Story by Alan Snel Photos by J. Tyge O’Donnell
It is a unique trade agreement. A third-party college basketball event promoter is teaming up with a college conference to bring the league’s hoops tournament to an all-new arena in the booming sports market of Las Vegas.
Then again, college football promoter Brooks Downing knows Las Vegas pretty well by now. He hosted college vacation hockey and basketball tournaments at T-Mobile Arena, like this season’s Duke vs. Gonzaga monster game (20,389 fans), while also hosting a one-time PGA event.
Brooks and his bdG Sports LLC event partnered with the Big West Conference to help host its basketball tournament at Michelob Ultra Arena in Mandalay Bay in 2021 and began hatching a Big Hoops tournament a year ago. West at the new Dollar Loan Center arena in Henderson. Big West’s deal with Henderson was announced in June.
“It’s a conference community,” Downing said of Hawaii’s tournament final victory over UC Irvine. “It’s the perfect size. Some arenas may be too big. I don’t know what the attendance is, but there is atmosphere.
It was an ideal business convergence. The Big West commissioner is Dan Butterly, who worked as an assistant commissioner in charge of basketball for the Mountain West Conference, the UNLV league that hosts its annual tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center. Butterly ran the Mountain West basketball tournament for 21 years, so he knows the Las Vegas market.
Additionally, Downing hosted a four-team college hockey tournament at T-Mobile Arena, the Ice Vegas Invitational in 2019, so he got to know the folks of VGK owner Bill Foley. Foley built this $84 million arena in Henderson, with the Big West tournament serving as the 6,000-seat hall’s first ticketed event.
The Big West tournament also brought in several familiar local names to help organize the basketball event in Henderson, which contributed $42 million in public dollars to match Foley’s $42 million to build the modern place that has a lot of terminology from medieval times.
For example, radio personality Chet Buchanan, who serves as the in-game arena host for UNLV and Las Vegas Aces basketball games, does the same here for the Big West. Bojo Ackah, emcee of the Las Vegas Lights and Henderson Silver Knights games, also works on the Big West games. Even the drummers of the Drumbots, who perform at VGK games at T-Mobile Arena, worked on their drumming number at halftime in the men’s and women’s games.
Butterly, who visited the arena construction site a year ago, said the Big West was in the first year of a three-year deal with options with Foley Sportsmen and the new venue .
He mentioned that the previous Big West basketball tournament, the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, was too big and too close to all participating universities. The tournament games felt like any other game, but Henderson Arena feels like a true neutral conference championship center.
Attendance started slowly in the early days of the tournament, but more fans started attending games with several thousand spectators this week. It’s not a giant number, but something to build on.
Hawaii’s presence in the women’s basketball final was ideal for the Las Vegas market, with the Rainbow Warriors group raising funds and securing additional help to cover the costs of 130 group members to attend the tournament. They wore their hunter green shirts and made a lot of noise to heighten the atmosphere. today
“It feels like a conference championship,” Butterly said.
He noted that other Big West-Las Vegas deals are in the works, such as the Women’s Golf Championship in the Las Vegas market. The Big West Volleyball Championships could also be a good fit at the Dollar Loan Center, Butterly noted.
“It’s the perfect size room for the Big West,” Butterly said.
In the 8:30 p.m. game in the Big West Men’s Finals, Long Beach State took a big lead against Cal State Fullerton, but Fullerton led the Beach, 32-31, at halftime.
Speaking of Mountain West, the conference’s top-ranked team, Boise State, faced San Diego State in a tough defensive fight, with Boise State edging the Aztecs, 53-52, to clinch their ticket to The Big Dancing.
Boise State joins the UNLV women’s team as winners of the Mountain West Tournament and participants in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
Powerhouse Gonzaga defeated Saint Mary’s at Orleans Arena on Tuesday in the Men’s West Coast Final to earn an automatic NCAA bid.
At T-Mobile Arena, Arizona clinched its Pac-12 Conference Tournament title with an 84-76 win over UCLA.
The Dollar Loan Center is expecting 3,500 to 4,000 for Friday’s Vegas Knight Hawks opener in the arena, a police officer said today.
The Henderson Silver Knights will play their first game here on April 2.
The Southern Nevada Hall of Fame has a beautiful display along the main hall.
And Henderson Mayor Debra March (Madness) and Dollar Loan Center short-term loan businessman Chuck Brennan received a basketball during pre-game activities.
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