After years of trying, Arena nails down SEC tourneys

By Steven Godfrey

After a summer of speculation, the Southeastern Conference officially announced Tuesday that Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena would become the de facto home for its annual men's and women's basketball tournaments over the next 12 years.

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive announced that Bridgestone would host the league’s men's basketball tournament nine times from 2015 to 2025, with breaks in 2018 and ‘22, and the women's tournament three times in 2018, ‘22 and ‘26.

Joined by Nashville Sports Council President and CEO Scott Ramsey, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, Nashville Predators and Bridgestone Arena President and COO Sean Henry and Nashville Sports Council Board of Directors Chair Deb McDermott, Slive praised the city of Nashville for its past efforts in hosting the mens’ tournament four times, most recently this year, and labeled the city as “proven host that provides a wonderful experience.”

“The idea of going long-term is something we’d been discussing for a few years. The last three or four months, we’ve felt like we’ve had it done… Their decision was whether or not to move the event around the footprint of the SEC and once they sat down in May, we’d just hosted the event successfully. It was a matter of securing this event long-term, as many times as possible, to create a little equity in the brand,” Ramsey said.

Slive said that the move towards a primary location would create the same annual tradition for the SEC fan base that its football and baseball championships provide in Atlanta and Hoover, Ala., respectively, as well as allow the league to improve the in-game experience. According to Slive, feedback indicated that a traditional basketball-scaled arena was preferable to an indoor stadium sized for football.

“Fans love to travel, but if you know where you’re going to stay and how to get there, you know where you’re going to eat and you like the music there, it certainly takes away some unnecessary anxiety about it,” he said.

In addition to a track record of successfully hosting the mens tournament, Ramsey cited the addition of the Music City Center convention space and more hotels to the downtown Nashville area as key factors in securing the agreement.

According to numbers released by the Nashville Sports Council, the total economic impact of the four previous men's tournaments dating back to 2001 is estimated at $56 million, and $35 million for the previous five women's tournaments.

The event marked a public display of affection between two unlikely sports entities — the Southeastern Conference and the NHL. Slive repeatedly praised the Nashville Predators throughout the press event, and Ramsey said that the length of the agreement couldn’t have been created without involvement from Henry and the Predators.

As the primary tenant of Bridgestone Arena, the Predators receive a financial cut of every event in the building. However, the Predators will now lose a week’s worth of potential home games each March in the heart of the NHL’s postseason push.

“It’s the right thing to do for everyone here today, but it’s also the right thing to do for this hockey team. It’s bad in the sense we’re out of the building for eight days during the playoff push. The more home games you have, the better it is for your team,” Henry said.

“But at the same time, it’s about building your fan base, and doing that by bringing the building and the team together as one. The stronger the building is, the stronger the team is. The more people who see this building in this community as a place to be, it will benefit our hockey team.”

Nashville is also conveniently located in relation to the University of Kentucky, the SEC’s Tiffany basketball program and one of the most popular and successful brands in the sport. Slive downplayed the relative ease with which Kentucky’s enormous fan base could travel to the city.

“Guess what, they only get one vote at the table. They’re just one school of 14,” Slive said with a laugh.