The 2012 Pacific Life Pac-12 Basketball Tournament was held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA on March 7-10. The city of Los Angeles would host the tournament for the 11th straight year at the Staples Center. The venue is now a world famous arena for basketball, being the home of the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, Kings, and Sparks.
Years ago, the conference tournament had been held in other LA locations including the Great Western Forum and Pauley Pavilion as well as in locations in Arizona.
This would be the first year that the tournament included 12 teams, as the Utah Utes and Colorado Buffalos were new additions to the conference.
The tournament consisted of four rounds, starting on Wednesday with the Arizona State Sun Devils, Colorado Buffalos, Oregon State Beavers, Standford Cardinal, UCLA Bruins, USC Trojans, Utah Utes, and Washington State Cougars.
On Thursday, the four top-seeded teams that received first round byes would step into the action, including the Arizona Wildcats, Oregon Ducks, California Golden Bears, and regular season winner Washington Huskies. The tournament is conducted in true bracket format, without any reseeding of highest vs lowest after each round.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The Staples Center has some of the best concessions in all of sports, so fans would be wise to come to the game with their appetite. While not every concession stand was opened for the tournament, there was still quite the variety.
I started off by checking out Camacho's Cantina, perfectly suitable for any team in Southern California. Here, they offer Camacho's burrito ($9.50), nacho chips with guacamole ($6.50), a Camacho Bowl (choose a meat and up to five toppings for $9.50), two soft tacos (carne asada or chicken for $7.75), the Camacho nachos ($8.50), tamales (2 pork or chicken for $13.75), or the tostada salad ($9.50).
The arena has a vast showing of encased meat. Some of the options include the Frito pie dog (chili, cheddar cheese), tailgate on a plate (baked beans, potato salad, bbq sauce, and cheddar cheese), taco dog (taco), big kid dog (mac n cheese and fritos), and deli dog (sauerkraut and thousand island). Lastly there is the Downtown dog, skyscraper dog, spicy Italian sausage, and baja sausage; most options run from $5 to $8.
Some of the sweeter options can be found at Popcornopolis. The everyday popcorn can be had for $4.50 or a bottomless size for $6.00. Other options include Zebra $6.75, Kettle, Caramel, or Honey Barbeque for $5.50. The famous Wetzel's Pretzels are $4.75 (includes butter/salt, cinnamon/sugar, butter/almonds, or the nonfat option).
If none of these options has generated an interested, you could stop by the California Pizza Kitchen (pizzas fore $9-$10, BBQ chicken chopped salad $9.25).
The Whistle Stop (which seemed to offer deli items and pasta) has turkey or pastrami sandwich for ($11.75), french dip ($10.75), potato salad or cole slaw for $3.50, sloppy joe sliders ($8.50), meatball mania ($12), "Victory Knot" giant pretzel ($14), garden salad ($10.25), hummus and pita plate ($8.25), and multiple pasta dishes for $9.50.
Another rather interesting stadium option is the sushi bar. You can get a variety of sushi plates ranging from $8.00 to $15.25 and pick up some fresh edamame on the side for $8.25. The "Sunset Plate" is probably the most expensive option in the arena for $45.00.
Of course, there is also a McDonald's, which offers food that you cannot find anywhere else in America. McDonalds $5-$8 per entrée and $5.75 to add fries and a soda.
The beverage options start with a large soda for $5, a Bottomless soda ($6.75), hot chocolate/coffee ($3), vitamin water ($5), dasani water ($4), cocktails ($8.50 to $10.50 depending on quality of liquor used), specialty drinks including margarita (roughly $12), and wine (House for $6.75, premium wine $9). Beer is offered in two tiers with two sizes each (regular draft $8.25 & large $9.50 or premium regular $11 and large premium for $12).
The players and fans that arrive at the Staples Center must have an immediate sense of awe with the statues of former greats in Star Plaza and the many NBA championship banners hanging from the wall at one end of the facility.
