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The Big 12 Tournaments are back in Kansas City, this time with arenas full of fans

A large logo that reads "Phillips XII Championship" lies in the foreground on a temporary basketball court outdoors. People can be seen in the background working on setting up other parts of a festival setting.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Crews and volunteers set up for fan fest on Grand Boulevard on Tuesday afternoon near T-Mobile Center where the men's Big 12 Basketball Championship kicks off Wednesday.

The Big 12 Basketball Championships tip off Wednesday. For fans in Kansas City, the events will be as close to 'normal' as they've had in more than two years.

Kansas State kicks off the Big 12 Basketball Championships Wednesday against West Virginia in what promises to be an event radically different from last year.

A year ago, COVID-19 restrictions meant limited crowds — capacity at the T-Mobile Center was limited to 20% — and cheers muffled by masks. There were no fan events and no large gatherings.

It also meant quieter and smaller crowds in the area’s businesses and restaurants.

This year, with cases dropping and COVID restrictions all but gone, fans and retailers are hoping for another massive celebration.

“We’re anticipating that it’s going to be similar to 2019,” said Ryan Haverty, a managing partner of The Dubliner restaurant. “We’re thinking it’s going to be the first time since 2019 that it’s going to feel normal again.”

The Dubliner sits directly across Grand Boulevard from T-Mobile Center. On Tuesday, crews of workers and volunteers were busily climbing ladders, setting up temporary basketball courts and party tents between his restaurant and T-Mobile Center.

Haverty said he looks forward to feeling the energy from the crowd again and being able to welcome people into the Power and Light District for a large event.

“We feel like we’re on the tail end of the pandemic,” he said. “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel and we’re very excited about that.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Jackson County remains at medium-risk for community transmission, which means that people at high-risk for severe illness should consider COVID-19 precautions, like masks.

The pub was relatively quiet Tuesday afternoon — a group of soccer fans had gathered to watch a match — but Haverty said he expected basketball crowds to start ramping up Thursday.

Nichole Robinson, Director of National Events with the Kansas City Sports Commission and Foundation, said that for the first time in two years, the Big 12 tournament will be operating with all its activities.

An orange barricade and orange cones sit on the street near a large, round shiny building that is the T-Mobile Center.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Barricades and traffic cones are already set up at the intersection of Oak Street and Truman Road North near T-Mobile Center on Tuesday. More lane and street closures are set to take place as the Big 12 Basketball Championship kicks off Wednesday.

“We have everything kind of full go with our ancillary events and we have women's basketball back in Kansas City,” Robinson said.

The men will play Wednesday through Saturday at T-Mobile. The women, who are playing the Big 12 Championship in Kansas City for the first time since 2012, will tip off Thursday and play through Sunday in Municipal Auditorium.

There are no restrictions on seating capacity inside the arenas and all of the fan events will be available and open to the public, she said.

“We are following the CDC and county guidelines,” Robinson said. “We still have hand sanitation kiosks around both venues. If you feel the need to wear a mask we encourage mask wearing.”

Street closures will affect downtown traffic

Along with the bigger crows will come more traffic headaches around downtown. A variety of fan-friendly activities will be set-up outside the venues, many of them outdoors.

To accommodate those events and the expected foot traffic, the city hasblocked off some lanes and streets around T-Mobile Center and the Power and Light District.

This includes lane closures for fan fest events, daily pep rallies and Kansas City’s Big 12 Run – a 5K race that starts at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Grand Boulevard between 13th and Truman Road has already been closed to automobile traffic and will remain closed through Sunday.

Other streets and lane closures will vary according to the day but there are no street closures planned around Municipal Auditorium where the women are playing their games.

Shani Tate Ross, vice president of marketing and sales at T-Mobile Center said she’s excited for the venue and the city as a whole to see a full slate of activities this year.

“It’s been a long two years,” she said. “Two years ago, the world basically stopped right at this event.”

But Ross said while bittersweet, the pandemic provided an opportunity for people to reflect on challenges in their lives.

“Certainly there’s been a lot of changes in the past few years,” she said. “We’re just eager to welcome fans back, certainly in the safest, most entertaining ways”

As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.
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