve as primary host for the SEC men’s basketball tournament:
· Big Blue Proximity: Nashville is a short drive from the Kentucky border, and Wildcats fans routinely account for more than half those in attendance at the SEC Tournament.
· New Facilities: While Bridgestone Arena is no spring chicken, the addition of the brand new Music City Center next door allows the league to hold its annual FanFare event in a state-of-art, adjacent location.
· Accessibility: Even a city as tourist-centric as New Orleans can’t compete with the location of Bridgestone Arena, snuggled up against the Lower Broadway honky tonks and a variety of hotels and restaurants within walking distance. No other recent host site can offer that level of pedestrian experience and atmosphere.
· Size: With basketball crowds on the decline in recent seasons, football stadiums have become tougher draws for conference tournaments, meaning Bridgestone’s basketball capacity of just over 19,000 is a benefit, not a hindrance.