The Baylor women’s basketball team, fresh off a thrilling national championship victory over Notre Dame, exited through Amalie Arena’s back door to find its team bus looking very different than it had before. It had been freshly wrapped with “National Champions” down the side.
The time between Baylor securing an 82-81 win for coach Kim Mulkey’s third NCAA title until the team departed the building was about two hours. That left plenty of time for local officials and the NCAA, who needed only an hour, to put a new “National Champions” wrap on the bus. Mulkey and her players were surprised and excited to see the transformation. Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, was there as Mulkey saw the bus wrap for the first time and later posted a video of the scene on Twitter.
The practice of wrapping the bus with “National Champions” right after the game started last year in Columbus with Notre Dame’s bus.
“You’re always looking for opportunities to make a lasting impression on the participants,” Higgins said. “Their reaction was priceless.”
Tampa has been as eager as any market in the country to host the Women’s Final Four. It previously hosted in 2015.
“There seems to be a real tangible growth in the game over the last four years since they were here,” Higgins said.
■ Turning over Tampa: Higgins’ team and Amalie Arena officials had 48 hours to flip downtown Tampa from host city for the Women’s Final Four to the NHL playoffs — the Lightning opened last Wednesday against Columbus with two games at home.
That means everything from street flags to building wraps, signage and accent lighting, all of which had been in the tropical colors of the Women’s Final Four, had to switch over to the Lightning’s navy blue.
Tampa also enjoyed some efficiencies. After hosting the NCAA’s outdoor concert on Saturday evening along the Riverwalk, all of the structures for a Wednesday night concert to kick off the NHL playoffs already were in place.
■ Bullish on women’s hoops: Soon after Lynn Holzman joined the NCAA as vice president of women’s basketball, she commissioned a study to identify the unique brand attributes for women’s college basketball. She and her team have talked to roughly 800 people, ranging from fans to players, coaches, media partners and corporate partners.
One message that came across clearly: Stop trying to be men’s basketball. Be different.
“They saw value in us being able to define our own future instead of being defined by our colleagues on the men’s side,” Holzman said. “We have an opportunity to develop a unique brand in women’s basketball.”
■ Portland has NCAA’s attention: The Women’s Final Four hasn’t been played on the West Coast since 1992 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. The farthest west it’s gone is Denver in 2012. But a new challenger is emerging — Portland.
The Moda Center was the most successful regional site for this year’s tournament, drawing more than 11,000 fans to both rounds. Oregon’s presence in that regional certainly boosted the crowd there.
The regionals are typically the soft spot for attendance. Schools play at home sites in the first two rounds, which keeps crowds decent, but traveling to a neutral site for the regionals typically thins the crowd. Not so for Portland, thought to be a contender the next time bids go out for the Final Four sites.