Attendance for 2022 was again near capacity at 25,038, even with the renovations at UD Arena. That managed to keep the games on pace with the 25,068 that turned out in 2018, the largest First Four attendance ever, according to organizers.
Spending in the city and region by those fans, players and coaches helps area hotels, shops, restaurants and gas stations, Powell said.
“You also have folks that are bringing people in bringing their clients and family and friends in to entertain them, so ... it ripples out into a lot of different directions,” she said. “The businesses locally that supply the hospitality industry certainly see a benefit from this, the local restaurants, the local local pubs.”
Suppliers for those businesses also benefit from the games, as do the employees that it takes to work them, Powell said.
In addition, the First Four is “a very high profile” event that receives not just national, but international attention.
“When people come from outside, they spend their money here and they leave that money behind,” she said. “So for all of us live here, that helps our economy and that’s good news for us.”
The economic impact doesn’t include what happens when those visiting the region for the First Four return to Dayton and the surrounding area.
“Sometimes visitors who come into the community, this is their first date, if you will, with our community,” she said. “They have an opportunity to see what a great area this is, not only to have events like we’re hosting here, but a great place to live, a great place to work, a great place to play and they’re exposed tour attractions in the community.”
That includes visits to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, the Dayton Art Institute or shopping the region’s retail establishments.
On Sunday evening, the eight teams playing at UD Arena in the four play-in games (two on Tuesday and Wednesday) will be chosen. The teams playing on Tuesday will practice from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Monday. Teams playing Wednesday will practice Tuesday from noon to 3 p.m. All the practices at the arena are open to the public for free.
Powell said it’s important for area residents and businesses to have “that great welcoming Dayton spirit” so visitors will have a great experience when they’re here and continue to come back.
“When we have all these visitors to our community, we want to put our best foot forward and we do every time we host this event,” she said. “Dayton is such a great basketball community and ... being there at the games and cheering on those teams, whoever they may be, is really important. It’s great to be able to see a full arena for those student athletes when they’re here.”
The University of Dayton has hosted men’s NCAA tournament games since 1970, hosting 129 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.
UD Arena is under contract to keep the First Four through 2026.
That excitement contributes to the overall economic impact of the First Four, which over the past decade has been as much as $30 million.
Helping create even more excitement is the Big Hoopla, an independent nonprofit that raises money from companies and organizations and individuals to allow local Airmen at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, their families, veterans and local students to experience the First Four.
For every $1,000 donated, the non-profit provides 80 tickets. Last year, the total amount of tickets provided since 2012 “well surpassed” the 100,000-ticket mark, according to Sarah Spees, director of the Big Hoopla and business development-project manager of Dayton Development Coalition.
Big Hoopla also raises money via two Selection Sunday celebrations: A four-mile race and a STEM competition for about 600 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and their families. Open practices are 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday and noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Spees said Big Hoopla officials are “greatly surprised” at how robust ticket sales have been this year.
“The tickets through NCAA are organically selling a lot sooner, which is great,” she said. “They’ve bought more in the fall than they did in previous years and the reaction from our community partners and sponsors has been just as as strong as it was last year.”
In addition, Big Hoopla sponsorships from regional businesses are at a record high, Spees said.
The influx of visitors seeking lodging will see more options, as several new hotels have opened in downtown Dayton, she said.
“A few won’t be open quite in time for the First Four, but they’re on their way,” Spees said. “I think that shows great vibrancy for our region, as well.”
IF YOU GO
When: Tuesday and Wednesday. First game at 7 p.m.
Tickets: Available through www.daytonhoopla.com/tickets
Parking information: www.tinyurl.com/first4parking
Sunday Big Hoopla Activities
9 a.m.: The Big Hoopla Four Miler starts/ends at the UD Softball Fields. Parking is in parking lot A. More information: www.daytonhoopla.com/community/hoopla-4-miler.
11:30 a.m.-6 p.m.: The Big Hoopla STEM Challenge, Dayton Convention Center, 22 E 5th St., Dayton. Free event. Registration opens at 11:30 a.m. Opening ceremony at 12:30 p.m. Exhibits start at 1 p.m. More info: www.daytonhoopla.com/community/hoopla-stem-challenge.