ST. LOUIS —
SUGG. HEAD: MVC Tournament staying in St. Louis until 2018
DROPHEAD: League has option through 2020
By Todd Golden
Tribune-Star * St. Louis
When the Missouri Valley Conference put out a statement on Tuesday indicating that it intended to make a "historic" announcement to make regarding its men's basketball tournament at a Wednesday press conference, wheels around the conference began turning.
Was the tournament headed away from St. Louis, where its been played since 1991? Was it going to Kansas City or Chicago? Would there be some sort of rotation?
It turned out to be nothing of the sort. The MVC announced that its tournament will be staying at St. Louis's Scottrade Center through the 2018 season with the league holding an option to keep it there through 2020.
During a press conference, MVC commissioner Doug Elgin alluded to the fact the "historic" adjective might have given MVC observers the wrong impression.
"The use of the term 'historic' in the media alert had people thinking about possibilities for the event," Elgin admitted.
Elgin said it is "historic" that the tournament will stay in St. Louis for 28 years (or 30 if it exercises its option). Only one other tournament has had a longer stay in one site -- the Big East Tournament at New York's Madison Square Garden.
However, it's not likely that Wednesday's announcement was the "historic" announcement anyone was expecting.
Elgin said the MVC send Request For Proposals (RFP) to St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, Indianapolis and Las Vegas. There were date conflicts at Chicago's United Center and Banker's Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Las Vegas had several smaller facilities, but was ruled out due to its distance from the MVC's footprint.
The Scottrade Center, Kansas City's Sprint Center and the Sears Center in Hoffman Estates, Ill. remained. All three presented bids. There were considered by the MVC's Joint Committee at its spring meeting. The MVC Presidents Council met early in June to consider and approve the final proposal.
"We absolutely viewed the process as open and played no favorites," Elgin said. "When we looked at the totality of the bids, St. Louis was the winner from a financial standpoint. When you couple the tradition, the central location and the momentum St. Louis's downtown area has, there's an awful lot of positive energy."
Financially, Elgin didn't cite figures, but said the conference's relationship with St. Louis's hotel and hospitality community helped. The MVC will also get a flat rate for "significantly lower" rent at Scottrade for the life of its contract.
As far as St. Louis's "positive energy", Elgin cited renovation at the Gateway Arch and recently-completed renovations at St. Louis's Union Station -- two blocks from Scottrade Center -- as reasons for sticking with Scottrade.
Elgin also said that St. Louis offered a longer contract. Kansas City's deal was for just two years.
Despite the lineage and geographic proximity to several MVC schools, the MVC and the tournament's partners in St. Louis recognized that they need to dispel the notion that the tournament has become old hat in St. Louis.
The opinion exists among some league observers and fans that the league was ripe for a venue change. There's also the opinion that St. Louis itself doesn't appreciate or support the event as other cities might.
To that end, St. Louis Sports Commission president Frank Viverito challenged the city of St. Louis to support the tournament in a bigger way than it has in recent years.
"I want to challenge St. Louis to think differently about this event," he said. "The MVC really should be more highly appreciated by the community. I really wish the fans and community at-large could provide more support and turn out in larger numbers to enjoy one of the best sporting events in St. Louis. Let's not take it for granted. Many other communities would love to host it."
Elgin said during the press conference that the decision by the President's Council to keep the tournament was unanimous, but he also acknowledged that there was debate among league members.
Wichita State, which had the largest fan contingent in 2014, is the furthest school away from St. Louis. A move to Kansas City would likely have been very welcome for one of the MVC's bell-weather schools.
On the other hand, schools like Bradley, Illinois State and Southern Illinois -- whom have supported the tournament well attendance-wise in St. Louis -- would likely see their numbers dwindle if it were moved.
"Everyone looks out for their own interest. I think it was a close call, I really do. I think it could have easily gone to Kansas City," Elgin said. "What drove it back to St. Louis was the tradition and the history."
Tournament attendance was 50,989 in 2014, its ninth-best in Arch Madness history, but with the departure of Creighton and its large fan contingent to the Big East, many wonder if the MVC's high attendance numbers of the 2000s and 2010s are sustainable at Scottrade Center.
Historically, the MVC Tournament hasn't always depended on Creighton and Wichita State for attendance. Southern Illinois was the bellweather attendance school into the late 2000s. Elgin said he thinks the league was young in 2014 and is banking on several schools making a rise to make the league more competitive than it was last year when Wichita State went 18-0.
* TV, format and sponsorships -- The conference also announced that the tournament will remain in its current Thursday-Sunday format through 2016. That's when the MVC's contract with CBS runs out. ESPN holds the rights and sells them to CBS for broadcast.
After 2016 the format could be changed. If CBS is not interested in televising it past 2016, t is possible the tournament could revert back to the Friday-Monday format it had before the 2005-06 season.
"We're doing an analysis of what it would mean if we moved our to Friday instead of its current format. We know there's plusses-and-minuses. It's part of a bigger discussion we're having with ESPN to leverage an extension and broaden our partnership," said Elgin, who said he wants to make a "much stronger" commitment to digital platforms, particularly on the ESPN3 streaming channel.
Elgin also said the "new frontier" for the MVC was to produce games in high-definition that are broadcast quality.
The MVC is also seeking a title sponsor for the tournament. Long-time sponsor State Farm cut back its commitment in the last two years due to what Elgin called State Farm "downsizing". Elgin said the gross payment to the league was half of what it was in previous years.
Elgin said he is confident a new title sponsor -- from a St. Louis-based corporation -- will be determined in the coming months.
"We're keeping our fingers crossed. We think we're close to a really good match," Elgin said. "We're anxious to find a good match. It's really important to our schools from the financial part of it and its important for promotion too."
League has option to stay until 2020
ST. LOUIS —
SUGG. HEAD: MVC Tournament staying in St. Louis until 2018
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