ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If you rebuild it, they will come.
One of the biggest selling points behind the Pit’s $60 million renovation in 2010 was attracting NCAA Tournaments.
So far, that hasn’t happened. But that could change.
In 2011, the University of New Mexico and Albuquerque were shot down in their bids for the 2013, 2014 and 2015 tournaments.
However, school and city officials are confident of getting back on the Big Dance floor when they bid for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 tournaments. In November, the NCAA is scheduled to decide on sites for those years. Bids are made every three years.
“I’m very positive we should be able to land a round in one of the those three years,” said Dan Ballou, director of sports marketing for the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau. On Friday, he met with Mike Haggerty – UNM’s assistant athletic director of events – to start discussing bids. The two are in charge of the process.
“Until I see the actual specs (of what the NCAA requires), I don’t know if there is anything different the NCAA is trying to do from the last time around,” Ballou said. “I don’t know if the NCAA had any issues with our pricing for hotels (last time bids were made). They don’t really disclose anything, but normally that isn’t a problem. We market ourselves as a very affordable destination. I think, as much as anything, it was more rotational. There were more cities (and) universities putting in bids than other times in the past.”
That being said, Ballou added, “if we’re having this conversation again after the 2016-to-18 blocks are announced and we’re not selected, then we’re really more concerned.”
Haggerty said bids can be submitted as early as May and the deadline is August.
He said bids will be made for both the second/third round and Sweet 16 sites each of the three years, and they are trying to sweeten the package from their attempts in 2011.
“We’re trying to be as creative as possible, and we’ll work closely with the governor’s office, the mayor’s office and the ACVB,” Haggerty said. “We’re trying to get as many special events as possible (affiliated with the NCAA Tournament in the city). Because, separate from basketball, the building’s got kind of a bad reputation. The load-in’s hard, you can’t hang from the roof. So certain people don’t think you can make money coming and playing a concert.
“We’re always trying to fight that. The way we’re combating that is by trying to be as creative as possible. This tournament, that one week, is such a big deal for the city and the state and us.”
While the Pit’s reputation for holding events isn’t good, Haggerty says “the reputation that the Pit has for basketball definitely helps us.”
He added he didn’t know how altitude plays into the NCAA’s decisions, but that’s another possibility.
Hence creativity, which Haggerty said comes in the form of assuring the NCAA it will gain something important.
“We’ll offer to pay some of the event staff costs,” he says. “We won’t charge rent on the building, and (we) are looking at picking up the expense on the ushers, ticket takers, security. We will just try to show that we’re serious about partnering up.
“With the ACVB and other folks, if we want to do something Downtown, that’s where the mayor’s office or the city can help us out and get involved with that – like a fan-fest area. The other aspect of it is the hotel prices. We have to have partnerships with certain hotels. They have to be high quality and have to go above and beyond for each team that’s there.”
The Pit last hosted the men’s NCAA Tournament in 2012. That bid was made four years earlier, prior to the renovation.
The Pit now has fewer seats (see accompanying story), and the seating capacity is reduced even more for an NCAA Tournament because of media, school bands, NCAA officials, etc.
Both Haggerty and Ballou said the smaller seating capacity likely will keep the Pit from attracting a Sweet 16 round – like it had in 2005 – but they believe it shouldn’t come into play for the early-round bids.
“I certainly wouldn’t be privy to the information,” Ballou said, “if that was the case. But I’ve been to other second- and third-round sites as a fan and have seen 4,000 to 5,000 empty seats.”
If the bids are successful, Ballou said the city would get a boost from the moment the NCAA Tournament bids are announced.
“You go back to Selection Sunday, and it says, ‘These games are to be played in Albuquerque.’ Think how many millions, probably billions of people, are seeing that,” Ballou said. “It’s hard to put a price on that, but it’s good exposure for the city.
“Then, if you get teams that travel well – eight teams coming in spending a couple of days minimum and their fans – there’s direct spending that goes into the hotels, which equates to lodgers tax for the city.”
Ballou also noted that March is not a good time of the year for conventions in Albuquerque, so getting the tournament “is a very, very important piece of business. And it’s not like with youth events, where families are coming in and looking to get four or five people in a room and free breakfast. The tournament creates a little higher pricing and more revenue for the city.”