In eliminating the Lady Cornhuskers from the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament last night at Sprint Center, the Lady Wildcats of Kentucky turned out the lights prematurely on the prospect of a big couple of days for Downtown, Crown Center and Country Club Plaza hoteliers, retailers and merchants.
The Kentucky victory shocked several thousand Nebraska fans who had traveled to Kansas City over the weekend, fully expecting to see their team — the top seed in the Kansas City Region — play in the regional finals Tuesday night and probably in the Final Four next weekend in San Antonio.
Hopes dashed. It looked like that great team, which won 32 games this season, just ran out of energy right on the edge of the Power & Light District. As usual, our friends from a couple hundred miles up I-29 handled the loss with dignity and decorum. As 5,900 fans filed out of Sprint Center, I didn’t hear any cursing, whining or excuse-making. The Nebraskans just went out quietly into the night, heads high.
In the evening’s first game, Oklahoma — which lost to Nebraska, in a late, regular-season game in Norman — defeated Notre Dame, and the Sooners now will play Kentucky in Tuesday’s regional finals. Oklahoma shipped in a couple of thousand fans — nothing to disregard — but the Sooner fans paled against a Nebraska contingent, which, I would say, numbered about 4,000.
Most of those people have already left town as you read this. And very few, a few hundred at the most, I expect, will stay around for Tuesday night’s game. So, let’s consider the economic impact of the Nebraska loss. I’m not familiar with the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s visitor-expense formula, but I would say it’s reasonable to assume that those 4,000 fans would have spent about $500 more, each, if they had stayed in town until Wednesday morning. If that’s correct, that’s about $2 million that went unspent here in our town. Now that hurts.
On the plus side, perhaps a couple thousand Boomer Sooner fans are — or will be — driving up I-35 from Oklahoma to see Tuesday’s game. Let’s hope so. That would help. But it won’t offset the boost that our beloved visitors from up north would have bestowed on our town.
….Last night marked my first visit to Sprint Center, although I’ve been to the Power & Light District several times. I don’t go to rock or country concerts any more, and I’m not a huge fan of men’s college basketball, so I just had not had a good reason to go to the arena. Belatedly, then, here are my initial observations on the center.
On the plus side:
— It’s a beautiful arena, well lighted, with good sight lines, good graphics and clear, proportionately sized video screens.
— The seats, both permanent and removable, are very comfortable and plenty wide.
— The concourse is spacious, and the bar-type tables and chairs sprinkled around the concourse and adjacent to some concession areas are a nice amenity. (Good place to take shelter from the brain-drumming recorded music that is played over the loudspeakers.)
— Proximity to the Power & Light District is an answer to prayers.
— The ability to drape off the upper deck, which was done last night, makes the arena seem fuller when there’s a far-from capacity crowd.
On the minus side:
— There is not enough space between the rows, again including the rows of removable and permanent chairs. I’m 5-11, and my legs are not particularly long, but I felt like I was flying coach all night.
— The air-conditioning was cranked way up, and many people put on their coats to bar against the cool breeze that seemed to permeate the building.
— At some snack bars, the menus were written in about 16-point type in stand-up plastic holders sitting on the counter. For those of you who aren’t familiar with type sizes, 16 point is two short steps up from the 12-point type you’re reading now. In short, if you were more than two or three deep in line, you couldn’t read the menu without binoculars.
— TV monitors are located around the concourse and at the concession stands, but, for some reason, only a few were tuned to ESPN, which was broadcasting the games being played at the arena. And none of the monitors that I saw had the sound on. Which was a blessing in that it avoided cacophony, but odd in another; it was more difficult to follow the action.