A Shot From Downtown: How Hosting a Game in the NCAA Tournament Impacts A City

Now that the beloved March Madness tournament is in full swing, audiences have been treated to a wide array of slam dunks, buzzer beaters, and deep threes- but what do fans do when they’re not courtside?

Being selected as a host city for the NCAA Tournament is an honor for most cities, but not an easy feat to achieve. A city must be capable of hosting the large influx of players, officials, and fans, who travel across the country to watch their team write history. The NCAA selects venues based on their capacity, local interest in the sport, city infrastructure, and hosting frequency. NCAA Director of Media and Statistics David Worlock said that this is how some cities are perennial hosts, while others are not often featured as host venues.

“The reason some venues are not chosen often is thanks to the NCAA’s careful selection process,” Worlock said. Venues must be big enough to host at least 60,000 fans if they want to host in the Final Four, and hotels must be nearby and offer competitive rates.

“It’s important for us to keep the competing teams separated, so a city with lots of hotels near the venue is important,” Worlock said. “Cities with more lodging are more likely to be selected as venues.”

Dayton, Ohio- a perennial NCAA host city.

Being selected as a host city can pay dividends for a city’s economy. Indianapolis, a host city during the 2015 Final Four, reported through Visit Indy that over $70 million was brought in thanks to the game. The Drover, an iconic steakhouse in Omaha, Nebraska, reported a 30% boost in customers for the three days surrounding its hosting of a Sweet Sixteen game in the 2018 tournament.

“Even the cities who host the play-in games can see lasting economic growth,” Worlock said. “Students and fans just want to travel and support their team, regardless of how far into the tournament they are.” Local shops, restaurants, and hotels benefit from the influx of visitors. According to the NCAA, the Dayton, Ohio area has seen $85 million in growth since it became a regular host city in 2001. Hartford, Connecticut- a host city for 2019’s first and second rounds- reported a $7.7 jump in revenue due to their presence in the tournament.

US Bank Stadium prepares to host a basketball tournament as a precursor to their Final Four duties.

What about the big games? This year’s Final Four, taking place in US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, is expected to bring in 94 thousand fans, and just under $145 million.

Sounds pretty good right?

Not always.

Cities have to deal with increased traffic and congestion, higher stakes safety measures, and breaking even economically is never a given. Dr. Cory Hillman, Professor of Communications Studies at Ashland University, says that while the number of visitors can create economic growth, many of the monetary figures used to display this growth include “tickets and beer money- which, if omitted, would tell a different, less interesting story.”

“Many of the fans don’t think to go out to eat out or see sights,” Hillman said. “The game is their destination, not the city. If the NCAA’s numbers reflected this aspect more truthfully, we would see that being a host city doesn’t always impact local businesses positively, if at all.”

Nevertheless, the NCAA tournament can have good implications on a city, even if not long-term. For fans with no tickets who still want to indulge in the atmosphere of the games, local bars can serve as proxy- arenas, and hungry fans flock to late-night restaurants after a night of cheering and whistling.

Hosting a game also allows for some of the country’s lesser-visited cities to show their character and attract interest- just ask Dayton.