TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay is having a great run as the center of the sports world over the past two years and will keep the streak going with the SEC Tournament starting Wednesday.
"Whether it was the Super Bowl last year, WrestleMania last year, to this week’s SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament. We’ve got the Frozen Four coming back for a third time. Another women’s Final Four. It really takes a team effort to make this happen," said Tampa Bay Sports Commission Executive Director Rob Higgins.
Amalie Arena was supposed to host the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in 2020, but the COVID pandemic canceled March Madness. Tampa hosted the 2019 Women's Final Four, but this week's SEC tournament will be the first time men's hoops have been to the city since 2011.
"We were actually awarded this event eight years ago, in 2014. So we've had a lot of build-up. A lot of anticipation," Higgins added. "We can’t wait to roll out the red carpet for all of the SEC schools and fans. They have such great fan bases. We feel like we’re a great destination. It’s going to be a perfect marriage."
Higgins said the key to hosting so many special events is establishing yourself as a next-level destination.
"If they like us, they’re going to leave us. If they love us, then they’re going to come back," he said. "I think it’s so important to try to establish long-term relationships with these events, and do everything we can to get them back. Certainly, we’ve enjoyed our relationship with the SEC, and we’d love to continue to talk to them about what other possible events we could potentially bring here in the future."
Play begins Wednesday night when Missouri takes on Ole Miss at 6 P.M. Vanderbilt will play Georgia shortly afterward. The tournament runs through Sunday.
Alabama is the reigning conference tournament champion.