In late July, it was reported that the University of Connecticut had interest in playing home games in different venues aside from the XL Center in Hartford and its on-campus arena (Gampel Pavilion) in Storrs. Last week, sources confirmed that playing a game at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport was all but a done deal.
Prior to making an official announcement, UConn must finalize their contract with the XL Center, which plays host to many of the major non-conference and league games during the season. According to Chris Ellsbery of the Connecticut Post: “The WBA has been in talks with UConn for a while now to bring the Huskies to Bridgeport. But until recently, both sides could only talk due to an ‘exclusivity clause’ in UConn’s contract with Hartford’s XL Center, which stated UConn was not allowed to play at any other state venue except the XL Center and Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.”
UConn athletic director Warde Manuel reiterated Elssbery’s sentiment:
“We have to ensure what we’re doing with the XL (Center) is set before we know what we’re going to do with any other venues in the state. We’re going to start selling basketball season tickets in August, so we want this (where we are playing) to be resolved ASAP. And everybody’s working on it, so we should have resolution here soon.”
Men’s head coach Kevin Ollie didn’t comment on the prospects of playing an American Athletic Conference game away from home, but women’s coach Geno Auriemma is a big fan of the move. The women have played in Bridgeport multiple times over the years during the NCAA Tournament, and Auriemma has made some friends down in the area as a result:
“My own personal opinion is we can sit where we are and have people come to us or we can take another step and go to where they are, And I’m a firm believer that’s a good way to sell our product. It’s a good way to expose who we are and continue to grow our brand. I’ve made quite a lot of friends during my short visits here…We’ve made an awful lot of fans here. They’ve made our program feel welcome.”
In a region and state where both UConn men’s and women’s basketball largely dominates the interest of college hoops fans, expanding its brand to different parts of the Nutmeg state can only help in giving alums and fans the opportunity to catch a game.