Positive effects of First Four ‘immeasurable’ for UD, Dayton area



The NCAA First Four Tournament returns to University of Dayton Arena this week, an annual occurrence that again is expected to draw tens of thousands of basketball fans and generate millions of dollars in economic impact for the Dayton area.

“College basketball is huge and March Madness is the apex of the college basketball season,” said Jacquelyn Powell, president and CEO of the Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The estimated direct spending economic impact continues to rise incrementally over the years Dayton has hosted the NCAA First Four Tournament.”

UD Arena typically sells out for the tournament, attracting more than 25,000 people over two nights.

“Local hotels host teams and traveling fans, restaurants and bars are filled with pre-game celebrators as well as fans selecting these festive environments to watch the games,” Powell said. “Retail outlets from shops to gas stations benefit from the influx of visitors and from locals who are out to watch the games and celebrate the kick-off to March Madness.”

Depending on the teams announced today for the games Tuesday and Wednesday, there may be fans either flying or driving to Dayton to cheer their team on to victory, she said.

While University of Dayton Arena and the bars, restaurants and hotels closest to it enjoy a “significant” economic impact from the tournament, fans also support businesses throughout the region, going there to root on teams during watch parties

“That’s a great thing about our community is that the First Four brings in teams that, they’re not local teams, but our fan base here for basketball in general is very supportive of all of the teams that come into the community,” Powell said.

Besides the economic impact, hosting the First Four, which ranks among the community’s most popular annual events, also puts the city on a national, if not world stage with millions of viewers tuning in, Powell said.

“Kicking off the tournament in Dayton means that all eyes are on Dayton for the first two nights of the tournament before game times and locations become divided across the nation,” she said

That, Powell said, puts Dayton on the map in a positive light and offers “many intangible benefits,” including underscoring its support of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and its appreciation of the military, highlighting the importance of STEM education with the Big Hoopla STEM event and showcasing UD and what “an outstanding and enthusiastic community Dayton is.”

“All of these things could lead to people choosing to go to school here, starting a business here, moving here,” she said. “The positive ramifications are really immeasurable.”

The University of Dayton Arena has hosted men’s NCAA tournament games since 1970, hosting 133 games, more NCAA games than any arena in the nation, according to Doug Hauschild, UD’s director of media relations/sports information. The arena hosted men’s NCAA March Madness tipoff every year since 2001, with the event becoming the First Four in 2011.

Powell said that has led to Dayton becoming the “epicenter of college basketball” and the First Four becoming “a part of our community’s DNA and a point of pride.”

Dayton, which is under contract to host the First Four through 2026, hasn’t had an issue drawing a crowd. Attendance for 2023 was again near capacity at 24,884 and the third highest in tournament history, just behind the 25,038 who turned out in 2022 and the 25,068 who turned out in 2018, Hauschild said.

“The arena is consistently packed year after year, and we believe the electric excitement within the arena is at the level of the Final Four games,” Powell said.

Neil Sullivan, UD’s vice president and director of athletics, said the tournament is “really about ... being part of the community and branding the Dayton region and supporting all the great people here in this region.”

Dayton has become synonymous with the tip-off of March Madness and the tournament “yields benefits both to our institution and to our athletic department,” Sullivan said.

UD will continue to deliver capacity crowds and “a tremendous championship experience” for the teams, tournament officials, fans, visitors and broadcast partners, he said.

“Each year, we try to be better,” Sullivan said. “We — our staff and our community — believe that we have to earn the opportunity to host these games every year. There’s nothing that we take for granted, so there is no sense of complacency.

“We try to set a new standard each and every year.”

While the First Four is “a huge economic driver” for the region with a more than $110 million direct economic impact since 2001, “the success is really the community” that organizes it and supports it, according to Sarah Spees, director of business development and projects at the Dayton Development Coalition and executive director of The Big Hoopla Inc.

Dayton having “one of the most military supportive communities” with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base being Ohio’s largest single-site employer, is one of the reasons why recognizing U.S. military, military families and veterans on the court during games is a major part of hosting the tournament, Spees said.

Since it started hosting the event in 2012, the non-profit has donated more than 125,000 tickets to airmen and their families at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, veterans and local students, she said.

“Airmen and their families might be stationed here for two, three or four years and then move someplace else,” she said. “We want them to have a great experience when they’re here in Dayton and want to come back, especially with the growth of the military sector in businesses.”


WHERE: UD Arena, 1801 Edwin C Moses Blvd., Dayton

WHEN: Tuesday and Wednesday. First game at approximately 6:30 p.m.

TICKETS: www.daytonhoopla.com/tickets

PARKING: All-session passes (includes Tuesday and Wednesday) for lots A and C are $25, and single-session passes are $15 per session. Purchase now at www.daytonflyers.com/feature/ncaa-first-four or call the UD Arena Ticket Office at 937-229-4433. If you do not purchase a parking pass ahead of time, parking will be available in lot D on the day of the game for $20.

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