Everyone Who Is Impacted by a Scaled-Down NCAA Tournament

March 17, 2016 - Spokane, WA: A game ball sits on court the day prior to the start of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament games at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.
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After the big, giant bust of 2020, bracket fever is back and March Madness is back with it. The First Four starts today and the Championship game is set for April 5. This year, of course, things will be a little different. Instead of sprawling across the continent, the tournament will be scaled back and hyper-concentrated into a single city tasked with a high-pressure, high-stakes hosting gig. Everyone from bartender to baller will be impacted by the change, which will have the following economic ripple effects. 

Read: Colleges That Have Cut Athletics Due to Budget Constraints

13 Cities Will Miss Out on the Ultimate COVID-19 Stimulus Check

In 2019, March Madness was spread out across 14 host cities — one for the First Four, eight for the first and second rounds, four for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, and one for the Final Four and Championship game. The economic impact, of course, varied depending on each city’s place in the bracket. 

The action came to Columbia, South Carolina, for example, when the brackets were still wide open in the first and second rounds. The Charleston Post and Courier estimated that the crush of visitors injected $11.3 million in direct spending into the local economy.

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See: Here’s What a March Madness Run Is Worth

Minneapolis, on the other hand, played host to the crown jewels of the tournament — the Final Four and the Championship. The Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported that 90,000 fans made the pilgrimage, filling up the Twin Cities’ bars, restaurants, hotels and stores and pumping $143 million into the local economy along the way.    

With COVID-19 still killing 1,000 or so people per day, a 14-city tournament is out of the question. Thirteen cities, therefore — all of which, presumably, could use the economic bump — will be denied the spoils of playing host. Instead, one lucky city will take home the whole jackpot.  

Find Out: Can Professional Sports Leagues Afford Another Year Without Fans?

No Matter Who Gets the Trophy, Indy Wins the Tournament

The city of Indianapolis and its struggling economy landed one of the greatest hosting gigs in sports championship history. In a single month, 14 cities’ worth of travel, accommodations, dining and spending will be funneled into a single place — Indianapolis. The full economic impact of an event like March Madness is tough to predict in a normal year, but 2021 involves even more hypothesizing than usual. Here’s the best calculus, according to the most recent local news reports: 

  • Tens of thousands of sports tourists will flood Central Indiana, many of them flush with both cash and the urge to splurge for their first true vacation in more than a year. 
  • 68 teams, their coaches and staff will require 2,500 hotel rooms.
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More: The Highest-Paid College Basketball Coaches in America

  • Early estimates predicted an economic impact of $100 million-$140 million — but those calculations presumed empty stands before the NCAA announced it would allow 25% seating capacity. 
  • Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Colts, can hold up to 70,000 people for basketball games. A full 25% capacity is 17,500 spectators per game, although some games are held at smaller stadiums. 
  • Those fans could fill 3,000-5,000 new hotel beds per night.
  • The most realistic estimate is that Indianapolis can expect a massive injection of between $240 million-$280 million into the local economy. 

Read: How Will This Year Impact Long-Term Earning for Athletes?

The Tournament’s Member Schools Will Finally Get Their Cut

Every year, the NCAA distributes the lion’s share of its March Madness earnings back to the conferences and member institutions. In 2020, the tournament should have generated $800 million, with $600 million or so slated for redistribution. As it turned out, COVID-19 had other plans. The tournament was canceled and the NCAA’s insurance policy covered only $270 million in lost revenue, so the member schools had to split up a paltry $225 million.

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At the end of February, the NCAA confirmed that this year’s distribution will be for the full $613 million, just as it should be. Member schools and conferences will divvy up the entire pie — but there’s an if: All 67 games must be completed. Considering the whole giant crowds/contagious virus thing, that is a mighty big if, indeed.

See: Is It Financially Worth It for Schools To Play College Sports Right Now?

The Actual Players Still Get Nada

With 15 players on an NCAA men’s basketball roster and 68 teams in the tournament, more than 1,000 student-athletes will travel the miles, make the baskets, snag the rebounds and bear the injuries. As per the most employer-friendly labor contract in the history of everything, they’ll get their usual compensation — zero.

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Last updated: March 18, 2021

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About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.
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