In a somewhat surprising twist, the American Athletic Conference will hold its 2015 men’s basketball tournament in Hartford, according to Neill Ostrout of the Journal-Inquirer.
It’s a surprising move for a few reasons:
**While in Memphis, AAC commissioner Mike Aresco told me, “We always thought that we might well stay (in Memphis) a second year. We don’t know yet. We’re looking at the bids from other places. But we’ve got the logistics in place.”
“I think the plan is to possibly stay here another year — not decided yet — we’re going to have an ADs meeting tomorrow and talk it over. After that, we would probably think about going to other places over the next 4-5 years to make sure that we cross-fertilize our whole conference.”
Of those places, Aresco mentioned “ Orlando has made some strong bids. XL Center is going to be a strong bidder. I think we want to go to the three or four corners of our conference. Maybe Cincinnati down the road, they’ve expressed interest. XL oughta have it at some point down the road. Orlando has made a very strong bid and Disney is a great destination.”
**It’s surprising because it’s Hartford.
It ain’t Memphis.
There’s no Beale Street, no Graceland, no T-Shirt-and-shorts weather. There’s not much of anything in Hartford, except for a bunch of drunken UConn fans.
Maybe that’s all the AAC needs.
**A few quick thoughts: Memphis losing in the first round did harm to attendance numbers in last year’s tournament. UConn-Cincinnati drew 13,362; the championship game between UConn and Louisville drew 13,554 in an arena that holds over 18,000. That’s not a good look for the conference.
The thinking, I presume, is that UConn probably won’t go one-and-done like Memphis did a year ago, thus the attendance in the semifinals and possibly the final won’t dip the way it did at the FedEx Forum. Of course, it’s difficult to project such a thing a year from the tournament, but it appears SMU and UConn (especially if Ryan Boatright returns) should be the league’s top two teams in 2014-15.
**I’m sure Mike Aresco has thought long and hard about the two templates for a postseason tournament: A city with a strong built-in fanbase (such as Hartford or Memphis) vs. a potential “destination” city with a weak fanbase (Orlando, Tampa).
The former is the safe play. I don’t know if any AAC fanbase travels well enough to fill an arena in Orlando. Say it’s a Memphis-UConn final. Or UConn-SMU. My hunch that is most UConn fans would stay home and wait to burn their vacation days on possible NCAA tournament destinations. So Aresco is better off hosting the tournament in a city with a built-in fanbase.
**I don’t have exact figures on this (yet), but I suspect Memphis didn’t draw outsiders quite like the AAC expected. It’s a fine city. Beale Street is pretty cool, and the weather is nice. Still, it’s not as though fans from all over were saying, “Man, I’ve really got to experience Memphis.”
They’re obviously not going to say that about Hartford, either. And that’s alright. As long as UConn stays alive in the tournament, the seats will be filled.
**Aresco wants to move the tournament annually, which makes sense. Maybe Aresco opted for the Connecticut market in 2015 because he fears the Connecticut market will no longer be part of the AAC come 2016. UConn fans can only hope…