The March Madness NCAA Basketball tournament is coming to Portland from March 13 through March 19 this year, with six games set for the Moda Center as a first and second round host site. While the return of sports entertainment with live fans is huge for 2022, this year's gathering will be especially noteworthy in Portland as it coincides with the lifting of the mask mandate —as well as Saint Patrick's Day.
Travel Portland representatives told the Tribune the estimated economic impact of March Madness events in Portland is $3.7 million, with up to 20,000 fans expected to attend — tourism which could have a major economic impact on local hospitality and leisure businesses after a couple of slow years. Sport Oregon representatives told the Tribune more than 3,000 hotel rooms are officially contracted by the teams, NCAA staff, media and officials, although its numbers are only estimates so far and don't track fans.
Matt Reed, director of sports tourism at Sport Oregon, told the Tribune it's going to be an exciting week, for sure.
"One of the fun things about this tournament is that you don't find out who's coming to your city until literally a few days beforehand — stressful, but fun," Reed said. "The number of expected fans will really be dictated by the teams we get, but you look at the bracket projections right now and it's pretty exciting on which fans we could potentially host. Then, you add our own fervent basketball fans into the mix, and it'll be a great show."
Reed said it is important to remember this tournament is one of the biggest landmarks on the sports calendar, and hasn't been played in host cities with full fans since 2019.
"Specifically for this event, there's going to be a tremendous amount of interest around the country and locally," Reed said. "A lot of us realized how central sports are in our lives during the pandemic, especially with all those early cancellations and postponements, so this tournament is going to be a huge celebration for the NCAA, for Portland, and for the rest of the host cities around the country."
Reed said the progress the city and state have made to get to a point where Oregonians can comfortably move into the next phase of the pandemic is thrilling, and the value the in-person sports tournament can bring to hotels, bars and restaurants is obvious.
"The timing of this event, and how it's synching with the removal of the mask mandate — along with St. Patty's Day and the start of spring —we really think it's going to amount to just a tremendous vibe around town for our hospitality businesses," Reed said.
Reed cited how the MLS Cup was impactful as well, even on a rainy December day, and said he expected to see an even more elevated impact around the NCAA tourney.
"Moda Center is really going to be ground zero for the actual basketball, which is going to be a huge celebration that we want the entire community to come out and enjoy," Reed said. "Around that, the beauty of this event is that it falls on St. Patrick's day weekend as well, so you'll see a lot of different bars activating that with celebrations around town."
Travel Oregon representatives told the Tribune the arts, entertainment and recreation category of the economic impact of tourism generated $432 million in visitor spending in 2020 statewide, and employed 16,272 Oregonians. That's down from $1.1 billion in 2019.
However, according to the Oregon Employment Department, jobs in leisure and hospitality are expected to continue to slowly recover despite still being below February 2020 employment numbers.
"Overall, we see this as an opportunity to not only make sure fans from out of town have a great experience, but also welcome back our outlying communities to downtown Portland as well," Reed said.
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