Paycom Wooden Legacy doubles local participation

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Paycom Wooden Legacy Tournament returns Wednesday to Anaheim’s Honda Center, a staple of California college hoops that aims to attract energetic fanbases from across the state.

But the tournament’s growth in recent years has been in a steady pattern, as an overcrowded market of holiday college basketball tournaments limits the supply of top teams. In 2019, the tournament dropped from eight teams to four, as television affiliate ESPN has a wide variety of college basketball commitments, making it challenging to find enough teams for a larger field.

That’s why the tournament, named after the late basketball god John Wooden of the University of California, Los Angeles, favors top teams in the state.

This year’s tournament includes St. Mary’s and California State University, Fresno.

“They are teams that are a good fit for the West Coast market,” said Anthony Brenneman, senior director of the nonprofit OC Sports Commission. “We know what’s being sold on the West Coast, and we’re not just talking about TV. We are talking ticket sales and we know that both schools have active alumni bases.”

UCLA participates in the tournament approximately every four years, and last year the University of Southern California entered and defeated San Diego State University in the final.

But Brenneman said there is long-term interest in growing the tournament to improve attendance. Last year the event sold about 6,000 tickets, a number that Brenneman expects to drop slightly this year. That means a smaller economic impact for local restaurants and hotels.

More tickets sold for more games mean a greater economic impact for Anaheim.

Brenneman’s nonprofit is similar to a chamber of commerce and aims to draw local sporting events to Orange County to benefit the local economy.

However, expanding the tournament is more complex. Brenneman’s nonprofit, which is affiliated with Visit Anaheim, has a share of TV revenue as part of his four-year contract with ESPN, but also has limited autonomy to choose teams. This year, games start as early as 6:30 PM and don’t start until 9:30 PM PST on ESPNU and ESPN2, respectively.

Even some major programs with a national following are not necessarily a good fit.

“Villanova doesn’t have a lot of alumni on the West Coast, and it’s not something they’re going to travel for,” Brenneman said.

That makes playing the local angle even more important. This year’s tournament has attracted a local high school band to perform at the games and will include players from local youth teams as water and towel handlers for the teams.

“Having those regional elements was a primary focus,” he said. “We’ve allowed ourselves to engage the community more.”

The championship game is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Thanksgiving Day on ESPN2.

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