In my last post, I discussed how moving to the West Coast Conference (WCC) is a great move for UOP, particularly the men’s basketball team. The WCC is stronger in basketball, has more national exposure, and provides more geographic rivalries for the Tigers than the Big West. And while this move helps UOP take the next step in college athletics, it also presents the city of Stockton with a tremendous opportunity: Hosting the WCC men’s basketball conference tournament. Hosting an event of this magnitude would bring in sorely needed revenue from the fans and personnel of the WCC’s other nine teams as well as exposure on the national stage from ESPN.
The idea of hosting a conference tournament in Stockton has been kicked around before, though it doesn’t appear that the Big West ever really considered Stockton as a viable alternative to the tournament’s current site, Anaheim. And really, it would not have made much sense. The bulk of the Big West’s schools were in Southern California (Long Beach, Fullerton, Santa Barbara, Irvine, Riverside, Northridge and now San Diego State), making it hard to justify bringing the event up north. Anaheim offers a central location that is easily accessible to most fans in the region.
On the other hand there are several reasons why Stockton would be an ideal host for the WCC tournament, and I list those below. Currently, the WCC has held its conference tournament in Las Vegas at the Orleans Arena since 2009. The current three-year deal between the WCC and Orleans Arena expired this year, so it would be in the city’s best interest to start lobbying the conference hard to come to Stockton in the future before they renew their contract. Most people probably feel that there is no way Stockton could beat out Vegas for an event of this magnitude, but logistically, Stockton makes more sense on a number of levels.
1- Stockton Arena can seat more fans than Orleans Arena: As far as venues go, Orleans Arena is fairly small for a large city with a capacity of just 7,741 for basketball. Stockton Arena, on the other hand, has the capacity to seat 11,193. Since the tournament has been held in Vegas, the games have drawn decent crowds, around 7,000 generally. But with the conference’s continued emergence onto the national basketball scene as well as the addition of BYU (which boasts a sizeable and loyal fan base), the WCC can expect the demand for seats to exceed the capacity for what Orleans Arena can accommodate. Stockton Arena appears to have the seats to meet this demand without being so large that the stadium appears to be half empty on television.
2- Stockton is in a better location geographically: Some might argue that WCC fans would rather travel to Las Vegas than Stockton. I disagree. While Vegas clearly is more of a tourist destination, Stockton makes much more sense geographically for the conference. There are no WCC teams in Nevada, making it difficult for all WCC fans to see their team play. Most teams not named BYU or Gonzaga won’t be bringing too many fans to a location so far away. Stockton, on the other hand, will have the fan bases of four teams within driving distance (San Francisco, Santa Clara, Saint Mary’s, and Pacific, obviously). For students of these schools, it is not that easy to get to Vegas for the tournament. However, if the tournament were in Stockton, the potential for drawing these bay area fans to the tournament increases. For Southern California schools (Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount, San Diego), it is just as easy to drive to Stockton as it is to drive to Vegas. I would also argue that it takes roughly the same amount of time, if not less, to get to Stockton as it does to get to Las Vegas from Gonzaga, Portland or BYU.
3- The Stockton community would be more engaged: Another point in favor of Stockton is that the community would be more engaged than fans in Las Vegas. The people of Sin City are the beneficiaries of numerous acts, endless buffets, countless cirques du whatever, and scores of other activities. I imagine that when the WCC tournament comes to town, most Las Vegans aren’t rushing to Ticketmaster to secure a seat. In Vegas, this tournament probably barely registers as news. In contrast, the WCC tournament would be one of the biggest events of the year for Stockton. The city would undoubtedly roll out the red carpet for all of the festivities involved with hosting a major conference tournament. And while support for Pacific has waned over the years in terms of attendance, history has shown that when the school is taking on a top tier team or playing on a national stage, fans are eager to show up. When ESPN came to the Stockton yearly during the Tiger’s golden era in the early to mid 2000s, the Spanos Center was always packed and energetic. Just a couple of years ago, when the Stockton Showcase featured a game between Pacific and the California Golden Bears, over 8,700 fans filed into the Stockton Arena, the largest crowd ever to see a Pacific home game. Clearly, UOP fans will show up if a berth to the NCAA tournament is on the line.
The only drawback I see is that Stockton probably lacks enough hotel space downtown for visiting teams and fans. With just a few hotel options near the Arena, spectators may have a hard time finding accommodations close to the action. However, I would imagine that the handful of hotels on March Lane (The Hilton, La Quinta, etc) would provide enough space overall, though it would be preferable to create a single atmosphere downtown for the event.
In any manner, the increased revenue raised from the fans and personnel of nine college basketball teams for four days would bring much needed revenue to the city’s coffers as well as national exposure on ESPN. In my opinion, the Stockton Convention and Visitors Bureau should start putting together a convincing presentation for the WCC today as the city has a major opportunity to bring positive exposure to the community. With so much unfavorable press recently, landing a major conference tournament would be a huge boon for Stockton, both economically and psychologically. A chance to land the WCC tournament is too big to pass up.