We’re about an hour from tip of the SEC tournament final between MSU and Tennessee.
Attendance is down, as expected, running about 12,209 on average in a building that seats about 20,000 for basketball. The primary tenant for the building is the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL.
Attendance hasn’t been helped by the fact that the two biggest draws — Kentucky and Florida — were both gone by Friday. The Gators, the local favorite, to Auburn in their second game.
Media attendance is down about 15 percent. That has less to do with geography than economy. A lot of newspapers have cut back on travel. Others have joined forces for story swapping, and chains that had been sending people from all their papers have cut back there too.
The economy hasn’t helped things from a fan standpoint, but whether Tampa actually resides in the “SEC footprint” is debatable. We were out driving a few days ago and approached the University of South Florida campus. In the distance I could make out players on a practice field, then helmets. I said, “Look Brad, it’s spring football. You want to watch the Bulls?” As we got closer it was actually lacrosse. This is the SEC?
This is the only place within the true “footprint” that this event will not draw. New Orleans, Atlanta and Nashville will turn out fans. Perhaps one day Memphis will get back in that mix.
There’s no long-term gain from TV or recruiting to have the tournament here once. If the intent is to extend a favor to Florida, do you extend the same courtesy to Arkansas, because Little Rock has a nice arena too?
In terms of putting on an event, there have been a few glitches, most notably the inconsistency of wireless internet access. Little else has been a major problem, and you certainly can’t complain about sunshine and temperatures in the low 80s.
In the end this tournament is about basketball and growing your sport. In a year when the league is down it would have been better served by being in an area where it would have been covered more.