Benson’s Comments Missed the Mark

During the 2015 Sun Belt Men’s and Women’s Basketball Conference Tournament commissioner Karl Benson expressed his concerns about the low attendance numbers at the event in interviews with television and print media. While Mr. Benson’s comments weren’t completely off- course, he certainly missed the mark on several obvious reasons why it hasn’t been well attended.

In several separate interviews with television and print media during the Sun Belt Conference Basketball Tournament, Commissioner Karl Benson made a few pointed comments about the low attendance numbers towards the ULM and UL programs. Both programs are located in the host state of Louisiana and according to Benson’s comments fan bases were being counted on to attend the event in larger numbers. In an interview with the Daily Advertiser’s Tim Buckley, Benson expressed his disappointment with attendance numbers on Saturday with both ULM and UL playing in the semi-finals.

“Great venue. Great presentation. Great opportunity for the Sun Belt to showcase itself in a big-time,” Benson said Saturday night. “Attendance: disappointing. But we’re not the only conference that is having some attendance issues in conference tournaments. “I was expecting more (Saturday),” he added, “with UL Lafayette and UL Monroe (playing).”

While I agree both fan bases could have attended the Saturday semi-finals in greater numbers, his comments were off-base on the UNO Lake Front Arena being a great venue to host the Sun Belt Basketball Tournament.

Hosting the Sun Belt Basketball Tournament at the Lake Front Arena might be convenient from an event support and operational standpoint due to the location of the Sun Belt offices; it’s hardly located near a large number of quality hotels and outstanding eating establishments. And unlike the New Orleans Bowl located downtown with an assortment of quality hotels that provide shuttle service to the event and outstanding eating establishments, Lake Front Arena is located some 30 minutes away in traffic. There is no evidence that the New Orleans community has embraced and supports the Sun Belt Basketball Tournament like it has done with the New Orleans Bowl. But in all fairness, other venues such as Nashville and Atlanta would probably not support it as well either. All of those venues are known as large cities with great entertainment events, outstanding food and have pro sports franchises; the Sun Belt Tournament is an event that simply cannot compete in those venues, the interest is not there.

Perhaps Mr. Benson is starting to realize his error in judgment when he stated in the same interview with the Daily Advertiser that there will be an assessment on the venue upcoming before year three of hosting the event at Lake Front Area.

“One of the things we will have to evaluate is this is Year 2 of a three-year agreement here at Lakefront,” Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said, “and I think we’ll need to assess what has been accomplished thus far and whether this is truly the right place.”

It seems on its face, Mr. Benson already has enough information to answer his on questions in regards to hosting the Sun Belt Basketball Tournament in New Orleans. Why not search out a smaller city that actually wants the event and would support it?

Why not return the Sun Belt Conference Tournament to the Biloxi Mississippi and the Mississippi Coast Coliseum? There are a large number of Hotels, Casino’s and outstanding restaurants close by with airports located in New Orleans and Mobile. You have everything needed to support the tournament in close proximity to the Biloxi.

What about holding the event in Pensacola Florida, a city that has another great arena in the Pensacola Bay Center? The area has all the amenities needed; great selection of hotels, outstanding eating establishments and a viable airport. There are other venues that might be a fit for the Sun Belt Basketball Tournament in communities that will provide the support and facilities to host the event. But you won’t find them in large Southern Cities where the fight for the entertain dollar is monumental and your tournament takes a back seat to the most event and activities available to visitors every day.

AStateNation’s Mark Ferguson hit the nail on the head in his recent article entitled, “Some Ideas To Improve Sun Belt Hoops” when he stated the following in his blog:

“You want cities that are friendly to an older consumer. The number of dance clubs and party bars is less important than the number of accessible restaurants, shopping and activities like golf.

Target cities will be ones that can offer ideally two courts in one building like Hot Springs. If you cannot replicate that look for a city that can offer a smallish (5k to 12k) primary arena and very close by can offer a venue suitable for 2k seating as was done in Hot Springs (although it was in one building). The second venue needs to be accessible ideally by walking but if quality public transit or a very frequent shuttle system is available then within 2 miles or so would be acceptable. Depending on the city that second venue can be a convention center or a small college or high school arena if it is of high quality. Playing the second court in a high school gym is not an insult to the teams assigned there UNLESS it does not offer good team space, adequate theater seating, quality lighting and ventilation, and an adequate court.

A smaller market will be more affordable for fans and because crowds the size of the Sun Belt can have a solid economic impact on a smaller city more favorable terms for facility rental and hotels for teams and fans can be negotiated.”

While I’m not enamored with Hot Springs as he is, all of his points are right on target.

In a related comment concerning improving the Sun Basketball brand and scheduling, Karl Benson mentioned the possibility of adding a 12th basketball playing member in the same Daily Advertiser article.

“Until we have a 12th team, we’re never really going to be able to manage it in an effective and an efficient way.”

While there is no change in current membership planned in 2015-2016, we have learned several members of the conference will propose adding New Mexico State as a full sports playng member in the upcoming spring meetings. Their greatest obstacle may be members on the east side of the conference that seem to be more infatuated with adding current Ohio Valley member Eastern Kentucky.

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