When Pac-12 Tournament happens in Vegas, it stays in Vegas
New tournament location a success for Pac-12
LAS VEGAS — So, how about that ride in?
The Pac-12 Tournament made its debut in Sin City, but was it a success?
That gets a resounding yes.
There certainly was risk involved with moving the tournament from Staples Center in Los Angeles to MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, but it had to be done.
Staples Center became a landmark for desolation when it came to Pac-12 basketball, as fans just didn’t want to make the trip to L.A.
Everyone wants to make a trip to Las Vegas.
“I commend the league for taking a chance and doing something different,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said.
Said Arizona head coach Sean Miller: “We all knew when we came to Vegas this tournament was going to be an incredible tournament.”
Altman’s Ducks won in exciting fashion on Saturday night, 78-69 over UCLA. The game capped off a week of loud, exciting basketball filled with drama (just Google “Sean Miller he touched the ball”) and exhilaration (seven of the 11 games played were decided by six points or less).
It was a star-studded affair — Miami Heat president Pat Riley, hip-hop and reality TV extraordinaire Flavor Flav were among those in attendance at a few games, and Boyz II Men sang the national anthem at Friday’s Arizona-UCLA game.
Walking around MGM, odds were you’d run into a player or two, as all 12 teams were staying at the hotel. Brock Motum, Washington State’s star big man, could be seen sitting at a slot machine, signing autographs for fans even after his Cougars had already been eliminated.
That’s not to mention the likes of Larry Scott, the Pac-12 commissioner, and Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne meandering around. UA head football coach Rich Rodriguez was there, too.
“We were incredibly pleased with our first year in Las Vegas,” said Danette Leighton, the Pac-12’s chief marketing officer. “I think it was a great first impression for our new tournament here in Las Vegas. Our fans came and traveled and I think they had a great time.”
So where was the risk?
Well, for one, the MGM Grand Arena had only ever housed one basketball game, and that was a tune-up for this tournament with Oregon State and the University of San Diego in December.
Also, there’s the inherent risk of bringing college students to Las Vegas, where trouble is easy to be found.
“Obviously there’s a whole bunch of things you can get yourself in trouble with,” said Oregon guard Carlos Emory. “But I just knew everybody was down here and focused — ready to play some ball.”
(So far, no word has come out about players getting in trouble.)
The most important measure of success for the tournament?
The people. And the people came in droves.
If the attendance figures mean anything, the tournament is off to a great start in its new home.
Over the course of six sessions, including 11 games in four days, there was an average attendance of 10,625, almost 2,000 less than last year. The most attended session (which included Arizona’s matchup with UCLA) on Friday had 13,151 and the championship game saw 11,101 fans. The championship was the only game that had less than last year’s, when Arizona faced Colorado (and lost) with 11,197 fans in the stands.
Staples Center has a capacity of 19,060, while MGM had one of 13,000 for the tournament.
“I enjoyed it,” said UCLA point guard Larry Drew II. “I think the fans were great, teams were pretty pumped and it’s Las Vegas. All the lights out here, it’s showtime. I felt like everybody came out and performed.”
The Arizona Wildcats probably had the largest contingent of fans at MGM Grand, but Leighton said every school did a great job bringing fans to the tournament. Arizona beat Colorado on Thursday, but fell to UCLA the following night.
Last year, Colorado had a student program that brought 50 students with it to Staples Center for the tournament. Scott said he loved the idea, so the rest of the schools followed suit this year.
“A lot of people probably thought, you know, with Arizona there was a lot of red,” Leighton said. “But tonight, you saw a lot of gold and green and red. Between Arizona, UCLA, Utah, Colorado, really everyone. I think it’s a destination that fans can see can spend four days here and some fun in the arena and enjoy Vegas at the same time.”
The Pac-12 is on a three-year deal with MGM Grand, and if this year’s tournament is any indication, it should be here for years to come.