If that's not enough to inspire the players, perhaps seeing the players inducted into the Pac 12 Hall of Honor during the event will. Each school gets an inductee every year and former NBA greats such as Richard Jefferson, Lamond Murray, A.C. Green, and Ed O'Bannon were honored.
Like any other NCAA tournament, the first few days are a bit more relaxed and the atmosphere seems to elevate as the tournament goes on. While all of the games were enjoyable, by the championship game it feels as if you are in the home arena of both teams and the fans are battling back and forth as much as the players.
Two items in particular that I thought really helped make the experience enjoyable for all fans was the contests between play and the social media interation. For the contests, they would pluck a student from each school from the crowd and have them participate in something such as a three point contest; really engaging the fans during down time to root for their respective school. The tournament also encouraged using Twitter with the hashtag #pac12tourney and text message shoutouts to be displayed on the scoreboard. This was a nice touch to constantly see the positive feedback from fans on the scoreboard, such as "20 more minutes - let's finish this Buffs."
Few would probably argue that the most exciting moment of the tournament occurred near the end of the championship game. Just as Arizona was creeping back into the game, Carlon Brown drove into the lane and threw down a statement dunk that had everyone in the arena on their feet and seemingly secured the championship for Colorado.
The Pacific 12 certainly has its share of destination markets, including Seattle, Portland, the Bay Area, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Phoenix. Los Angeles however, offers ease of access with multiple airports and the Metro rail system. With predictably great weather year round, it offers fans a vast variety of entertainment, both indoors and outdoors.
Nearby attractions include Hollywood Boulevard, Griffith Park, Disneyland, Universal Studios, Beverly Hills shopping, the Santa Monica Pier, and famed Venice Beach.
For those looking for entertainment immediately surrounding the arena, look no further than LA Live. The Nokia Theater, Grammy Museum, Regal Cinemas, ESPN Zone, and the Lucky Strike bowling alley are all just footsteps away.
Also within walking distance of the Staples Center is the Yard House (200+ beer options), Wolfgang Puck (contemporary bar and grill), Hooters, Flemings (aim for the best wine and food pairings), Rock N' Fish (try the Navy grog and oak grilled artichoke), Rivera Restaurant (Latin), Farm of Beverly Hills, La Bella Cuccna (informal Italian), Lawry's Carvery (known for its prime rib), Palm Restaurant (great seafood appetizers), or Katsuya (Japanese).
The Pac 12 now spans six states and most fans outside of UCLA and USC need to arrange for weekend travel to attend the tournament. Therefore, it is more challenging to get a significant showing from each school; namely the lower seeds.
The tournament does begin on a Wednesday, so it seems that the Friday and Saturday tilts seem to have more fan involvement than the balance.
My observation was that the teams that either had a strong regular season or reputable history of fan bases seemed to have the best showings. In terms of the regular season, I am referencing Washington and California, where as the perennial conference winners such as Arizona and California also had a solid showing.
By the final day, there was a clear-cut winner in regards to fans. The Colorado Buffalo fans, although being outnumbered by the Arizona fans, made the atmosphere of the championship game one of the best the Pac 12 has ever experienced. From the opening tip, they were cheering and chanting; often muting Arizona's famed "U of A" chant. I especially enjoyed the sign that read "Coors Events Center West." Perhaps the Buffalos had an edge in that this was their first tournament in LA, thus more desirable to make the trip. Regardless of what prompted their showing, they should be applauded for their efforts in supporting their team.
With the conference covering a larger area, it proves more challenging for fans to attend. Of course, if there is any market that is easily accessible from anywhere on the western half of the United States, it is Los Angeles.
The Staples Center is located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, so it is accessible from most major freeways.
There is roughly 3,300 parking spaces at Staples Center and approximately 16,000 within a five to ten minute walk. During the weekend, I saw parking spots running from $8 to $20, depending on your tolerance for walking.
