ESPN.com, anchored by Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman, blogged a real-time, running diary during the Friday, March 18 NCAA tournament action. Here is one of their exchanges.
Klosterman: The crowd for Zona-Memphis is palpably louder.
Sportsguy33: That's in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Success can be measured in many ways. Ticket sales, fan feedback and other pencil pusher stats are nice. Give me a great atmosphere and national recognition.
Whatever your preference, it is safe to conclude we have not seen the last of the NCAA tournament in T-Town.
What is it about big events that bring out the best in Tulsa? When given a major golf tournament, we knock it stiff. When the NCAA peeks in, we Thunder dunk in their face.
"All of the feedback we received from the NCAA representatives who were on-site was 100 percent positive," said Jeff Nickler, director of special events for SMG with the BOK Center. "I have no doubt the NCAA will be back again."
In total, our pod sold a total of 42,823 tickets. If you were inside the arena, walking outside the venue, ambling about in one of the tents or even watching at home; you realize the Kansas faithful boosted the numbers. Thanks, Lawrence.
The average attendance figures were just above 14,000 per session with the Sunday session reaching 15,839. Again, mostly KU blue.
Tulsa fans were not indifferent to the tournament. Quite the contrary. We opened our arms and welcomed the out-of-towners like few other cities can do or are willing to do.
"I think Tulsa did a great job," said Peter Farrell, a columnist with Artvoice, Buffalo, New York's newsweekly. "I say this being from a city that has hosted the event four times in the past eleven seasons and has some of the same dynamics concerning their downtown."
Buffalo also has a downtown arena, HSBC Arena, but it is not within close walking distance of the eateries and taverns basketball fans seek.
"You guys did your homework here, from the party tents right across the street, to volunteers handing out street maps and giving out assistance and tips," Farrell said.
"The shuttle buses with multiple routes to take people to different parts of town. Tulsa aced it here, especially as a first time host of the event. Heck, we stayed at a hotel 10 miles away from the arena and someone handed us a map as soon as we hit the check-in counter."
Some of the minor (and I stress minor) complaints mentioned were the lines inside the arena. The concession and restroom waits were lengthy at times.
SMG manages hundreds of arenas around the world. An average concert will have 8-12,000 attendees. A basketball event ranges closer to the 15,000 mark.
With a concert, patrons filter in and out of the concession area as they please. With basketball, there is a true intermission and 70-80 percent of the fans flee their seats for a quick bite at the same time.
"We honestly expected lines," Nickler said. He pointed out that all 70 points of sale were open and there were no shortages at the stands. The time of day was a factor. Friday's early session started around lunch time while Sunday's session tipped off close to the dinner bell.
The restroom lines were a different animal. We've all seen a normal restroom predicament. It usually forms on the women's side. Not for the basketball tournament. It was close to a 3-1 ratio of men to women.
"We actually turned two of our women's restrooms into men's rooms for the Sunday session," Nickler said. "That was something we weren't anticipating. We had no idea the male to female ratio was so high for an event like that."
But the positives far outweighed the negatives. The NcNellie's Group received praise from everyone contacted.
"I think McNellie's did an outstanding job of providing that downtown basketball bash and having that huge tent outside," said Nick Salis, tournament director and assistant athletic director at the University of Tulsa. The hope is more entrepreneurs and businesses join the festivities and make it bigger and better next time.
Several businesses, including Elliot Nelson's McNellie's Group, were approached by the city of Tulsa and Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. Many businesses united to throw the party. The 14,000 square-foot tent was hard to miss. People filed in and out before and after games, and especially between sessions on Friday.
"It was great to see downtown Tulsa so busy," said Muriel Hakim, director of community relations for McNellie's Group, Muriel Hakim. "It was very successful on our end. It was a lot of fun to plan on our end."
They worked with Rib Crib, Full Moon Café, Tulsa Police Department, the mayor's office and many others to ensure Tulsa had something to offer outside of the BOK Center.
The massive tent was too massive, however. Perhaps a smaller version with overflow space outdoors next time? And for new businesses wanting to jump into the festive environment next time, be creative. Let's not create tent city District 9 style.
"First of all when the mayor calls and says, 'Hey we need help, we want you to do it' you kind of say, 'Yes, sir' and you do it," Hakim said "The other thing is it was good for Tulsa."
Did we get lucky having KU, Memphis and Texas assigned to Tulsa? Absolutely. Were the games inside the arena some of the most competitive and high quality? You bet. When the tournament returns in a few years must we rely on other teams' fans to support our cause?
Hopefully the tournament committee will have figured out the pricing dilemma.
The "take it or leave it" $237 all-session ticket price was ridiculous. Too many Tulsans were excluded. Can someone justify spending $1,000 on a family of four? The NCAA basically excluded all families which in turn alienated potential future customers: kids.
This must be addressed, and not just by the Tulsa committee. Some incentive must remain especially now with every game televised on CBS, TNT, TBS or truTV.
The NCAA should consider breaking down the ticket prices based on arenas and geographical locations. Also, a multi-tiered ticket structure could be a start.
Otherwise, let's all pat ourselves on the back. Success breeds success. Next time, let's shoot for a regional final. The time after that? Give us the National Championship Weekend.
"I think it was a great event and I think we can expect to have it back here in a couple of years," Nickler said. "We'll submit our bid in April for 2014 and 2015 and I would be absolutely shocked if we didn't get one of those two years. It's going to be back."
Judging from comments made by NCAA officials, fans, locals and ESPN.com's Bill Simmons, it is safe to say Tulsa is certainly on the radar for another opportunity.
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