LEXINGTON KY – Amid the backdrop of heavy snow flurries here, Butler alumni and students erupted this morning as Brad Stevens led his team out of the hotel and over to Rupp Arena, where they will take on Bucknell at 12:40. After the players were out of sight, everyone else moved over to the Horse and Barrel (pictured) for the pregame party. It was one of the first of the 64 rallies and parties in eight cities Thursday and Friday, including a sea of red-clad Louisville fans descending on the town covered with blue Kentucky fans.
Periodically locals in the eight host cities hear the deafening eruption of bands in their streets, the sign that the next team is making it from hotel to arena.
The NCAA’s big business does not stop with the $1 billion in ad revenue, more than even the NFL playoffs or college football bowl games earn each year. An individual commercial on the Superbowl still costs much more at up to $3.5 million, vs. $1.34 million for an NCAA basketball championship game commercial and $1.14 million for a commercial during the BCS, but cumulatively the three week March Madness blitz topped one billion even before the NFL playoffs, which came in just short at $976 million.
The tourism boom is greater too. Until Selection Sunday, no alumni base knows where they are going, so when the brackets are announced Sunday evening everyone has between two and five days to get to their teams city for a Tuesday through Friday tip-off. Airline rates can be staggering for an eastern team sent San Jose or Salt Lake City, or a western team is sent to Philadelphia, as all purchases are within a 7-day window. Same for hotels and even restaurants, as masses of fans are basically assigned a city.
For the 32 losing fan bases on Thursday and Friday, the next chose is whether or not to cancel the next two nights of hotel reservations if they were made. The NCAA makes sure losing teams get out of town immediately for the flood of fans who did not take off from work to get to a Thursday or Friday game, but were able to take the weekend off and now are enthusiastic about the first win to make purchases they might not otherwise.
The last chance the cities have to realize revenue from those losers is the potential drinks to drown their sorrows before leaving town.
While the Sweet 16 is exciting, it is just 16 parties in four cities. The opening weekend of March Madness is one of the biggest tourism booms of the year.