The Big 10 announced today that it had entered into a new partnership with Madison Square Garden to play the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament in New York City in 2018. There will also be a "significant" branding presence inside and outside the building, which I can only assume means big signs.
Jim Delaney, taking a break from counting stacks of cash, commented,
This pairing is a natural fit for us as we continue to extend our brand and live in two regions of the country.
As funny as it is to make a joke about flyover states when referring to Delaware, the Big Ten actually lives in one region. The addition of Rutgers and Maryland if anything would extend to three regions unless New Jersey has moved recently.The Big Ten Tournament will actually move up a week because despite "owning" New York City, somehow other conferences have dibs on the normal weekend.
Additionally, Big Ten men’s basketball and hockey teams will play doubleheaders at MSG from 2016 through 2019. The following from the press release:
The first doubleheader will feature the Michigan and Penn State basketball and hockey teams playing at The Mecca on Jan. 30, 2016.
I bet that employees get fired if they do not emphasize Mecca when on company property.
Before I go on, I should note that I see the logic behind the move. Madison Square Garden is a historic venue, and having games there will ceteris paribus increase Big 10 engagement with the New York City market. Some fans may find the potential of going to New York City appealing, especially to watch some basketball. As much as I love my current home (not quite a) state, MSG is dramatically preferable to the Verizon Center.
With that said, just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. That's how we ended up with Guy Fieri's restaurant and James Dolan's blues band.
The Big Ten Tournament has been in either Indianapolis or Chicago for the last 17 years. Almost every school in the Big Ten is in driving distance or a very short flight to those locations. They are in the heart of Big Ten country. Weirdly, there is no Big Ten school in New York, though I am confident that Delaney has had preliminary discussions with SUNY-Buffalo. Fun fact: SUNY-Buffalo has two mascots, Victor E. and Victoria S. Bull. Two mascots is very #BIG. I hope they're both punters. Victoria has not been seen in many years, which should be somewhat concerning.
In the press release, the Big Ten plays up the fact that there are 100,000 alumni in New York City. 100,000! Does that sounds like a number completely divorced from context? You bet it does. 100k is less than 1% of the population of New York City. The move to New York City, much like the move to DC, is a move entirely to make money without any thought about the fan experience.
Unequivocally, the great majority of Big Ten alumni live in the Midwest. Impressively, there is a large city with a great basketball culture that has a large number of Big Ten alumni right in Big Ten Country. Chicago. Both Chicago and Indianapolis provide reasonably convenient locations for the vast majority of fans. If Indiana avoids being terrible, Indianapolis actually has good turnout.
In both basketball and hockey, teams will potentially lose home games to play on a neutral court in January. This is Peter King's Christmas wish, not a sensible idea. Destination games make sense (kind of if you squint hard) for games that you could not otherwise see in the area of the country where the fan base lives. It's cold and awful in New York in February and every one of these teams can be seen in their normal arenas. Playing neutral site games in a non Big Ten market will kill any semblance of atmosphere at those games.
That is the basketball side of the equation, but the move is even worse for hockey. Hockey teams do not need to go to New York to show off the game. They need to play in their own arenas to make games a place to be. That goes double for a conference championship. It was difficult to sell ticket the Xcel Energy Center, and I can only imagine the tepid fan support in Detroit. Pause for a moment. It was difficult to sell tickets to a conference tournament involving the Gophers in Minnesota. All the pretension in the world is not going to change the bat crazy logic of putting a
hockey tournament hockey games in New York City.
Playing games at the "Greatest Arena in the World" TM in front of five people for scads of cash may be the new Big Ten's idea of a good experience. If so that's a shame. Changing locations will not change the core experience. Merely moving the tournament to New York does not change the fact that most people who care will watch the games on television. What it will do is make it more difficult for fans and students to travel to the game. If the Big Ten wants to improve the conference tournament experience, it should focus on improving the current one.