Sears Centre bids for Big Ten women’s tournament

The Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, eager to draw fans with recognizable performers to the arena, could host the Big Ten women’s basketball tournament as early as 2013.

Arena General Manager Ben Gibbs on Tuesday made a 25-minute presentation to conference officials in Chicago, hoping to secure the mid-March event from 2013 to 2017. A decision could take a few weeks.

“We know our venue is great, it’s perfect for the women’s game,” Gibbs said. “Our amenities are just as nice, we have a very nice atmosphere, but our big thing is we’re going to bring the celebration outside.”

Gibbs envisions holding an outdoor festival with food and music under a heated tent at the village-owned facility.

Officials are lumping the Hoffman Estates pitch with bids to bring the Big Ten football title game to Soldier Field and the Big Ten’s men’s basketball tournament to the United Center.

That’s turned the pitches into a competition between Chicago/Hoffman Estates and Indianapolis, which brought Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and basketball broadcaster Clark Kellogg to its presentation in hopes of hosting all three events.

Gibbs’ gut feeling is all three events will go to one location. The conference has said it would consider alternating venues every year.

The Conseco Fieldhouse, home of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, has hosted the women’s tournament since 2002.

Hauling in the Big Ten for a five-year commitment would provide the Sears Centre with a signature event for its schedule. While the Hoosier state is known for basketball, Gibbs said Hoffman Estates would fully embrace the women’s tournament and the Sears Centre is a better fit for the tournament than the larger Conseco Fieldhouse.

The Illinois market is ripe for women’s sports, said Adam Fox, president and CEO of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky. The team moved last year from Chicago to the Allstate Arena in Rosemont and saw attendance rise late in the season.

Gibbs doesn’t think population will play a role, noting that 1.1 million people live within an 18-mile radius of the Sears Centre, a larger population than Indianapolis. While the arena lacks Conseco Fieldhouse’s downtown location, the proximity to Woodfield Shopping Center and O’Hare International Airport are two points in favor of Hoffman Estates.

The football title game is the big prize for the competing cities, and there are some who would prefer it to be played outdoors at Soldier Field rather than under the roof of Lucas Oil Stadium. That could help the Sears Centre out if all three events go to one location.

In their 40-minute pitch for the football game. officials from the Chicago Park District, which owns Soldier Field, noted that 400,000 Big Ten alumni live and work in the Chicago area.

Big Ten officials did not return calls for comment.