Seattle, which is experiencing a women's basketball renaissance, hosts the Pac-12 tournament at KeyArena this week.
On the eve of another sporting event signifying Seattle’s rebirth as championship-caliber host, Karen Bryant stands in KeyArena and reminisces.
Bryant, the Storm CEO who helped bring the women’s Pac-12 basketball tournament to town this week, can take you back to when she attended the 1984 men’s Final Four at the Kingdome. She was a 16-year-old hoops star at Woodway High School, and that Final Four was a basketball player’s dream. Seven-footers Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon led their teams here, to Seattle, to college basketball’s biggest stage.
After she tells stories about the event — Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas beat Olajuwon’s Houston Cougars in the title game — Bryant returns to her current mission.
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“I hope we, as a sports town, as business and civic leaders, continue to galvanize around sports,” Bryant said. “The impact it can have on morale and attitude, not to mention the potential economic impact, is tremendous.
“In Seattle, we’ve often been inconsistent in our approach and leadership when it comes to attracting big sporting events and when it comes to simply rallying around sports. I hope that’s starting to change.”
From her lips to Naismith’s ears.
The arrival of the women’s Pac-12 tournament is another major indication that Seattle is getting its big-event mojo back. Bringing the West Coast’s finest women’s hoops tourney here also coincides with a quiet movement that will grow significantly louder in the next year or so: This city is experiencing a ladies’ hoops renaissance.
As Washington completes its return to national prominence under coach Kevin McGuff, and as Seattle University continues its transformation under coach Joan Bonvicini, there will be an opportunity to make the college game as attractive to fans as it used to be around here. With the Huskies and their large potential fan base leading the way, there is a tremendous amount of local momentum that could stir fan passion.
In other words, the Pac-12 is coming here at the right time.
Seattle already is a great women’s basketball community, with the Storm having the greatest home-court advantage in the WNBA. Wake up all of Washington’s supporters and throw in a Redhawks program that could develop into a perennial NCAA tournament contender, and the buzz could sound more like a roar.
For a region with a long, proud history of hosting big sporting events, it’s good to be back in the game. Seattle had lost its way for several years and stopped attracting some of the bigger events. Now, though, the women’s Pac-12 tourney is one of many cool events on the calendar.
The NCAA men’s tournament is returning in 2015, for the first time since 2004. The soccer-crazed city is expected to host the United States men’s national team in a FIFA World Cup qualifier at CenturyLink Field this summer. In December, the NCAA Division I women’s volleyball national champion will be decided here. In 2015, Tacoma will host the U.S. Open golf championship at Chambers Bay.
That’s just a sampling of the most prominent events that the region will host. Finally, we get it again. We’re doing it right. From the business community to the vision of professional teams such as the Storm and Sounders FC to the Seattle Sports Commission to city officials, there’s a stronger desire to lure quality entertainment. There’s better teamwork, too. It always takes synergy, in addition to desirable facilities, to make it happen.
“There’s a positive vibe in Seattle and with the way people perceive our city,” said Ralph Morton, the executive director of the Seattle Sports Commission.
Danette Leighton, the Pac-12’s chief marketing officer, says this city is “the right market for us.” The conference has had difficulty identifying how to showcase this women’s tournament. It is now committed to make it work in Seattle and keep it separate from the men’s event. With Force 10 Sports Marketing — the business that the Storm owners have created outside of their WNBA franchise to leverage the city’s passionate fan base and make the city a mecca for women’s sports — already having such a strong vision, this is a natural partnership for the Pac-12.
Leighton won’t provide figures, but says the league has already seen growth in ticket sales and expects greater attendance than the 7,720 fans who attended the four-day session last year. Expectations must be modest in Year 1, but there’s great hope for this market.
“Through my personal career, it has been very evident that Seattle is a very special community and has established a niche for women’s athletics,” said Leighton, a former executive director of the women’s Final Four and a former executive in the Sacramento Kings/Monarchs organization. “It has a really unique community feel. It has that West Coast progressive mindset. It’s a special place.”
Seattle is not the center of the sports universe, but it’s not aloof, doing its own thing and wondering why it can’t get any respect anymore. It’s getting aggressive. And it’s getting its mojo back.