Christy Flint photographs Mac Heath with the March Madness sign before the NCAA First Four games began. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

NCAA First Four boosts Dayton-area economy by $4.5M

The First Four starts Tuesday and after in concludes Wednesday, college teams will have played 125 games to kick off March Madness at University of Dayton Arena, according to the school. This year, Nationwide Arena in Columbus will also host first and second round tournament games, giving an additional boost to the state.

The First Four has an estimated $4.5 million direct economic impact, which has steadily grown over the years, said Jacquelyn Powell, president of the Dayton Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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The tournament has tipped off in Dayton for the past 18 seasons and draws thousands to the region. The games started as play-in games and in 2011 adopted its current First Four format.

It’s one of the biggest events in the Dayton region, Powell said. Along with the direct financial impact, it places the region in the national spotlight, she said.

“This is a national if not international event and we get a lot of media coverage,” Powell said. “The road to the Final Four starts in Dayton and the value of that is extremely important.”

The area will host the NCAA’s First Four through 2022, so at least another 12 tournament games are already booked for UD Arena.

Behind the scenes, local leaders strive to do what’s needed to keep the First Four in Dayton, Powell said, including setting up a number of corresponding events. The Big Hoopla — a local initiative set up to attract NCAA tournament games — hosts a four-mile race and an educational event for grade school students.

UD Arena is in the midst of massive renovations scheduled to be completed later this year. When the university sought to update the venue, officials met with NCAA leaders to find out what was needed to increase the odds of the First Four remaining in Dayton past 2022, said Scott DeBolt, director of UD Arena.

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“We’re constantly working on this year round,” DeBolt said. “We’ve actually already started planning for 2020.”

Depending on the teams, the First Four can attract fans from all over the country, said Powell and Jeff Hoagland, president and chief executive officer of the Dayton Development Coalition. With the help of sponsors, Powell said local military members and their families are often given free tickets to see one of the games.

Crowds at the four games are often at or near capacity, DeBolt said.

“That speaks to our track record and why it’s been here so long and why it’s here through 2022,” DeBolt said. “We are the epicenter of college basketball here in Dayton, Ohio.”

The games also bring people to town who might not otherwise visit here, Hoagland said, which can be a boon to area hotels and restaurants. Companies often take clients to the games and economic development officials sometimes bring in corporate site selectors to show off the region, as the DDC has done in recent years.

Many of the site selectors often visit bigger cities such as New York, Atlanta and Chicago.

“Especially if they’re a basketball fan, it’s an easy way to bring site selectors into the region that might not normally come,” Hoagland said. “I think they see something very special, something that the NCAA saw.”

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