Move east angers Big Ten fans, could rob Indy of millions

May 7, 2014
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Midwest sports fans who were displeased with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten cringed more than a little when conference officials announced Tuesday that the Big Ten basketball tournament will be held in Washington D.C. in 2017.

It will be the first time since the event was launched in 1998 that it hasn’t been held in Chicago or Indianapolis. The hoops tourney was held in Indianapolis this year, will move to Chicago in 2015 and then back to Indianapolis in 2016 before heading east.

“We don’t just want to visit here, we want to live here,” said Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, referring to the East Coast. “This was our first opportunity to do that. We think it’s a wonderful opportunity for not just Maryland, but for expatriate Big Ten fans living on the East Coast to see great basketball in March.”

Some Big Ten fans might be OK with the conference keeping a second house on the East Coast as long as Big Ten officials don’t forget where the collegiate conference was born.

While moving one of the conference’s marquee events to the East Coast may broaden the Big Ten’s exposure, audience and revenue generating potential, it also takes it out of the heart of its historical Midwest territory, and that comes with certain risks.

Unlike Chicago and Indianapolis, D.C. is not an easy one-day drive for most Big Ten schools and fans. In their early years, attendance for the Big Ten’s men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and football championship was not exactly on a straight growth curve.

At a time when attendance at the men’s basketball tournament is starting to hit high marks in Chicago and Indianapolis, it will be interesting to see what the move to D.C.—and possibly other East Coast venues—does for event attendance.

I wouldn’t expect people from the East Coast not somehow connected to the Big Ten to attend the tournament. And while there are a decent number of Big Ten alums on the East Coast, that number pales in comparison to those in the Midwest. I wouldn’t expect Midwestern Big Ten fans to flock east in big numbers for the basketball tournament—or other Big Ten sporting events.

I’m not sure there’s much upside in the Big Ten’s push East for Indianapolis. I’d be surprised if the schools outside the Big Ten’s historical territory will fill many seats at Big Ten basketball tournaments or the Football Championship game when it is here. We’ve already seen that with Nebraska.

But you never know, maybe a big contingent of Rutgers fans will fill our restaurants and hotels. I suppose the Circle City could gain exposure if more East Coast fans watch events here on television.

Competition to host the Big Ten’s biggest sporting events just got a lot tougher, which means Indianapolis will have to fight harder to stay in the rotation. Also mentioned as potential East Coast sites for the basketball tournament are the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and Madison Square Garden in New York.

It’s only a matter of time before Big Ten officials look at East Coast venues for the Big Ten Football Championship, which has been held at Lucas Oil Stadium since it began in 2011. If Big Ten officials like the idea of hosting the basketball tournament in the Verizon Center in D.C., I would imagine FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins, is going to look pretty attractive for a championship football game at some point in the not too distant future.

Those are two big events for Indianapolis to lose out on. This year’s Big Ten men’s basketball tournament attendance exceeded 109,000 and brought in about $15 million in visitor spending. The Big Ten football championship also brings in about $15 million in visitor spending for Indianapolis.

“My expectation is you’ll see it moving among and between venues in the Midwest and Northeast,” Delany said of the basketball tournament at a press conference Tuesday. “You’ve got to figure out a pattern. I expect that over the next 10 years you’re going to see us in both regions of the country.”

You didn’t have to look too hard to find a bevy of angry comments from Midwestern Big Ten fans on Internet message boards and social media on Tuesday after Delany’s announcement. Some seem resigned that Delany, himself an East Coast native, was moving the conference in a decidedly new direction.

Those angry fans can’t just blame Delany. Most Big Ten schools, eager to increase their exposure and gain access to East Coast money, have gone along with the plan with few complaints. Most conference sponsors seem to be on board too.

But if the plan alienates the conference’s core fan base, dilutes its brand and/or hurts its biggest championship events, it could backfire horribly.

Tuesday’s announcement about the Big Ten basketball tournament moving to D.C. comes on the heels of Monday’s unveiling of the Gavitt Tipoff Games featuring eight Big Ten and eight Big East teams squaring off in the first week of the basketball season at home sites.

The Big Ten is now eyeball deep in its East Coast immersion plan. Hopefully for the Big Ten—and its partners, they're buoyed by the gains of the plan and not drowned by its losses.


