There will be many who do not think a conference title game at a neutral location will work in our conference, based on the minimal crowd followings for the Pac-12 basketball tourney in Los Angeles (now moving to Vegas) and other reasons that include fans just generally being too lazy or busy to travel. I personally do not think that is as much of an issue as some will make it out to be and in fact think that a neutral site in a venue like this would be wildly successful.
Basketball leaves only a 24-48 hour window to put a person’s championship game travel plans together (unless you buy for the tournament which is not exactly easy or affordable for most people) and get to the site. This takes into account the fact that you are waiting to see if your team will at least make the semi’s so they have a chance for the final. Let’s not get into job scheduling, weekend plans and the like, just know that there are a whole lot of variables that go into not a whole lot of fanfare at any basketball tournament that may or may not include 4 games in 4 days.
On top of that, Staples Center is not as easily accessible in LA as Vegas is for fans around the conference, which is a big reason why basketball has moved. Also, fans in LA don’t generally go out to see a big team event unless their team is in it, so that’s another negative about having it there. In Vegas the locals flock to major events like that without a whole lot of prompting, and especially with extended scheduling. That’s why I think basketball will have more fans in the arena for the Pac-12 Tourney going forward.
Regardless, football would be another thing altogether, in part because it’s a million times more popular than basketball (barring the NCAA Tournament) and in part because it’s a guaranteed championship event with everything on the line, as opposed to a tourney before The Tourney. When your team is really good, people show up to watch them play in games like that. Likely, going forward, the Pac-12 title will mark a top seed in the new BCS Playoff system for the winner, which is going to be a very, very big deal to the school’s involved and the conference overall.
Look at the Big East, ACC, SEC and formerly Big 12 models (not including the Big Ten because it is a new process there). I think at a neutral location, as Vegas is, and with a stadium worthy of a BCS Championship venue, as Vegas would become, it would be completely fair and extremely fun to have a championship venue with 27,000 plus fans from each school and 5,ooo locals/tourists enjoying the contest. I even think that could become a more exciting and fun atmosphere than hosting the game could provide.
And yes, I think people would head to Vegas and sell out the venue every year to see this game in a climate controlled, championship environment. Cowboy Stadium has even increased the popularity of the Cotton Bowl, to the point where it is now basically a BCS game atmosphere just based on where it’s held.
Can you imagine the jump in national intrigue of a Pac-12 Conference Championship game being played in the featured UNLV Stadium on a Thursday or Friday evening? I have to believe people would look at the Pac-12 differently, just based on the extra exposure.
When the “UNLV Now” stadium/event center project becomes finalized in approval and is being built, I expect this subject to pick up a lot of steam over the next couple of seasons. Can’t imagine that it’s not already in the post season conference discussions. The biggest snag from a fan’s view (not including the agreements of revenue share) would be scheduling for two championship games in that venue (if they include the MWC as planned). But the BCS venues haven’t had trouble hosting their game plus a Championship game over the past few seasons, so it can be done if there is at least a 3-4 day buffer between them.
Of course, the Pac-12 conference has already moved basketball there, so to take football there and working out a scheduling proposition just makes sense. It would also boom traffic for the Vegas community, which is a major deciding factor of why this venue is even considerable at it’s rumored $800 million ballpark cash range. I see another Championship game with two highly ranked opponents as a highly popular endeavor for those in charge of bringing in revenue. I also really do believe it would greatly benefit this conference overall, giving it a legitimate neutral venue and increasing more than just the regional popularity and attention towards our conference. In turn, the national media would have a true barometer of where our best teams should rank at the end of the season, which means more than ever now with the 4-team Playoff system in place.
Feel free to comment on the conference championship game and your thoughts on a neutral location. What a fun subject to think about!