NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Southeastern Conference fans wanted the league to hold its men’s tournaments in a basketball arena, and now they’re getting their wish.
Commissioner Mike Slive announced Tuesday that the SEC has made Nashville its primary home for the men’s tournament with the league holding nine of its championships in Music City through 2026. There will also be three women’s conference tournaments held in Nashville during that time.
“Our fans have made it clear to us they prefer a basketball arena, and so then it’s a question of where,” Slive said. “And we’ve had good experience here, and it’s easy for our fans. You can get to the arena. You can stay in a hotel. You can go eat. And you can go listen to music and you only have to walk. In some ways, it’s a perfect storm here.”
Slive announced a deal with the Nashville Sports Council to hold nine men’s tournaments in Music City in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2023, 2024 and 2025. The deal also includes dates for three women’s tournaments in 2018, 2022 and 2026.
“We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the city of Nashville,” Slive said.
The SEC’s athletic directors voted in May to pick a primary site for the men’s basketball tournament following up on the league’s success with other sports. The Georgia Dome has hosted the league’s football championship since 1994 and Hoover, Ala., has hosted the baseball tournament the past 16 years.
Nashville had the benefit of having hosted the men’s tournament in March at the Bridgestone Arena, home of the NHL’s Nashville Predators. Nashville also hosted the men’s tournament in 2001, 2006, 2010 and 2013, along with five women’s tournaments between 2002 and 2012.
“This is a huge deal,” Nashville Mayor Karl Dean said.
The SEC still has to pick a host city for the men’s tournament in 2018 and 2022. Slive said that announcement should be coming soon.
Atlanta has hosted the SEC tournament 13 times dating back to the inaugural event in 1933 with the last eight being held in the Georgia Dome.
Bridgestone Arena has a much cozier atmosphere with a capacity of 18,160 for basketball set right in downtown, surrounded by restaurants and hotels. A new convention center opened this summer across the street, but Slive said the SEC did not consider the convention center in making the decision because it was so new.
Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams said Nashville is the perfect location.
Williams said the arena is only a 7-minute drive from the airport in a city centrally located from South Carolina and Florida in the east to Texas A&M now in the west. He said his challenge now is convincing his own fans to stick around downtown during the tournament and enjoy the atmosphere.
He dismissed any idea that his Commodores will get any edge from Nashville hosting the tournament, noting the tickets are split equally among the SEC’s 14 teams.
“You get down to it, you got to beat somebody on the court,” Williams said. “All 14 teams put good teams out there. It’s not going to be a home-court advantage at all.”
To make this long-term deal happen, Nashville officials had to work closely with the Predators.
The franchise has to block off up to nine days each March through the length of the contract, which means they could lose some home dates heading into the postseason. Sean Henry, president and chief operating officer of both the Predators and the arena, said the trade-off was worth it.
“Sure it’s a step back from a competitive standpoint,” Henry said, “but it’s a couple steps forward from a competitive standpoint because it gives us more and more resources.”