As many fans have clamored for given poor attendance in Los Angeles, the Pac-12 conference announced today that the conference's women's basketball tournament will relocate from Staples Center to KeyArena beginning in 2013.
The deal has the potential to not only bring the tournament even more national exposure, but also strengthen the bonds that already exist across the women's basketball community in Seattle through a partnership between ownership of the WNBA's Seattle Storm and the Seattle Center.
The popularity of women's basketball in the Seattle market, the 12th largest in the nation, can be seen with the groundbreaking success of the WNBA's Seattle Storm. The team is consistently among the leaders in attendance in the WNBA, averaging 8,658 fans in 17 regular-season home games in 2011. They have increased attendance 10 percent the last two years.
"This is a fantastic opportunity for Seattle and the Pac-12 Conference," CEO of Force 10 Sports Marketing, LLC Karen Bryant said. "We are tremendously excited about working together to deliver a first-class event for the participants, fans and the community. This region is passionate about basketball and an ideal destination for this championship tournament."
Games will be televised on the Pac-12 Network and ESPN2 will broadcast the championship game, both of which will help to raise the tournament's national profile (although the YouTube broadcasts were a great idea). However, the local scene is what makes this partnership particularly promising.
Seattle Redhawks coach Joan Bonvicini, whose program will be joining the Western Athletic Conference, once called Seattle "the best women's basketball city in the country" and it's not that difficult to support that claim.
Seattle might be most well known in women''s basketball circles for the Storm having arguably the best fan base in the WNBA when taking both attendance and a dominant home court advantage into consideration. But there's growth in the college ranks as well.
The Redhawks - Washington Huskies rivalry has been renewed with Seattle U's transition back to Division I basketball and both programs are on the rise. The Seattle U Holiday Tournament at KeyArena has brought in the Gonzaga Bulldogs from across the state and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the past couple of years and certainly has an opportunity to grow into a big event in the Northwest, further building the city's women's basketball profile.
But the bonds between the various programs in the city are also important when considering Seattle's strength as a women's basketball city.
Storm executives can be seen at both Seattle U and Washington Huskies games, usually holding an annual season ticket holder event at Alaska Airlines Arena. Former Storm player and current Huskies assistant Adia Barnes also played for Bonvicini at Arizona and spent some time doing commentary for Redhawks games in addition to her more prominent duties broadcasting Storm games. Bonvicini has also frequently been in attendance at Storm games and an occasional practice.
With Barnes - who has also previously run camps and worked at a local high school - joining Huskies head coach Kevin McGuff just this past year, we can likely also expect more regional high school talent to at least stay in their home state when considering college choices as Seattle U, UW and Gonzaga are all programs on the rise.
KeyArena might be considered inadequate by NBA standards, but it provides an amazing atmosphere for women's basketball crowds. If the Pac-12 is able to leverage that fan energy along with the existing women's basketball network present in the city - from the WNBA ranks all the way down to the high school and AAU scene - there's no question that the conference tournament could become a much better event than it has been in recent years.