Basketball tournaments create economic boon for Iowa City


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Area officials pointed to the first two rounds of the Division I NCAA and NIT basketball tournaments as boons to the Iowa City area’s economic engine, revving up business for the local restaurant, hotel, and retail markets during historically slow spring break periods.

Record Attendance

Rick Klatt, the University of Iowa associate athletics director for external relations, said 42,578 fans descended on Carver-Hawkeye Arena March 20, 24, 26 and 27 — two of which marked the highest attended NIT games this year, filling all 15,400 seats.

“I think it speaks to how excited our fans are about our team and our program,” he said. “It was a bonus for us to have an opportunity to stage two more games, and it was an extra benefit for the community. It was a win-win situation.”

Klatt said the Iowa-Indiana State game sold out in just 30 hours. A combined two-day crowd of 11,778 turned out to see the Iowa women’s team play, a number he said is a strong turnout for both a weekday game and one that was met with an unfavorable winter storm on March 24.

Carver played host to the first round of the 2012 Division I men’s NIT Tournament, and the Hawks beat Dayton to advance to the second round. This year, the Iowa men’s team is set to play Maryland on April 2 in New York’s Madison Square Garden after winning the first three NIT rounds, the first of which took place on March 20. The Iowa women lost to Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at home on March 26.

Demand for Downtown Dining

Nancy Bird, the Downtown District executive director, said anytime there are events held in the area, downtown always benefits.

“We work hard to make sure we always have something going on to keep the feet on the streets,” she said. “We want to know what that [economic] impact is.”

A number of downtown restaurateurs said being in proximity to the action led to consecutive days of healthy growth margins.

George Etre, the owner of Formosa and Takanami, said his restaurants saw a 30 percent jump in sales during the recent spring-break period compared with last year’s break and a 50 percent increase from 2011. Despite winter-like weather, Takanami and Formosa were able to experience a sales upswing from March 21-23. 

“To be up 30 percent and have it snowing, that’s how much [effect] the NIT and NCAA Tournaments had,” he said. “If we didn’t have those tournaments, coupled with the snow, it would’ve been a miserable spring break.”

Veronica Tessler, the owner of Yotopia Frozen Yogurt, 132 S. Clinton St, said the 3-year old business has seen a noticeable rise in sales over the previous spring-break numbers, and this year was substantially busier.

“We had to call in our on-call staff because we were so busy Tuesday,” she said. “When athletes come into town, we always see an uptick in sales.”

Target(ed) retail rise

Aside from the lodging and restaurant sectors, one large retailer also saw busy periods tied to the two tournaments.

Kurt Griebel, store team leader at the Coral Ridge Mall Target, said the two tournaments brought in similar sales numbers to a typical Memorial Day or Fourth of July weekend, driven by demand for beer, fresh fruit, salty snacks, and Hawkeye apparel. 

“For each of those games, we saw an increase three hours prior, including a huge spike in our market area,” he said. “It was slow during the games but we saw there was an increase over the whole day.”

In comparison, the discount retailer’s busiest shopping day, Black Friday, typically sees roughly 10 times the sales numbers that resulted from the first two rounds of the NCAA exclusively. Griebel noted that the NIT was able to drive a 5-8 percent sales increase from the same 2012 period.

A ‘well-matured event area’

Patrick Barron, a UI adjunct lecturer of economics, called into mind the area’s quality local hotel market, varied restaurant scene, comprehensive road infrastructure and the UI’s updated and available venues as key players in attracting large-scale events.

“I think Iowa City is the center of a fairly large area that doesn’t really have a lot else,” he said. “With the university, athletics, and performing arts, we have something that you would have to drive a lot farther to cities like Madison and Chicago to get. We’re a well-matured event area.”

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