Hosting NCAA men's basketball rewarding for WSU
It’s there when Draymond Green hits a basket for MSU, and it’s there again, at the other end of the court, when Greivis Vasquez scores for Maryland. And it’s there at the end when Korie Lucious sinks his three-pointer to win the game for MSU.
Getting the WSU logo in front of millions of people isn’t the only reason WSU invests significant time and energy serving as host of various NCAA tournaments, but it’s part of the reason, said Anne McCoy, interim athletic director.
“It’s the Washington State logo that’s on the floor during national broadcasts,” McCoy said, but hosting tournaments also builds relationships. “It’s good for fan appreciation, it’s good for recruiting, and it’s good for introducing national media to the WSU program,” she said.
And, in this case, it’s probably good for about $125,000 for the WSU athletic department.
John David Wicker, WSU’s associate athletic director and the NCAA tournament manager, said the hosting institution receives up to 10 percent of the net, which will probably work out to about $150,000. That, minus expenses, still leaves a tidy sum.
Local economy benefits
That sum pales in comparison to what NCAA fans pump into the Spokane economy. Eric Sawyer, president of the Spokane Regional Sports Commission, said that based on past tournaments, he estimates that this year’s crowd of out-of-town visitors spent about $4 million during their stay.
NCAA men’s basketball, he said, is one of the highest average daily spending events in all of sports. On average, he said, people traveling to a men’s NCAA basketball game spend nearly $300 per day.
Even so, he said, he believes the national exposure - when the cameras pan the court at the arena millions of viewers see SPOKANE emblazoned on the screen - is worth even more in long-term value to the community.
“It’s advertising we could never afford,” he said. “Let’s put it that way.”
Men's basketball the biggie
Since 1997 WSU has hosted nine NCAA tournaments: the women’s volleyball semifinal and championship matches in 1997; women’s regional basketball games in 2001 and 2008; and men’s regional basketball games in 2003, 2007 and 2010.
In May, WSU staff will be heading to Sacramento to host the NCAA Rowing Championships at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center in Gold River, Calif. And next March WSU will host regional tournament games for women’s basketball in Spokane.
Still, it’s safe to say that the cash and cachet that accompany hosting a round in the men’s NCAA basketball tournament is like no other. In a February column in the Seattle Times, sports columnist Bud Withers lamented the fact although the University of Washington has hosted NCAA tournaments for women’s basketball and women’s volleyball in recent years, “the bigger fish, the first weekend of the men's tournament, is eluding Seattle.”
Withers has some theories about why UW hasn’t been chosen, and they seem to have more to do with attitude than ability.
Wicker, left, and Stevens at the tourna-
ment earlier this month in Spokane.
NCAA asks WSU to bid
“I feel like we’re pretty much always ahead of the curve,” Wicker said. “Some people even say we go too far” in accommodating the teams, athletic staffs and media, he said. But his attitude for the duration of the tournament is “get there early and stay late.”
In fact, he said, after being awarded a bid to host the 2007 men’s basketball first and second round, he didn’t plan to submit a bid for 2010, but NCAA officials called and asked WSU and the Spokane Arena to bid.
Planning starts in earnest about 18 months before the event with partners at the Spokane Arena and the Spokane Convention Center. Tickets went on sale to WSU basketball season ticketholders and other supporters of WSU athletics in January 2009. Sales opened to the general public a few months later and were sold out within the first sales period.
Wicker said they had 27,000 ticket requests and only about 6,000 seats to sell for each of three two-game sessions of basketball - two sessions on Friday and one on Sunday. The remaining tickers were reserved for the NCAA to distribute to the participating teams, media, corporate partners and other participants.
The pre-event planning is significant, but things really kick into gear about 3 p.m. on Selection Sunday. Traci McGlathery of the Spokane Convention Center worked with Wicker to coordinate all of the arrangements for taking care of the teams outside of the arena. Team host, hotel liaison and courtesy car coordinator were among her job titles.
Imagine, she said, planning a five-day destination party for several hundred people, but not knowing who was coming until two days before they arrived.
Once the teams are announced, she said, it’s all hands on deck and full steam ahead - for the next five days.
Team keeps things running smoothly
While McGlathery’s job is to make sure the student-athlete has a great experience off the court, Wicker and his crew, including partners at the Spokane Arena, are working to make sure the student-athlete and fan are having a great experience on the court and inside the arena.
Wicker coordinates all the game management personnel, including people to monitor the locker rooms and training facilities, work the game clock and the scoreboard, handle ticket sales and keep the technology working at maximum efficiency.
He and the 30-35 people he directs take care of everything - from making sure the coolers are filled, the balls are on the court, and there are plenty of clean towels on hand, to ensuring that not only physicians are available, but a dentist as well.
350 media passes issued
The media side of the event is another story. Stevens said he typically works with fewer than a dozen media people covering a regular season WSU game. For the NCAA tournament, he said, nearly 350 media passes were issued - to everyone from the local Spokane media to writers with the New York Times, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and the Sporting News.
While some media passes were issued months in advance, the majority of requests came after Selection Sunday. The teams had until 6 p.m. Monday to submit their requests - nearly 225 passes were requested by the eight teams - and then Stevens and his crew had less than 24 hours to process the requests according to a strict set of NCAA requirements.
Stevens said he started lining up volunteers to help with tournament media duties last fall and compiled a group of about 45 people, including sports information directors and staff from Boise State University, Idaho State University, Eastern Washington University and other folks from as far away as Reno, Nev., and the California Bay Area.
They helped with everything from answering media inquiries to monitoring the press area, making copies of game statistics for distribution to the media, finding microphone holders, typing game notes and gathering and distributing quotes from players in the locker rooms.
“From our standpoint,” Stevens said, “you certainly need to be organized and you certainly need to have a great group of volunteers - and we did.”
Work and fun
Essentially, Wicker said, everyone involved with helping WSU host the event was a volunteer. They get a hotel room and a tournament jacket, he said. But for most people involved in the event, just being there is enough.
“It’s a significant amount of work,” Wicker said, “but it’s a lot of fun.”