One of the beautiful things about the Staples Center is that the Pico Station is just a block from the arena and the 7th Street Station is just a five minute walk away. Visit the Metro's Trip Planner site for more details.
Once you arrive at the Staples Center, you will have to go through some metal detectors, so make sure you pack light. This is one of the few arenas to do this practice, but is well worth it for the additional safety. Also be sure to review the Staples Center camera policy before bringing your camera as many have been turned away.
The restrooms are extremely spacious and look like they were constructed yesterday. These are kept in tip-top shape despite the millions of visitors that pass through them annually.
Even in a down year, the Pac 12 remains one of the most highly regarded conferences in the country. It still possesses the school with the most NCAA Men's Basketball championships (UCLA), and has more basketball championships than any other conference.
Therefore for the tournament, the cheapest seats go for $27.50 during the day games and $35 for the night games. From there, prices ranging from $45 to $225 are available depending on seat location.
Packages for all sessions are available, ranging from $115 to $1,000. If time and funding allows, I would recommend this option as it really allows fans to get to know the personality of each team and fanbase. By the end, otherwise unbiased fans will find themselves rallying behind one of the teams.
The concessions and parking prices are just what fans would come to expect for downtown Los Angeles, so while they are a bit pricey, it is simply what is to be expected for the area.
With LA Live across the street from the Staples Center, it was the perfect opportunity for the conference to build an interactive Fanfest. Fans can spend a fair amount of time before or after each game checking out the exhibits including the individual teams, free photos, f'ace painting, sign making, band and spirit performances, a beer garden, and basketball sport court.
Star Plaza is a spot to be sure to have your camera ready. Here fans can find statues of Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Wayne Gretzky, Oscar De La Hoya, and former Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn.
Unfortunately the 300 level was closed during the tournament; otherwise I would recommend that fans travel up and take in the moment on the balcony behind the Staples Center sign. During Lakers and Clippers games, you'll find some of the most passionate fans talking about their gameday experience. There are plenty of tables and chairs to sit down with your favorite beverage and before or during breaks in the game. If you go to the edge of the balcony, you have some great views of the plaza below, the Nokia plaza, and the Ritz Carlton hotel.
Not to discount any of the Pac 12 venues, but none of them possess a scoreboard as intriguing as the Staples Center 4HD scoreboard above center court. Vivid color and crystal clear images allow fans in every section of the arena to know what's going on. Perhaps most impressive here is that there is no banner over the bottom of the scoreboard and fans in the lower section no longer have to cramp their neck to look up at the scoreboard. There are HD screens on the underside of the scoreboard so that fans and players can quickly take a glance up to see a replay or the score.
On the ground level, any fan can access a few of the additional items at the Staples Center. There is the Sports Museum at Staples Center, the Verizon Studio (get some free photos), Art of the Game Sports Art and Memorabilia Gallery, as well as an auction stand where you can bid on your favorite memorabilia.
Lastly, you can really get a feel for the importance of the Staples Center as you walk through the concourse and see some of the images on walls throughout the arena commemorating the big events that have been held there.
Lastly, it is interesting for any fan to take in all of the championship banners at one end of the arena of the Lakers, Sparks, and Kings.
Shortly after the conclusion of the 2012 Pac 12 Tournament, it was announced that the 11 year run at the Staples Center had come to an end. The conference reached an agreement with the MGM Grand to host the tournament from 2013 through 2015.
The move is likely driven from a feeling that after so many years, the experience at the Staples Center has become a bit stale and the need to create a new destination for Pac 12 fans. Of course, the success of the of West Coast Conference at the Orleans Arena and the Mountain West Conference at the Thomas and Mack Center only adds to the belief that the Pac 12 can also be successful there.
Regardless, LA remains the host of the most conference tournaments and will always hold many memorable tournament moments. Once the current agreement with Las Vegas expires in 2015, LA will certainly be vying to bring the tournament back "home."
Follow Drew's Travels through Southern California on Twitter @Big10Drew
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