The Big 12 baseball tournament next season moves to ONEOK Field in Tulsa. The following year it returns to Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
If Tulsa fares well as host, Oklahoma City might be in danger of losing the annual postseason baseball tournament to its Turner Turnpike neighbor even though OKC has hosted Big Eight/Big 12 baseball for 29 of the last 31 years.
“Tulsa has been aggressive in its desire to host a Big 12 Championship,” said Big 12 associate commissioner Bob Burda. “This will be an opportunity to show what they can do, knowing there’s a very high bar that’s been established by Oklahoma City.”
Jack Thompson works in investment banking. He got hooked when the Big Eight tournament was held at All Sports Stadium and has been attending regularly for the past 25 years.
Thompson, 58, attended one of the two tournaments in Arlington, Texas, a decade ago but doesn’t plan to drive to Tulsa next year.
“I’d hate to see it move permanently but I could see why the Big 12 would look at all possible options,” Thompson said. “I know attendance has been down a little, but with OSU winning this year I think you’ll see a spike in attendance this year moving forward.”
Attendance often is the No. 1 factor when host cities are selected to host a sporting event. More tickets sold translate into more revenue for the Big 12.
Oklahoma City’s attendance has slipped in recent years. Factors range from the Sooners and Cowboys going through down cycles to the Thunder grabbing the spotlight during NBA playoff runs.
Based on huge crowds that have attended Bedlam baseball at ONEOK Field in recent years, Tulsa is expected to surpass Oklahoma City in the number of fans attending games.
Oklahoma City All Sports Association executive director Tim Brassfield said Oklahoma City’s overall portfolio is strong when league officials contemplate future venues.
The downtown layout, packed with hotels, restaurants and entertainment options, has been a key factor in the All Sports Association landing major sporting events like the 2014 NCAA Wrestling Championships.
“Chickasaw is one of the top three Triple-A ballparks in the country,” Brassfield said. “The stadium has four batting cages, four locker rooms. Plus, everything is within walking distance in Bricktown. It’s the ideal setting for this tournament.”
Jim Daniel, 74, is a Northwest Classen grad who has lived in Oklahoma City his entire life other than four years he earned a degree at Baylor. Having spent 55 years in the banking business, Daniel is familiar with variables that influence how people spend their money.
Every year, Daniel buys six all-session tickets and hosts the entire Baylor baseball team at a dinner the first night the Bears arrive in town. Daniel said most Baylor fans, coaches and players are disappointed the event won’t be at The Brick next season.
“I know they made more money when they hosted it those two years in Arlington but it was inconvenient for everyone,” Daniel said. “The coaches love it in Oklahoma City. I’m surprised they didn’t talk to the coaches before they moved it to Tulsa next year.
“Oklahoma City is the home for the Big 12 baseball tournament sort of like the World Series in Omaha. You don’t want to keep moving it around. I think they should put it permanently in Oklahoma City.”
Ben Kates, who is in the demolition business, has attended the baseball tournament for more than two decades. Kates, 62, said anything new always draws, but sustaining momentum is difficult.
“After the first year or two you really have to work at it,” Kates said. “The All Sports Association has really worked at it to get people in the stands. It’s been supported through thick and thin. I’m disappointed they’re giving Tulsa a one-year trial.”
Big 12 coaches last week praised the job Oklahoma City officials have done over the years hosting the event.
Daniel said he believes Chickasaw needs a more elaborate scoreboard and the event needs to be promoted in addition to reaching out to Little League teams to help fill some of the seats.
“It’s the perfect setting,” Daniel said. “You can’t beat the Brick. The bottom line is this can’t be solely about money, especially when it’s been well-supported over the years by Oklahoma City.”
The All Sports Association’s top selling point is the overall experience. Out-of-town fans rave about easy accessibility.
“We have a long history in Oklahoma City,” Burda said. “They’ve done a tremendous job supporting this event. Our student athletes and coaches enjoy the experience, the intimacy of Bricktown to walk to the ballpark. A decision will be made at next year’s spring meeting.”
The Big 12 already has indicated attendance isn’t an end-all, be-all variable.
Arlington set the all-time NCAA postseason baseball tournament attendance record in 2002 when the event averaged nearly 19,000 fans a session, but Bricktown’s plusses helped Oklahoma City resume as the regular host.
“Regardless of what happens it doesn’t change the assets that Oklahoma City has to offer,” Brassfield said. “You have to look at our track record over three decades. I would say it’s easy to host an event one year. It is not easy to do on a consistent basis.”