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Without March Madness and Other NCAA Championships, Cities in Free Fall

11 Mar, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Indefinite Suspension of NBA, NHL Seasons Will Wreak Additional Havoc

The NCAA’s newly formed committee has finished wringing its (sanitized) hands and made the decision to cancel the remainder of the 2020 championship events, including March Madness. And cities, who have long counted on packed houses, ancillary activities and enormous blocks of hotel rooms during what are for many, traditionally slow tourism months, are in free-falling panic mode. 

March Madness, the biggest of the events by far, is traditionally one of the top travel moneymakers for cities, and that economic impact comes largely from spectators as well as from the big group events such as expos and festivals held in conjunction with the tournament. It’s also one of, if not the, best showcases for college talent among students with an eye on a pro career. And it’s wildly popular on the pop culture scene, with office betting pools going strong and televised games packing people into sports bars (and college fieldhouses for road game watch parties).

What are cities losing? An enormous amount. Each game never played represents not just economic impact but jobs as well, that will be lost. And make no mistake, these are big numbers. In 2019, for example, Columbia, South Carolina, hosted the first and second rounds of the tournament – and benefitted from it. (In fact, the city was named one of SDM’s Champions of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism because of it). The tournament generated $7,003,693 in economic impact, as well as 5,783 room nights.

And that was early in the game, tournament-wise. Minneapolis, which hosted Final Four, (and was also an SDM Champion) realized $156,400,000 in economic impact as well as 270,000 room nights. In addition to being held during a traditionally non-peak travel time for the region, the tournament also featured ancillary activities that contributed to the bottom line, including Fan Fest at the Minneapolis Convention Center, Reese’s Final Four Friday (an opportunity for fans to see the Final Four teams in their final open practice before the national semifinal games), the Reese’s College All-Star Game, NCAA Final Four Dribble, tailgate parties, pep rallies, the March Madness® Music Series and other events.

It's hard to estimate the economic impact such events will now have; obviously, it will be a fraction of its original figure. Downtown Indianapolis is expected to lose tens of millions of dollars, according to Athletic Business. The additional suspension of the NBA season on an indefinite basis after a player tested positive for the virus, as well as that of the NHL, USL, MLB and other leagues, will detract from cities' abilitity to recoup any economic impact. The announcement that Little League Baseball's season has been suspended is a pessimistic indicator for other youth sports.

Health officials continue to repeat that taking commonsense measures – such as handwashing, covering a cough or sneeze and staying away from others if feeling sick – are still the best defense. Social distancing, another concept, needs to be practiced. The coronavirus, they point out, can resembles the common cold in the majority of people – and with proper care, will simply run its course and leave patients much the same way any other cold does. And those surgical masks are only useful if a person is already contaminated since it can help to prevent the spread of the virus.

Additionally, they have reiterated to the public that individuals who are debilitated are more prone to becoming seriously ill with the coronavirus. They continue to advise getting a flu shot and maintaining a healthy lifestyle in order to keep from getting unrelated infections that could leave a person susceptible to picking up the coronavirus as a secondary – and more serious – illness.

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