The Sweet 16 to Vegas

By Debbie Antonelli

Women's Final Four

Why Sweet 16 to Las Vegas?

The “Sweet 16 to Vegas” isn’t a new idea for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.  I started exploring the Sweet 16 to Vegas concept 6 years ago, an idea introduced on “Shootaround with Beth and Debbie.” “Shootaround” was a podcast for change in the women’s game, introducing new and innovative ideas while showcasing the best in women’s basketball coaching personalities.  

I’ve been asked by constituents, coaches and customers in the women’s game why I feel so strongly about the need for change and why Las Vegas. I want to build and serve our game with options, ideas and offer solutions, not complain about the same issues. “The Sweet 16 to Vegas” was born from many different experiences promoting the game including my eight years working as the Director of Marketing at Kentucky and The Ohio State University and my 28 years in broadcasting. The Washington Post and The Day (CT) wrote supportive articles about the “Sweet 16 to Vegas” concept and printed parts of my plan. A class at Lenoir Rhyne University dedicated their year-long syllabus to the “Sweet 16 to Vegas.” This idea is popular in many circles in the women’s game. Frankly, I haven’t had a descending, disagreeing conversation with any constituent group. I received support and offers to help from coaches and administrators coast to coast. Change is eminent for the NCAA women’s tournament. Why not the “Sweet 16 to Vegas”!? The points of emphasis, my solution and my detailed plan.

  1. Rebrand and reconfigure the Sweet 16 to Vegas. Remove the added expense of four regional venues. Four Regional sites have not consistently proven to sell-out or advance ticket sales no matter how many times we bring regionals to commonly known facilities and sites. Women’s basketball fans do not consistently purchase advance tickets. Fans wait until the bracket is announced, may purchase a walk-up ticket at any venue and/or it’s expensive. One venue, under one roof will enhance the NCAA experience for student athletes and fans and solve some of the economic and financial burdens four regional sites place on the NCAA and the student athlete.
  2. Autonomy from the NCAA Corporate Partner Program.  Separate from the NCAA Corporate Partner Program to sell women’s basketball separately. The NCAA Corporate Partner Program wasn’t instituted for women’s basketball. Separating and reconfiguring the Sweet 16 format at the same time as rebranding the “Sweet 16 to Vegas” will generate new, creative inventories and strategies to sell. We need to synergize and create ideas, inventory, opportunity to sell along with our improving product. Who is selling women’s basketball and what is being sold? The NCAA Corporate Partner program was created for the men’s tournament and few NCAA Corporate Partners activate on the women’s side. Be proactive, separate and try a new approach.  Is there active, creative inventory and selling opportunities outside of tickets? If there is selling of inventory in women’s basketball, what is the inventory, what are the packages, who are the potential clients? I have ideas! However, I respect the innovative, bright marketing minds at the NCAA that could tackle this concept and make it happen!
  3. Economies of Scale: Women’s basketball might generate an estimated $5 million on the NCAA tournament but spends $15 million for a $10 million deficit (estimated numbers) while the men’s tournament makes an estimated $50 million.  Placing the rebranded, reconfigured Sweet 16 in Vegas at the same time separating from the NCAA Corporate Partner Program allows for creative inventory and an economy of scale in expenses. Las Vegas would be an exciting and entertaining host. One venue for fans to plan for their week of hoops in the desert.
  4. 18-35 year-old male demographic: Women’s basketball hasn’t consistently captured the 18-35 male demographic and it’s a demo group women’s basketball struggles to reach. Let’s take the greatest female sporting event to the greatest male sports place in March. . . Las Vegas! There is a migration of the 18-35 year-old males to Las Vegas for March Madness. Let’s try something different and take the game to the guys! It’s worth a try!
  5. Why Vegas? Las Vegas wants the NCAA Women’s tournament. Las Vegas is a destination city, great basketball city and is host to USA Basketball, NBA Summer league, multiple pre-season/post season NCAA basketball events and The Vegas 16 (post season NCAA men’s event). Las Vegas will be a win-win for change.
  6. The NCAA is evolving: The NCAA is aware of the hypocrisy of hosting post season men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments in Las Vegas while not allowing the city to host NCAA Championships. Mark Emmert, the President of the NCAA, admitted there are hypocritical policies in the NCAA that he was going to vet including the exclusion of the state of Nevada from NCAA Championships.  Change is eminent. Women’s Basketball Committees should begin planning now. When Las Vegas opens its doors to the NCAA Championships and the NCAA Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas, I want the women’s NCAA Tournament to be first. I’m confident the men will be ready to move on it and the women need to be prepared.  Las Vegas is a real option in the very near future. The men are already in Las Vegas post season with the Vegas 16. Let’s be proactive and ready to move!

I am confident Las Vegas will be an option for the NCAA Basketball Tournaments. Change is upon us and I’m ready with a solution to give the women’s tournament a “pop.” We need to sizzle up the women’s tournament before other women’s sports take charge.  We need a “wow” factor and a dramatic shift now! I have always advocated for women to play. However, I want them playing my sport! Instead of spinning the same dialogue for change, I have offered a solution. ESPN can make the Las Vegas schedule work. Fans who love our game will go to one venue and this will allow them to plan their travel and the purchase of tickets in advance. We can create new inventories with some synergy around a re-brand of the tournament! It’s a solution, an effort, an opportunity! Let’s give it a try! Our game deserves more as our players work to become better!   

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Debbie Antonelli is one of the nation's most esteemed women's basketball analysts averaging 80 college basketball games a season, while working in the top five women's basketball conferences. She is widely considered an expert on women's basketball, both collegiate and professional. She is an analyst on ACC men's basketball also. Entering her 28th year in broadcasting, Antonelli covers college basketball for ESPN, CBS, Raycom, Fox Sports Net and Westwood One. She has also broadcasted in the WNBA since it's inception in 1996, including the last 15 years with the Indiana Fever. It's a steady year round diet of basketball; if it's hoops, she's involved.

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