For the second time in three years, the men’s American Athletic Conference basketball tournament was played at Hartford’s XL Center. Next year, it returns to Orlando. But after that, it’s anybody’s game.
Mike Aresco, commissioner of the AAC, said the tournament could continue to be played at rotating sites. Alternatively, the conference could be interested in a permanent host city. Could Hartford be that host?
“If, in fact, the bid were competitive and were better than other bids we get, absolutely we would consider it,” Aresco said. “Hartford and XL have a great opportunity. We’ve had a great experience here and we really enjoy the people.”
With the right sponsorship and ticket revenue, it could make sense for the XL Center to submit a permanent bid, said Chris Lawrence, the XL Center’s general manager.
“I think that is something that they are interested in, not specifically the XL, but just anywhere of maybe trying to lock in a permanent location,” Lawrence said. “I think we would certainly be open to having those conversations and process through to ‘Hey, how do we make this work? How do we build and grow it on an annual basis?'”
One factor that could affect the tournament’s future in Hartford is whether the Huskies continue to play in the conference.
The allure of more revenue to help with a $72 million operating budget may be too strong to pass up. Last year, UConn flirted with the idea of joining the Big 12 — a top-tier conference, one of those known as the “Power Five.” The league ended up not expanding.
In any event, Aresco said the AAC treats UConn well.
“This is a league that gives UConn a huge national platform on ESPN and on ABC,” Aresco said. “We hear rumors all of the time, but I am very confident that they are happy with their membership here.”
The Connecticut Convention and Sports Bureau estimated that the tournament would bring $4 million and 50,000 visitors to the city.