Just having a new downtown sports arena under construction was good enough to persuade the NCAA to bring March Madness back to Sacramento.
The NCAA announced Monday that the city’s new arena would host first- and second-round games in its annual men’s basketball tournament in 2017. The games would be played in the arena roughly five months after it is scheduled to open.
Sacramento had made two unsuccessful bids to land the prestigious event since last hosting the tournament in 2007. Mayor Kevin Johnson and other city officials blamed their lack of success on Sleep Train Arena, which they said was not modern enough to host the event.
While the NCAA never directly blamed the lack of a new arena for passing over Sacramento, officials with the collegiate organization said Monday that the city’s bid was boosted by the $477 million arena now under construction downtown.
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“A new facility has an enormous impact on a bid,” said Dan Gavitt, the NCAA vice president for men’s basketball.
Gavitt said NCAA officials are confident the new arena will be completed in time to host the games, scheduled for March 17 and 19, 2017. But if it isn’t, “there’s always a backup plan,” he said.
“There are other viable options on the West Coast,” he said.
The NCAA awarded games to other cities with arenas that have not been built yet, including Detroit, which will host matches in 2018. The venue for those games – a new downtown arena for the National Hockey League’s Red Wings – is under construction and is scheduled to be completed in 2017.
“We understand where (Sacramento’s arena construction) stands and have all the confidence in that process in Sacramento in terms of moving that forward and being ready,” said Scott Barnes, chairman of the NCAA men’s Division I basketball committee.
Mike Sophia, director of the Sacramento Sports Commission, said local officials were concerned when they bid on the tournament in August that having an unfinished arena might hurt the city’s chances.
“We knew they liked this region, they’ve had great success coming here in the past,” he said. “We were just worried that the building wasn’t going to be far enough along for this cycle (of bids).”
When the NCAA denied a bid by Sacramento in 2009, Johnson used the decision to ramp up urgency for a new arena to replace Sleep Train Arena. He said at the time that it was “staggering and mind-boggling” that the city’s current arena was not considered adequate to host top-tier college basketball. Sacramento was passed over again in a 2012 bid, before plans for the downtown arena were developed.
On Monday, the mayor said the NCAA’s decision to return here was “the fruits of our labor” over the past five years.
“Sacramento is becoming a destination city for athletic events, concerts, and other major entertainment events, two years before our new building is complete,” the mayor said in an emailed statement. “In terms of economic impact, civic pride, and a look to our future, (Monday was) monumental for Sacramento.”
Sophia said city officials estimate the six games scheduled here in 2017 will have an economic impact of $4 million on the city. California State University, Sacramento, will serve as the host school for the games here. The university, the sports commission and the Sacramento Kings led the effort to land the tournament.
“In the past, the NCAA determined Sacramento was not equipped for a tournament, but today we know that March Madness will thrive in our city,” Kings owner Vivek Ranadive said in a statement. “I can promise you that in 2017, March Madness fans will experience something totally unique and exciting in Sacramento.”
Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at www.sacbee.com/citybeat.