At least five cities submitted bids to host future Southeastern Conference baseball tournaments, and the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation confirmed Thursday that the Crescent City is in the mix.
New Orleans joined Jacksonville, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; and Nashville, Tennessee, as cities trying to land the event.
Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in suburban Birmingham, Alabama, the site of the tournament for the past 18 years, is attempting to keep the event with a bid of its own. Representatives from all five cities have confirmed their bids this week.
The bidding deadline was Wednesday. An SEC representative declined comment Thursday.
New Orleans, meanwhile, touted itself as an ideal hosting site — a destination city in a baseball-hungry region, said Jay Cicero, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation.
“We put in an aggressive bid,” Cicero said. “We’ve got the most prolific college baseball fan base right here in driving distance from the stadium. The support here would be outstanding.”
The foundation entered the bid Wednesday, as The Advocate reported Monday. The bid included a financial and business plan for the event.
Cicero declined to reveal many details of New Orleans’ bid, but the plan includes renovations to the potential host site, Zephyr Field, a 20-year-old, 11,000-seat stadium hosting the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins.
“Do you have to have those renovations there to host the event? No,” he said. “But it certainly would enhance our chances of knocking this event out.”
The SEC sent bidding specifics to about 12 southern cities a few weeks ago. The specifics include a list of requirements to host the event, Cicero said. For example, the tournament must be at a park seating at least 10,000. A certain amount of hotel rooms must be available, too. Enough parking for RV units is another requirement.
With each bid, cities also submit a monetary figure. Cicero did not reveal New Orleans’ monetary bid. In 2011, the last time there was open bidding for the tournament, Memphis offered a bid of $1 million, according to a story published on AL.com.
The Louisiana Legislature on Wednesday agreed to expand an incentive program for sports events that could help New Orleans attract the SEC baseball tournament. Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to sign the bill, which won’t cost the state money that wouldn’t otherwise have been brought in if the city doesn’t win the bid on the tournament.
Hosting SEC officials on a site visit to Zephyr Field is the next step in the process, Cicero said. New Orleans submitted a bid in 2011 and did not receive a site visit from SEC officials. Memphis, considered a favorite to take the tournament from Hoover in 2011, received a site visit.
The league ultimately decided to keep the tournament at Hoover Met, a 10,500-seat stadium in the Birmingham suburb. Hoover agreed on several upgrades to the park. A new sound system was installed and repairs to the dugouts and restrooms were made.
The contract with Hoover is winding down again. It ends after this year’s tournament, scheduled for May 24-29. The SEC is likely to award the bid for future tournaments in May.
LSU baseball fans are known to flock to Hoover for the conference tournament. The Tigers have won five of the past eight SEC tournaments, dominating the event under coach Paul Mainieri.
LSU’s 11 tournament titles are a league high.
Mainieri said the league polled coaches the last time the tournament accepted bids in 2011. The SEC has not polled coaches this year, Mainieri said, but he senses moving the tournament out of Hoover has “more traction this time.”
Elizabeth Crisp contributed to this report.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.