  • Bad move for fans
    This is all about big TV money.
  • swing and a miss
    it will be as relevant in DC as it was in chicago.........
  • B1G Baseball
    Wish they would move the baseball tourney to Victory Field. Would draw better than on the outskirts of the conference in Minneapolis and Omaha.
    • I will enjoy watching on TV
      As noted above, this is totally a money grab...with athletes now needing 6 meals a day, and regional cable stations trying to become national, the money grab is now totally transparent and in your face, they don't care what the long time Indiana or Iowa fan knew that the Big 10 had to make some kind of concession to Maryland and Rutgers when they brought them in, but you feel bad for schools that travel well...DC is a long way from Iowa and Wisconsin, even Indiana is 8-9 will be just fine in my living room though...
    • Yes, it's about the money, but...
      Yes, I know it's all about the money. I'm a capitalist and I understand and appreciate free markets. But at some point the conference moves to be the biggest and have the most makes the games and the teams start to feel less like "mine", and they become more distant and less personal. And when that happens...I'll just stop caring. But I'm just being nostalgic, backward and not with the times. The NCAA is a monolithic money machine, university teams are increasingly all about fielding a starting line-up of future NBAers that will be gone in 1 or 2 years, and the conferences are part of the machine. Sometimes progress just doesn’t feel like it.
    • And it is up to the fans to speak with their money. No where do B10 fans have a better time than Indy. That is proven in poll after poll. The reason is we go all out for it to make people feel at home. It is just another event in Chicago and will be the same in DC, NJ or NY. I see those places as being out year venues. Hosting every 5 or more years similar to what Indy wants to be with the Superbowl. As far as the B10 Football. Unless the B10 wants to deal with weather (and they have not shown that yet) it will not leave Indy unless it is going to Minnesota. A domed stadium will be a necessity for the game.
      • Unbelievable.
        Congrats to Washington. DC, and the business people who will share the 30million in revenue . What is the Big Ten thinking ? When has the states of Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan recieved the opportunity to host an 30 million dollar big ten event? At least Indiana and Illinois have a big ten presents. Thanks for putting our hard earned money in the pockets of non big ten venues. why not include Florida and California. I'm sure they would take our Money I am alumn of a big ten school and will NOT, ever attend an event, other than a bowl game or basketball tourney game, not held in a state without a big ten team. By far the worst decision in the past 30,years.
      • Come on Hoosiers!
        Why not move it around? Sure the B1G tourney is great for us when it is here. Let's face it, we are really spoiled. But why not take a road trip to DC with the family and combine it with a trip to the Smithsonian and all the other historic sites. And it is just the tournament. Nothing can replace the B1G regular season. For us to believe it should be here every year is selfish and naive.
      • Bad Move
        Don't see the masses following all the way to DC. Is this the point, when we look back, that it became obvious Big ( ) officials were trying to kill the tournament?
      • Yuck
        East coast teams in the Big Ten = Yuck
      • Re: B10 Baseball
        Since the conference tournaments are designed to conclude the weekend before the NCAA tournament begins, that leaves the Championship weekend being played Memorial Day weekend. The focus of the city (especially the hotel/hospitality industry) on the 500 would make Indianapolis a poor choice for this event. I understand the desire to play the B10 tournament in the same stadium where the College World Series is played, and also the problems at hosting at on-campus sites when the host school is eliminated early on. If they were willing to play the tournament last year at Target Field (where the crowd looked like it was under a hundred surrounded by over 40,000 empty seats), the best place to try and host it might be at Wrigley. The allure of the historic ballpark and the density of B10 alumns might make that a win/win situation for all involved (especially if the conference would relent for this event and allow the sales of beer)
        • Not worried about football
          I'm not too woried about football. They sounded very hesitant to move it out of easy driving distance of most schools given the limited time available to make plans and the fact you could get a bad geographical match-up.
        • No dome in Minnesota
          I thought the Vikings were building an outdoor stadium and not another dome.
        • All about money
          There is pretty much nothing left of the student athletics heritage the colleges started with. If the schools and conference are managing everything for revenue, and for the fans to the exclusion of students and student athletes, then it is no longer a University enterprise. It is an athletics business re-using the school Brand. I see this behavior supporting the case the players trying to unionize are making. It's why I do vote with my money, and don't follow collage athletics, and don't make donations to the athletic programs. I frankly don't find collage ball fun to watch any longer. We are not watching collage students who represent a school, we are watching pro athletes who represent a Brand. I didn't go to school at a Brand IU. I think the question needs to be asked, why are the these huge athletic programs beeing allowed to operating as tax free entities? With huge expenditures in staff, facilities, overhead that contribute nothing to the Universities core mission, how can they be considered part of the university in more than name?

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