NCAA Tournament time is money time for Utah's economy
Salt Lake City restaurants, hotels and related businesses are expected to get an economic shot in the arm of $4 million to $6 million from NCAA West Region action this week when eight teams bring their fans from around the country for six games over a three-day period.
With four contests Thursday and two more Saturday at EnergySolutions Arena for the right to advance to the Sweet 16, hoops fever will abound, and so should plenty of spending.
Although there are no estimates on the number of out-of-state visitors who might come, fans from Arizona, New Mexico and Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., are known for their penchant to travel in large numbers with their teams, said Jeff Robbins, president and CEO of the Utah Sports Commission. The fact those states are relatively nearby is a bonus.
Although the other teams are from Pennsylvania, Kansas, Massachusetts, Louisiana and Tennessee, they'll be represented, too, probably just in smaller numbers.
Still another economic boost could come from an estimated $2 million in media value from the televised games.
Whenever a game is broadcast nationally, images of the Wasatch Mountains and the Salt Lake Valley beam into countless living rooms and assorted sports bars, exposing a vast out-of-state audience to Utah sights and scenery.
Nick Como with Downtown Alliance said his agency already has received requests for footage of the Wasatch Front to be shown during commercial breaks. He also expects visitors to tell their friends about Utah's scenic wonders.
"People come back and bring their families, and they tell their friends about the great time they had in Utah," he said. "This really puts us on the national stage."
Tourists and in-state fans, of course, also get hungry.
The sports bar 'Bout Time Pub & Grub does a brisk business during the NCAA tournament even when games aren't played in Salt Lake City. With games here, sales could double, said the Utah-based chain's co-owner, Tim Ryan.
"It's common for local people to take a long lunch when their favorite teams play, and then stay for a couple of hours," he said. "Business only gets better when games are played here."
'Bout Time operates as six stores in Salt Lake County, including one across the street from EnergySolutions, and one in Ogden.
Of course, out-of-staters will be confronted (confounded?) by Utah's liquor laws. A case in point is that the chain's Cottonwood store has a restaurant license, meaning diners must order food in order to get an alcoholic beverage, while the other six establishments have bar licenses, which don't require that food orders be made to get a drink.
The laws aside, hotels and other lodgings also are expected to benefit from the tournament.
"This represents a great opportunity for [them] to maximize occupancy," said Jordan Garn, executive director of the Utah Hotel Lodging Association. "The NCAA is a great driver for economic activity."
State officials say the economic impact for government treasuries may be as great or even better than that generated when Pac-12 football teams bring their fans to town for games against the University of Utah. Those visits created more than $500,000 in tax revenue, according to a University of Utah study.
Visitors spent $5.5 million during the five Pac-12 games last season, said the report released by the Center for Public Policy & Administration. Visitors stayed an average of just more than three days. In addition, nearly three-fourths of the first-time visitors said there were likely to come back to the Beehive State, while 87 percent of those who had visited before said they were more likely to return.
At EnergySolutions Arena
Thursday's second-round games
(8) Pittsburgh vs. (9) Wichita State, 11:40 a.m., TBS
(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Southern, 2:10 p.m., TBS
(6) Arizona vs. (11) Belmont,5:20 p.m., TNT
(3) New Mexico vs. (14) Harvard, 7:50 p.m., TNT
Saturday's third-round games
Gonzaga-Southern winner vs. Pittsburgh-Wichita State winner, TBD
P About 3,000 tickets remain for the second- and third-round games of the NCAA men's basketball tournament at EnergySolutions Arena. Go to http://www.energysolutionsarena.com/ or visit the arena box office at 301 W. South Temple.