GM sees sports returning first, starting with college basketball

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Sprint Center’s Brenda Tinnen remains hopeful that her arena, situated in a hotbed of college basketball, will reopen its doors in November with a men’s tournament, followed by the highly anticipated Kansas-Missouri game.

As part of the VenuesNow Digital Sessions, Tinnen, general manager and ASM Global senior vice president, discussed the pandemic and what things will look like post-COVID-19 at the 13-year-old facility. 

The Jayhawks and Tigers have a fierce rivalry dating back more than 100 years, but the teams haven’t played each other in college basketball since 2012, the year Missouri left the Big 12 Conference to join the Southeastern Conference.

Brenda Tinnen of Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. (Courtesy AEG)

As it stands now, KU-MU, set for Dec. 12, will take place at Sprint Center with at least some fans in the stands, according to Tinnen. Tickets are being sold for the event, she said. One week later, Dec. 19, Kansas State plays Nebraska at the 18,972-seat arena.

Sprint Center’s first event will most likely be Nov. 23-24, the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame Classic featuring TCU, Cal, Northwestern and South Carolina, Tinnen said. The hall of fame is attached to the arena, and the event is held every Thanksgiving weekend.

Sprint Center will work closely with the NCAA and city officials to protect the safety of players and staff. Arena officials have explored a staggered seating arrangement for social distance purposes, which Tinnen described as a checkerboard pattern.

“We feel more optimistic about getting those events back before we get a concert back,” Tinnen said. “We’re hearing the schools around us will begin accepting students and athletes in late August and early September. We have not been told anything different and have been in touch with the schools and are working through the protocols.”

Without a coronavirus vaccine in place, Tinnen feels more confident about the return of sports at the venue compared with concerts. She said the challenge with routing a concert tour is the regulations aren’t the same for states and cities, all the way down to the county level, which makes it difficult to develop a consistent policy.

For Sprint Center, which does not have a big league tenant, there’s greater flexibility for rescheduling concerts and other special events. The building does have a fairly wide open calendar, but it does get complicated when rebooking shows multiple times, Tinnen said.

“Now, it’s kind of like we’re hopscotching,” she said. “It’s getting a little bit convoluted, but if we come back (with concerts) in early 2021, we’ll be very busy.”

The situation for live music will change, at least until a vaccine is made public, she said. There’s a lot of questions that remain to be answered in regard to interaction between the artist and guest.

“As I looked at Las Vegas (casinos) reopening, it’s very clear people want to get out and return to normal life,” she said. “I see no better way to do that than with music and concerts. It will change a bit. Will there be meet and greets and VIP opportunities or will the artists (stick to) performing on stage? Will we see Keith Urban go out in the crowd with his guitar? How do artists go from stage A to stage B, which makes me nervous anyway. We’re in a strange holding pattern until a vaccine is discovered.”