BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Overtime Sports CEO Tim Bennett signed a two-year deal to host the Conference USA Baseball Championship at MGM Park with the third year to be negotiated. We are now entering that third year.
Bennett says the third year option gives Conference USA the opportunity to pull out and relocate to another city for 2019, or gives Overtime Sports the option to pull out of the agreement.
In year two, due to lightning delays throughout the five-day tournament, attendance dropped in 2018 by nearly half. Bennett said, "We took a strong financial hit this year."
In 2017, the Conference USA Tournament hit a record 21,262 fans and over 5,000 in attendance for the title game. In 2018, 11,476 fans watched the 15 games, 2,200 for the Southern Miss championship clash on Sunday with Florida Atlantic. There's no question that numerous lightning delays took a toll on attendance.
"When you have that situation occur you can't cut the groundskeepers off the clock," said Bennett. "You can't cut your score keepers or your PA announcers. You can't cheat the fans out of the experience they're suppose to get. We did not do that and we ended up with a payroll that's sky high. There's no one to blame for that, it's mother nature. That's a gamble we took and are willing to take again if the fiances are right."
Bennett says he's been in contact with Conference USA Senior Commissioner Merton Hanks. "To be fair to both parties, we're going to try to work through this expeditiously, try to get to a decision quickly, Bennett said. "A decision hopefully is best for the state of Mississippi and Biloxi. My first second and third choice would be to host the tournament in Biloxi.
CBS Sports televised the title game the past two years. In 2017, 16 million households watched the championship game, which brings national exposure for the Coast. Figures for 2018 are being calculated now.
Bennett added, "We think our numbers will be a little better then that this year." He says the Conference USA Tournament economic impact to the coast in 2017 was estimated at $6 million.
He plans to meet with local business owners, tourism leaders and the state looking for more involvement. Bennett noted that a deadline in determining if the Conference USA Baseball Championship returns in 2019 should be made sometime in July or early August.