Seattle is back in the business of attracting big sporting events
Seattle, which is experiencing a women's basketball renaissance, hosts the Pac-12 tournament at KeyArena this week.
Times staff columnist
Major championships and All-Star events in Seattle/Tacoma
Men's NCAA Final Four (5): Edmundson Pavilion (1949, 1952); Kingdome (1984, 1989, 1995).
Women's Final Four (2): Tacoma Dome (1988, 1989).
Golf majors (1): PGA Championship, Sahalee Country Club (1998). Chambers Bay, near Tacoma, will host the 2015 U.S. Open.
MLS Cup (1): Qwest Field (2009).
Soccer Bowl (1): Kingdome (1976). Toronto Metros-Croatia defeated Minnesota Kicks for North American Soccer League title in front of 14,609 fans. (The original Sounders played for NASL title in 1977 in Portland and in 1982 in San Diego.)
Goodwill Games (1): Several locations in the Seattle-Tacoma area (1990).
NBA All-Star Game (2): Seattle Coliseum (1974); Kingdome (1987).
Baseball All-Star Game (2): Kingdome (1979); Safeco Field (2001).
NFL Pro Bowl (1): Kingdome (1977).
Note: Does not include events where cities are determined by the competing teams, such as the NBA Finals.
Seattle's championship teams
Some Seattle teams have played themselves into championship events in Seattle.
NBA Finals: The Sonics played in the NBA Finals in 1978, 1979 and 1996, winning in '79. Sonics home games were played at the Kingdome and Seattle Center Coliseum in 1978 and 1979. The '96 Finals were played at KeyArena.
WNBA Finals: The Storm won the 2004 and 2010 Finals. In 2004, Seattle lost the first game at Connecticut, but won Games 2 and 3 at KeyArena to claim the best-of-three series. In 2010, the Storm won Games 1 and 2 in Seattle and closed the best-of-five series with a victory in Atlanta.
Stanley Cup: Yes, the Stanley Cup. Seattle Ice Arena was host for the 1917 Cup, won by your Seattle Metropolitans. The arena, located downtown on University Street, closed in 1924. Seattle hosted again in 1919, but the series was canceled after five games (it was 2-2-1) because of an outbreak of Spanish flu. (The Mets played for the Cup again in 1920, against Ottawa in a series played in Toronto).
Seattle Times staff
On the eve of another sporting event signifying Seattle's rebirth as championship-caliber host, Karen Bryant stands in KeyArena and reminisces.
Bryant, the Storm CEO who helped bring the women's Pac-12 basketball tournament to town this week, can take you back to when she attended the 1984 men's Final Four at the Kingdome. She was a 16-year-old hoops star at Woodway High School, and that Final Four was a basketball player's dream. Seven-footers Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon led their teams here, to Seattle, to college basketball's biggest stage.
After she tells stories about the event — Ewing's Georgetown Hoyas beat Olajuwon's Houston Cougars in the title game — Bryant returns to her current mission.
"I hope we, as a sports town, as business and civic leaders, continue to galvanize around sports," Bryant said. "The impact it can have on morale and attitude, not to mention the potential economic impact, is tremendous.
"In Seattle, we've often been inconsistent in our approach and leadership when it comes to attracting big sporting events and when it comes to simply rallying around sports. I hope that's starting to change."
From her lips to Naismith's ears.
The arrival of the women's Pac-12 tournament is another major indication that Seattle is getting its big-event mojo back. Bringing the West Coast's finest women's hoops tourney here also coincides with a quiet movement that will grow significantly louder in the next year or so: This city is experiencing a ladies' hoops renaissance.
As Washington completes its return to national prominence under coach Kevin McGuff, and as Seattle University continues its transformation under coach Joan Bonvicini, there will be an opportunity to make the college game as attractive to fans as it used to be around here. With the Huskies and their large potential fan base leading the way, there is a tremendous amount of local momentum that could stir fan passion.
In other words, the Pac-12 is coming here at the right time.
Seattle already is a great women's basketball community, with the Storm having the greatest home-court advantage in the WNBA. Wake up all of Washington's supporters and throw in a Redhawks program that could develop into a perennial NCAA tournament contender, and the buzz could sound more like a roar.
For a region with a long, proud history of hosting big sporting events, it's good to be back in the game. Seattle had lost its way for several years and stopped attracting some of the bigger events. Now, though, the women's Pac-12 tourney is one of many cool events on the calendar.
The NCAA men's tournament is returning in 2015, for the first time since 2004. The soccer-crazed city is expected to host the United States men's national team in a FIFA World Cup qualifier at CenturyLink Field this summer. In December, the NCAA Division I women's volleyball national champion will be decided here. In 2015, Tacoma will host the U.S. Open golf championship at Chambers Bay.
That's just a sampling of the most prominent events that the region will host. Finally, we get it again. We're doing it right. From the business community to the vision of professional teams such as the Storm and Sounders FC to the Seattle Sports Commission to city officials, there's a stronger desire to lure quality entertainment. There's better teamwork, too. It always takes synergy, in addition to desirable facilities, to make it happen.
"There's a positive vibe in Seattle and with the way people perceive our city," said Ralph Morton, the executive director of the Seattle Sports Commission.
Danette Leighton, the Pac-12's chief marketing officer, says this city is "the right market for us." The conference has had difficulty identifying how to showcase this women's tournament. It is now committed to make it work in Seattle and keep it separate from the men's event. With Force 10 Sports Marketing — the business that the Storm owners have created outside of their WNBA franchise to leverage the city's passionate fan base and make the city a mecca for women's sports — already having such a strong vision, this is a natural partnership for the Pac-12.
Leighton won't provide figures, but says the league has already seen growth in ticket sales and expects greater attendance than the 7,720 fans who attended the four-day session last year. Expectations must be modest in Year 1, but there's great hope for this market.
"Through my personal career, it has been very evident that Seattle is a very special community and has established a niche for women's athletics," said Leighton, a former executive director of the women's Final Four and a former executive in the Sacramento Kings/Monarchs organization. "It has a really unique community feel. It has that West Coast progressive mindset. It's a special place."
Seattle is not the center of the sports universe, but it's not aloof, doing its own thing and wondering why it can't get any respect anymore. It's getting aggressive. And it's getting its mojo back.
Information in this article, originally published March 6, 2013, was corrected March 7, 2013. A previous version of this story incorrectly said that Ralph Sampson played in the 1984 Final Four in Seattle. Sampson was already in the NBA that year.
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