More information is beginning to emerge regarding the decision of The American Athletic Conference to hold its first women’s basketball tournament at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
You’ll recall, especially if you enjoyed dining near the XL Center in Hartford, that the Big East conducted the tournament there for the last nine years.
But in March 2014, and maybe March 2015, it will be played at the home of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun.
Why did it leave Hartford? Well, primarily because of money.
It costs a lot of money to hold an event at the XL Center, which is OK because the building has every right to charge what it needs to make a profit. It doesn’t have to apologize for a thing.
The XL Center has a large labor overhead and many ancillary costs related to staging an event that was, in part, an all-day affair until the semifinal round.
The contracts offered and signed during all those years by the Big East Conference reflected those costs and were agreed upon – the cost of doing business.
But over the last four years, according to multiple sources, the price differential simply became too much for the Big East to comfortably absorb.
“We chose to keep ticket package price for years ($99),” said Danielle Donehew, the associated commissioner of women’s basketball of the Big East (now American). “That created a set revenue stream for the Big East Conference.
“We averaged less than 8,000 fans per session last season. In the past that number was higher and the cost of operating [at the XL Center] was lower.”
The Big East would have left Hartford years ago if not for the filibuster of member schools who wouldn’t allow it to happen. Sources tell me the money made by the conference at the tournament has dropped precipitously from nearly $500,000 years ago. But the conference presidents stuck by their anti-casino stance.
“From a conference perspective, the idea is to represent the goals and aspirations of the membership as a whole,” Donehew said. “The discussion was an important one. The event is one of the major assets we manage for the membership. Discussion about [where to host] needs to happen every few years to make sure membership is happy with the way things are going and offer the chance to continue or change things.
“Our past group was not comfortable with considering a casino site, but the new members at the table know that other national conferences are already hosting at casino sites. It’s a different time now and our members have now decided it was a decision [to move to Mohegan] they were comfortable making.”
South Florida coach Jose Fernandez is the president of the Big East’s coaches association for the last two years.
“It [moving] has been something the coaches have wanted for a long time,” he said Wednesday. “I just completed my second term as president of the Big East coaches and for the last four years we have asked the athletic directors to consider the Mohegan Sun.
“Look, Hartford treated the Big East very, very well over the last nine years. But we thought it was in our best interest as a league [to move]. There were multiple places we could have considered, but it would have been very difficult to ignore that Connecticut possesses an incredible amount of women’s basketball fans.
“I can remember playing Cincinnati at the XL Center in front of 6,000 fans and playing Rutgers in front of 5,000 fans in the afternoon. That’s incredible.
“But Mohegan was the best option for us now. It’s going to be great. It’s the home of a WNBA team. It’s a destination that the fans want to visit and enjoy. It was a logical move.”
The Mohegan Sun does not charge for patron parking. Sites around Hartford were charging up to $15 a day, almost matching the ticket output for a tournament.
It can also assist The American promote with its multi-million advertising and marketing initiatives. It can offer the conference drastically reduced rental of the facility.
What the Mohegan Sun wants are patrons spending money on its campus for the four days and nights the tournament convention will be on site. Who knows how much repeat business it might inspire for an industry that is dealing with tough times.
What the American wants was a sexier attraction their fans to visit in the dead of winter.
“I think it’s great that we are going to Mohegan. Is UConn still going to be favored to win the tournament? Of course, they are,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “When we played UConn for the first time in the Big East finals [in 2008] in Hartford four years ago, Charde Houston probably played the best game she ever played at UConn to beat us.
“Who knows, if that game was at a neutral site, well maybe it would have been different. That’s why I am excited about the Mohegan Sun. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
“I’m just hoping to have enough time to coach in between my shifts working at Geno’s Restaurant. I’m trying to make sure with the boss [Auriemma] that my work schedule will not interfere with my game schedule.”