I was definitely glad to see that The Lakeland Center was given the exclusive rights to negotiate for the state wrestling finals by the FHSAA, as reported by The Ledger earlier today.
But really, this one was in the bag. Apparently the FHSAA wants a couple of tweaks like another hotel for VIPs, but the wrestling tournament was going to stay in Lakeland pretty much from the beginning of this, as I reported earlier this year.
The real prize is basketball, and it’s still up in the air.
Lakeland is battling with Orlando and Kissimmee to keep the basketball finals here. It was discouraging to see that attendance numbers were down significantly this season, especially with Winter Haven competing in the girls finals and Lake Wales in the boys.
There were a few teams from Orlando in the finals this year, and I have to think that the games being shown live on Bright House in that area – and in our area – didn’t help attendance numbers. That’s going to be a problem in the future even if the games move to Orlando. It’s kind of the same problem in professional sports, people are staying home and watching the game for free rather than paying the money to watch it in person.
Thankfully, FHSAA Executive Director Roger Dearing didn’t hold the attendance numbers against Lakeland in The Ledger’s article. It was also somewhat encouraging that he said the financial package only makes up about 50-60 percent of the FHSAA’s decision-making process when it comes to finding a host.
It’s encouraging in that I’m not sure Lakeland would come up with the best financial package. Orlando can probably generate more revenue from which the FHSAA would take a piece, so if the FHSAA isn’t overly concerned about that it’s a good thing.
But if what they are concerned about is an enormous stage for the state’s high school athletes, then Orlando has a huge edge with the Magic’s Amway Center as the host site. No other arena in the state can match that one in its grandeur, and it might be enough to lure the state finals there.
Of course, the arena would be about 1/4th full at best, which would take away from the atmosphere some.
We should know one way or another this week, and I’m just crossing my fingers the FHSAA shows a little loyalty and keeps the events at The Lakeland Center.