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.
Bridgestone Arena during the third quarter ranked fifth in the United States and 17th in the world for concert ticket sales, according to international trade publication Pollstar and its Third-Quarter Ticket Sales Report.
For the year, the SoBro-based facility has seen gross ticket sales of $35,578,517 and 343,273 tickets sold (with an average ticket price of $103.64).
This is Bridgestone Arena’s third consecutive U.S. Top 10 ranking, up two spots from Pollstar’s mid-year rankings.
Buildings in the U.S. top 10 include the following: 1) Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.; 2) Staples Center in Los Angeles; 3) Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia; 4) American Airlines Center in Dallas; 5) Bridgestone Arena; 6) Philips Arena in Atlanta; 7) Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.; 8) SAP Center at San Jose; 9) Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.; and 10) Toyota Center in Houston.
"Bridgestone Arena continues to rise up the ranks and has become a regular tour stop for the nation’s top shows,” David Kells, Bridgestone Arena vice president of booking, said in a release. “Fans fill the seats at Bridgestone Arena night after night because of the full-spectrum of high-quality entertainment."
2013 Bridgestone Arena Highlights
Host to the CMT Music Awards and 47th Annual CMA Awards
Record-setting March for Bridgestone Arena, with 329,002 guests walking through the doors.
Six sold out Nashville Predators home games, five consecutive days of SEC Men’s Basketball (13 total games) and four sold out concerts created the most attended March in the history of Bridgestone Arena, and the second most attended month in building history.
Bridgestone Arena is currently in the midst of a streak of 14 events — seven hockey and seven shows — in 20 nights from October 8-26.
Notwithstanding NHL games, 41 events have been schedule at Bridgestone Arena this year
With the Predators rookies opening camp today, the full team reporting next week and the preseason opener 17 days away, we checked in with Predators president Sean Henry and did a walkthrough of the on-going upgrades at Bridgestone Arena.
Henry likes to point out that, ideally, renovations never stop at an entertainment venue; however, the current round of upgrades is the largest capital improvement project in the arena's history.
It primarily focuses on the Demonbreun side of the building — a long-forgotten back entrance that needed to be "activated" with the opening of the Music City Center across the street. (See rendering below.)
When the puck drops for the regular season opener Oct. 8 against Minnesota, the first big upgrades will have made their debut. Henry said the new marquee at Fifth & Broadway — which will include a double-sided video board, replacing the static sign and LED display on the current marquee — will be ready in early October, along with two new video components on the arena's Demonbreun side. The largely empty exterior wall of the rehearsal space at Demonbreun and Fifth has long featured over-sized player photos. Those photos will be replaed by 15-by-28-foot video board. Along the long side of the arena will be a rolling scroll of upcoming events at Bridgestone.
The overhaul of the ingress and egress of the rear plaza — which will include a revamped south entrance, plus expanded public gathering space, band stage and other branded spaces — should be complete by mid-November.
Henry expects all actual construction to be done by the "end of fall 2013."
The final pieces of the puzzle — which are expected to include a new pub-style, open-to-the-rear-plaza bar the lower level of what is now the parking garage and expanded retail space along Fifth — should be complete by March.
Despite serving what The Score's Jo Innes called the NHL's best hot dog, Bridgestone Arena is developing a reputation for serving arena food that is lauded for its local touches (like chicken-and-waffles and well-executed, if PG-13, hot chicken) and their simple fun (bacon on a stick!).
This season the chefs will roll out two new signature dishes: country-fried steak-on-a-stick and French-Canadian favorite poutine.
Poutine is typically served topped with brown gravy, but this is Nashville. The Bridgestone Arena version will feature sausage gravy. While we're told pimento cheese was briefly considered, ultimately the chefs stuck with what works and will use the traditional cheese curds.
Metro has issued a $6 million permit for a retrofitting of the south facade of Bridgestone Arena. Improvements will be made to the SoBro-based arena's south entrance fronting Demonbreun Street and its east side facing Fifth Avenue South. Read more about the project here.
Bridgestone Arena hosted more concert attendees in the first six months of 2013 than all but six other venues in the United States and 22 in the world. Trade publication Pollstar says entertainers sold more than 229,000 tickets for shows at the downtown arena through June 30, trailing arenas in New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Jose and Miami.
The seventh-place ranking is up a spot from last year. Check out the global top 25 here.
The athletic directors of the Southeastern Conference have voted unanimously to have league Commissioner Mike Slive explore the option of playing the conference's men's basketball tournament at a fixed site. The favorite to land the tourney on a permanent basis, says Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde, is Nashville. Downtown's Bridgestone Arena already is scheduled to host the hoops tournament in 2015, 2016 and 2019 and, Forde writes, has become a preferred destination as attendance has fallen off a bit in recent years.
The Recording Academy is for the first time taking its Grammy nominations concert beyond Los Angeles and will land on Lower Broad in early December. The TV special — with two official exclamation marks — will air live on CBS and looks set to give Music City's national branding another shot in the arm.
Last year's airing of the nominations special helped lead to increased ratings for the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards which attracted 39.9 million viewers, the largest GRAMMY audience since 1984 and the second largest in history. The telecast was also the biggest social event in the history of television, drawing 13 million social media comments with the conversation on Twitter reaching a record high at 160,341 tweets per minute during the live telecast.