Last night, we found out that the SEC is exploring the possibility of having a “primary site” for the SEC Basketball Tournament after rotating cities for the past few decades. Since 2000, Atlanta has hosted the SEC tourney seven times, Nashville four times, New Orleans twice and Tampa once. In 2014, the Tournament will return to Atlanta, and then come back to Nashville for 2015, 2016 and 2019. The 2017 and 2018 sites have not been determined.
With sports attendance down across the country thanks to HDTVs, the league is concerned about keeping fans coming to the tournament year after year, and in turn, may choose to keep it at a smaller venue. As a result, Nashville is considered the frontrunner, but let’s break down each of the candidates by pros and cons:
Close driving distance for Kentuckians — Nashville is the closest SEC Tournament site for Kentucky fans, who routinely fill the town and end up buying other teams’ tickets. The BBN always travels well, but they absolutely dominate Nashville. Even during last year’s down season, the town was blue and white, and wisely, the bars and restaurants respond to that accordingly. (Plus, I live a mile from the arena.)
Central location to entertainment district — Few arenas have a better location for fans to eat, drink, and party before and after the game. Bridgestone sits squarely on Broadway, Nashville’s main drag for fun and frivolity. Compared to Atlanta and New Orleans, the arena’s central location is a definite plus.
Nashville is booming — Nashville’s brand new convention center, the Music City Center, opened a few weeks ago, which may not sound very exciting to you, but it’s bringing tons of money to the city. Hotels are popping up all along “So-Bro,” downtown’s hottest district, and in turn, Nashvegas is booming. With great restaurants, bars, and parks popping up all over, Nashville will soon be one of the premiere entertainment destinations in the country.
Higher ticket costs/low capacity — Bridgestone Arena’s capacity is only a problem for Kentucky fans, who could fill the Georgia Dome every year if they wanted to. However, for every other school, the smaller arena is a plus. As a result, scalpers jack up the ticket prices for UK fans who are often times, willing to pay anything to see the Cats play.
Nashville fatigue? — Nashville might as well be Lexington South for the number of times UK has played here over the years, including the upcoming UK/Western football game on August 31st. Will UK fans develop a “been there, done that” attitude towards Music City?
Plenty of room for Kentucky fans — Ticket prices are generally lower when Atlanta hosts because there are so many seats available. However, this will be a con for every other school in the league because they bring so few fans.
Great public transportation — This is definitely one area where Atlanta has Nashville beat. Even if fans can’t find lodging downtown (which is easy because of all the hotels), they can easily get to the Georgia Dome thanks to the MARTA.
Entertainment district is lacking near arena — I know, I know. Stats is awesome, as are the three other bars around the Georgia Dome. While there are some nice bars and restaurants in the area, it can’t compare to Broadway in Nashville.
The Dome atmosphere isn’t great — I have a soft spot for the Georgia Dome because of all the great UK memories I’ve seen there, but atmosphere wise, it is a little lacking compared to a traditional arena like Bridgestone or New Orleans. Also, sight lines are off, although John Calipari might consider getting more experience in that setting an advantage leading up to the NCAA Tournament’s several dome venues.
New Orleans Arena
It’s New Orleans — I visited New Orleans for the first time a few weeks ago and absolutely fell in love with it. The city (or what I saw of it) is absolutely charming, and the food is even better. The French Quarter and Bourbon Street may be a cab ride away for most, but from what I’ve heard, nothing beats the quarter when it’s full of UK fans.
The food — Yes, I loved the food so much I’m giving it its own thumb up. From beignets at Cafe du Monde to gumbo, jambalaya, boudin balls and all the seafood you could dream of, Nola cuisine puts the city in a class of its own.
Small venue — New Orleans Arena is even smaller than Bridgestone Arena, which means that it will be even harder for Kentucky fans to get tickets. Of course, the Tournament could move to the Super Dome, but considering the league’s concerns about attendance, I doubt that will happen.
It’s far away — Nola is a 10+ hour drive from Lexington, and there are currently no non-stop flights from either Lexington or Louisville. Add into that hotel expenses and you’ve got quite a costly trip on your hands.
Your turn. Which city do you want to be the SEC Tournament’s new “primary site”?