Multiple sources confirmed for me Tuesday that UConn is in the preliminary stages of negotiations with both Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard and the Mohegan Sun Arena to play men’s and women’s basketball games at both venues, as soon as this season.
UConn is interested in moving several games in an effort to expand its brand and allow fans in other areas a chance to see the teams play. A great majority, if not all of the games moved to the other sites, would come from the allotment of the XL Center.
Mohegan Sun officials, including CEO Mitchell Etess and Sun General Manager Chris Sienko, refused comment when approached about the matter on Tuesday.
One of the sources indicated that Bridgeport’s viability was the “more advanced and most viable” of the two in terms of immediacy, but stressed that it was far too early to say what might happen.
Bridgeport has hosted a number of NCAA Division I women’s basketball sub-regionals and regional finals over the year and has long desired to host UConn regular-season games.
UConn AD Warde Manuel and Geno Auriemma are among those in favor of spreading the wealth among the state’s other venues.
UConn’s contract with the XL Center expired after last season. That deal prohibited the Huskies from staging men’s or women’s basketball games at any other state venue other than Gampel or the XL Center. That is no longer the case.
“One way or another,” said one source, “UConn was not going to allow that [exclusivity] to happen in any new deal.”
The XL Center, which is expected to maintain a bulk of the off-campus home games, is also a very expensive venue for UConn to rent for games.
And negotiating with Mohegan and Bridgeport would at very least create a competitive environment that might make future games in Hartford more reasonable for UConn to consider.
It’s not likely that more than three games a year for each program – a maximum of six for both programs – would be granted to other venues. It also likely the games would not be high-profile affairs, perhaps pitting the UConn teams against lower level non-conference or American Conference opponents.
“The men are not moving games like Memphis [away from Hartford or Gampel],” said one source. But I also think there is a very good chance that UConn is going to do some business with Bridgeport.”
Another thing favor of the Mohegan Sun Arena is its new relationship with UConn’s home conference, The American. The American will host its first women’s basketball tournament at the casino in March 2014.