“We’re in the spotlight nationally in a very positive way during this period of time,” Powell said. “We’re a basketball community (and) the fans really pack UD Arena. It makes the atmosphere of the games very exciting and that excitement shines through on TV and also provides the First Four teams and players with a real Final Four-like experience.”
Exposure on a national level says “a lot about the vibrancy, quality of life and the atmosphere of the community,” she said.
“All of that is essential in trying to market our destination, if you will,” Powell said.
In addition to the games, there’s also the ripple effect of the three Big Hoopla celebrations preceding them today: a four-mile race, a STEM competition for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and a family festival in the Oregon District.
The University of Dayton has hosted men’s NCAA tournament games since 1970, hosting 125 games and has hosted more NCAA games than any arena in the nation. It has hosted men’s NCAA Tournament’s play-in games since 2001, which in 2011 became the First Four.
The NCAA canceled all March Madness games in 2020 amid the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, it moved them to Indianapolis.
UD Arena is under contract to keep the First Four through 2026. Area officials say a significant reason for that is the work of independent nonprofit the Big Hoopla, which raises money every season to allow local airmen/women at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, their families, veterans and local students to experience the First Four.
“We receive donations from companies and organizations and individuals, and then we have some events that help get everybody excited about the (First Four), and then we take the funding and spend it on purchasing tickets ... so that we can donate them to the military and veterans first,” said Sarah Spees, project manager of Dayton Development Coalition and director of the Big Hoopla.
For every $1,000 donated, Big Hoopla provides 80 tickets. More than 80,000 tickets have been donated since 2012. That effort is expected to have added significance this year for the 10th anniversary of the Big Hoopla, which is on track to surpass 100,000 tickets donated.
It’s also the 75th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force, which has made the First Four the “third leg” of its year-long anniversary celebration, the first two legs being the Rose Bowl and Super Bowl, respectively.
Terry Slaybaugh, chairman of the Big Hoopla’s Local Organizing Committee, said the nonprofit working to fill the arena with fans each game is why the First Four has never left Dayton.
“You can see other areas of the country during the regionals, some of the other tournaments. We usually exceed (their) attendance for the games,” Slaybaugh said. “That’s been the secret sauce for us is, we’ve put this great asset, Wright-Patt Air Force Base, with this other great asset, University of Dayton, and their ability to host great basketball, you put those two together (and) that’s why we’ve kept the tournament from the very beginning..”
This year’s First Four also will give a national audience its first complete look at UD Arena’s $75 million renovation project, which launched in 2017 and wrapped up in late 2019, noted Doug Hauschild, UD’s director of media relations/sports information.
“Everything got a work over,” he said. “Better seats. Better amenities.”
Hauschild said national media likely will focus elsewhere.
“They’ll probably talk about the fans in the building because there aren’t a lot of towns that would pull in 10,000 or 11,000 people for two double-headers where they do not know the teams,” he said. “Obviously, every team has fans everywhere, but these people are coming no matter who’s playing.”
That excitement contributes to the overall economic impact of the First Four, which over the past decade has been as much as $30 million, according to Jeff Hoagland, president and CEO of Dayton Development Coalition and a former Big Hoopla chairman.
“Dayton is known for basketball,” Hoagland said. “We’ve been away for two years, but I don’t think anyone thinks we’ve been away for two years because the excitement and the demand is greater and higher than ever.”
FIRST FOUR TICKETS AND PARKING:
Tickets: Available through www.daytonhoopla.com/tickets.
Parking: Parking passes for lots A and C for Tuesday and Wednesday are available for $25. Parking passes for Tuesday only or Wednesday only are $15. Parking passes can be purchased in advance at the University of Dayton Arena Ticket Office adjacent to Lot A from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. General parking is available for $20 in Lot D each day on a cash-only basis. For more information, call the UD Arena ticket office at 937-229-4433.
TODAY: The Big Hoopla Activities
9 a.m.: The Big Hoopla Four Miler at Welcome Stadium, 1601 S. Edwin C. Moses Blvd., Dayton. Registration starts at 8 a.m. More information: www.daytonhoopla.com/community/hoopla-4-miler.
Noon-6 p.m.: The Big Hoopla STEM Challenge, Dayton Convention Center, 22 E 5th St., Dayton. Free event. More info: www.daytonhoopla.com/community/hoopla-stem-challenge.
2-7 p.m: Hoopla Family Festival, Oregon District. Restaurants open at 10 a.m. for brunch. More info: www.daytonhoopla.com/community/festival.
First Four activities in Dayton start today with a Big Hoopla Four Miler. Registration starts at 8 a.m. and the race start at 9 a.m. in the parking lot by Welcome Stadium and ends there, as well. Road closures will occur around 8:50 a.m. at Edwin C. Moses Boulevard, north of UD Arena to Stewart Street, the Stewart Street Bridge, Patterson South to Carillon Historical Park. These will be closed until around noon. Access to UD Arena, baseball (games scheduled at noon and 3 p.m.), softball, Von Mohr, Courtyard hotel and more can be made from Interstate 75 and Edwin C. Moses up to and including Arena Park Drive until the roads are re-opened. Motorists are advised to plan accordingly.