The NCAA Tournament is back in Fort Worth for the first time since 1970, and with it comes some legendary college basketball programs.
And truckloads of money.
The field taking the floor at Dickies Arena this week includes defending national champion Baylor – which will draw throngs of fans from Waco and beyond – and also two of college basketball’s most history-laden programs: Kansas and North Carolina.
Between them the Kansas Jayhawks (3) and North Carolina Tar Heels (7) have combined for 10 national titles and 35 Final Four appearances (North Carolina 20, Kansas 15).
Those two squads also have some of the largest followings in college sports. In other words, there will be lots of basketball fans trekking to Fort Worth to watch their favorites chase the March Madness rainbow that ends not with a pot of gold but with a national championship.
Fortunately for Fort Worth, March Madness does bring a pot of gold to the local economy.
Fort Worth Sports Commission Director Jason Sands said the anticipated economic impact to the city is over $6 million. He added that an estimated 6,500 hotel rooms will be booked.
“People who have never experienced Fort Worth before are going to see Dickies Arena, one of the finest arenas in the world,” Sands said.
Adding to the excitement, he said, is a major change in the tournament environment: Last year, all of the tournament games were held in just a few venues in Indiana (primarily in Indianapolis) with fan capacity capped at 25% as protection against the spread of COVID-19. In 2020, shortly after the virus became a pandemic, the NCAA canceled the tournament altogether.
“For the first time in three years all of the excitement is back in person across the nation,” he said “And for Fort Worth to be one of only eight cities to host the first and second rounds is a great honor.”
The games in Fort Worth are Thursday and Saturday. Thursday’s East Region schedule includes No. 1 seed Baylor vs. No. 16 Norfolk State at 1 p.m., followed by No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 9 Marquette at 3:30. Thursday’s Midwest Region schedule has No. 9 Creighton vs. No. 8 San Diego State at 6:27, with the nightcap matching No. 1 Kansas against No. 16 Texas Southern at 8:57. Saturday’s championship games begin at 6 p.m.
In addition to staying in the hotels and buying tickets to the games, folks will be taking in the Fort Worth’s plethora of renowned eating establishments, along with all the city has to offer in culture and entertainment.
“The hospitality committee is definitely going to benefit,” Sands said. “A beautiful arena is great, but one thing that sets us apart is we’ve got so many great destinations.
“And they’ll showcase and tell the Fort Worth story all during the broadcasts. They’ll come back with bumper shots from commercials, saying things like, ‘Here’s a beautiful shot of the Stockyards.’”
Sands noted that the city has already been spotlighted through events on several major networks, including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN.
“People all over the world will be watching. The national and international exposure is going to be amazing,” he said.