At least five cities have submitted bids to host the SEC Baseball Tournament in 2017 and beyond, as there’s a real chance one of the biggest events of the NCAA baseball season could end up at a Minor League Baseball ballpark.
The deadline for submitting bid for the tourney was yesterday, and the process of awarding the next contract is now underway. In recent years the tournament has been held at the Hoover Met in suburban Birmingham, and as the tournament has grown the 10,500-seat Hoover Met has been expanded and renovated to meet the tournament’s needs, especially with the departure of the Birmingham Barons (Class AA; Southern League) to a new downtown ballpark.
Now, somewhat ironically, the Hoover Met could lose the tournament officials have worked so hard to foster and expand. Crowds of over 10,000 aren’t uncommon for many tourney games — which didn’t happen often when the Hoover Met first hosted the event some 18 years ago — and SEC officials are very aware they have a hot property.
The four cities submitting bids, besides Hoover, are New Orleans, Memphis, Jacksonville and Nashville. All four bids are in association with a Minor League Baseball ballpark: Zephyr Field (New Orleans), AutoZone Park (Memphis), Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville (Jacksonville) and First Tennessee Park (Nashville). The SEC laid our criteria for the tournament: a ballpark seating at least 10,000, a certain number of available rooms, available RV parking, and we’d presume a minimum amount of suites and group-entertainment spaces. And, of course, a minimum financial guarantee.
In Louisiana, the state is financially backing the bid submitted by Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, with the Louisiana Legislature approving a plan to renovate Zephyr Field to meet SEC requests should the state land the tourney. Because it’s a no-lose situation — the money won’t be spent unless Zephyr Field is selected as the venue — Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to sign a bill.
You can expect to hear more in coming months about SEC officials touring potential tourney homes, and at some point we’d expect coaches to be polled on their preferences as well.