Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Comparing the Big XII's and NHL's Impact on Downtown Kansas City

I don't want this to devolve into a discussion on college athletics on a hockey blog, and all of the hearsay and rumors and nonsense that changes almost daily, but I know it will.  So, just bear with me.

Just as a general common sense thing, let's list the top sports revenue things in KC in no particular order:
1. Kansas City Chiefs
2. Kansas City Royals
3. Sporting Kansas City FC Wizards etc. etc.
4. Big XII Conference events
5. NASCAR/racing

One of those things occurs in downtown Kansas City occasionally.  Can you guess which one?

Continue for the answer.

As many of you already know, the Big XII conference is again at a crossroads, with someone holding their hand over the self-destruct button and getting closer to pushing it than last year at this time.  Let's just say, for argument's sake, that the button is pushed this time.  Texas A&M goes to the Southeastern Conference and Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech bolt for the Pac-12 (or whatever) and leave five 'orphaned' (that's a good word, appropriate word being tossed around) universities in a state of flux.  Let's.  Just.  Assume.

As of now, the media has Oliver Twist (Missouri) and his four brothers (Baylor, Kansas, K-State, and Iowa State) all going to the Big East, or some of them going to the Big East, or some of them going to the Big Ten, or Missouri going to the SEC, or randomly more going to the Pac-##, or joining the Mountain West, etc. etc.  The best scenario for Kansas City, of course, would be for the Big 12 to remain a conference.  But, again, let's assume it won't be a conference by this time next month.

Dating back to the days of the Big 8, Kansas City has been the sports hub of local major college sports.  The dawning of the Texas infused Big 12 in 1996 saw brought a football championship game.  Kansas City and Arrowhead Stadium have the distinction of holding the event the most times (5) in its fifteen year history.  Of course, since the opening of Jerry Jones' Super Intergalactic Fun Time Stadium and Putt-Putt, the game was to be held in Dallas from 2009-2013, almost assuring Kansas City would never see the game again.  Fine.

In 1997, the Big XII men's and women's basketball tournament was brought to Kansas City, where they have been nine times and KC will play host again this year.  First, the men's found a home in Kemper Arena, but moved to the Sprint Center after its completion.  The women's has always been played in Municipal Auditorium, just down the street from the Sprint Center today.  So, everything works out for Kansas City, right?  The football championship can be played where football thrives, while the basketball championship can be held in the home of the College Basketball Hall of Fame.  There in lies the rub.

As Blair Kerkhoff so eloquently put it in his KC Star article, the men's and women's basketball tournaments "have an economic impact of $14 million."  So, what's the problem, you ask?  Well, what conference will make Kansas City home without any historic foothold in the area?

Let's assume some more.

Assume, Missouri and Kansas or any variety of the five remaining schools go to the Big Ten.  The conference is already in new territory with the addition of Nebraska as the farthest west school.  Adding a Missouri and/or Kansas would expand it farther west, but that does not necessarily mean the influence will go that way as well.  With Ohio State and Michigan in the east, the big money conference championships seem to hover in that area.  Indianapolis and Chicago have been the only hosts to the basketball tournament, and Indianapolis will host the first Big Ten football championship.  If any city gets any influence, it would almost assuredly be towards the middle in St. Louis.  No championships for KC.

So, assume Missouri and the rest of the gang end up in the Big East.  The Big East basketball tournament has been held in Madison Square Garden forever, so it will be in KC sometime never.  The newly created football championship needs a home, and maybe the Big East would be willing to give the honors to the other side of the conference.  But, remember, Jerry Jones now does not have a championship game in his stadium, and with the addition of Texas' TCU and Baylor (maybe), Kansas City has an outsiders chance to land that game.

So, the SEC?  The football championship will forever be in the dome in Georgia.  But, the basketball tournament could fit nicely in KC with the addition of Missouri AND Kansas (although not likely).  Though, this tournament also seems to spend a lot of time in Atlanta also.

The newly formed Mountain West-Big XII hybrid conference, with members like Boise State, Nevada, Colorado State and so forth.  The basketball tournament could find a home here.  I originally thought that  attendance numbers would drag, but last year's championship game saw 18500 people, while the third overall game saw almost 15000 for New Mexico and Colorado State (the first two games attendance are missing, though).  This appears to be the best opportunity so far, although the football side of things would seriously take a hit in an inferior conference (sorry Boise State, but it's true).

Sooooo, that brings me to my main reason for writing (no, no, as much as I like to play the NCAA czar and pick fantasy conferences, that is not my point).  The football games are almost irrelevant, because only basketball will find a home downtown and in the Sprint Center.  Go back to the top list.  Taking the information we already know, and crossing off #4, none of those events take place downtown.  Taking away an estimated $14 million from local merchants that ALREADY are not making what they were promised makes the Power and Light District a ghost town on cold nights in March.  That is taking away four days of events and almost ten-plus events (I will be eagerly awaiting what the bracket looks like for this year).  And that does not even include the women's tournament down the street.  Without the forty-one-plus games of an NHL tenant, the forty-one-plus games of an NBA tenant, or the comfort of having nearly twenty-plus local college basketball games in the arena, what happens to the surrounding areas?  We are talking major sports, sports that bring in money.  KC becomes a two sport town with colleges nearby, instead of being able to rely on the old adage of "at least we get a conference championship."

Those days may be running out as the clock ticks on the Big XII.  Once that reality sets in with the media here in Kansas City (and not just wedged into a conference realignment article), they will lash out at AEG, Tim Leiweke, and Kansas City sport and government officials in an uncontrollable race to find a scapegoat.  There is no scapegoat at that point, as the city loses out on precious economic monies to place toward other funds.  Downtown merchants cannot take solace in knowing the once every week or three or four times a month the Sprint Center will have an event that will primarily bring in locals from a 200 mile radius.  At this point, it would be unwise to predict the economic stability of the country as a whole a year from now, but the $14 million dollars for one decently sized basketball tournament exists to remind people how much more business could be brought downtown with at least forty more events (i.e. and NHL or even AHL team, as pucKChaser suggests).

But let's finish on an optimistic tone.

The city will not struggle, either way, as the 2012 MLB All-Star game at Kauffman Stadium looks to make a fair bit of coin, but the city's urban redevelopment project seems to be striving closer and closer to look like post-1980s Kemper Arena and the West Bottoms.  

That's about as optimistic as I get on this topic at this point.  The next post will have more hockey in it, I promise.

Headline pic via

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