It has been more than 3,000 days since March Madness last descended on the Taco Bell Arena, but on Thursday, March 15, NCAA Tournament basketball will return to Boise for the first two rounds of the "Big Dance." Spurned by the NCAA for nearly a decade, city officials have been working for years to capitalize on what they believe to be a golden opportunity.
"It's huge to have it back," said Taylor Williamson, Sports Sales Manager at the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Anytime you put the NCAA Tournament in a city, it's going to draw a huge economic impact. We're looking at about a $15 million impact for the duration of the week."
That impact, he said, stems primarily from the lodging, food and beverage industries, but also includes upticks in retail and recreation. BCVB has already designated a total of eight hotels for tournament use, with six for team use and one each for officials and media members. That doesn't even begin to account for the thousands of basketball fanatics who are expected to surge into Boise. Williamson said all of the hotels will be busy, but the bevy of new hotels downtown will enhance the experience for everyone by reducing congestion.
With the spotlight fixed firmly on Boise, Williamson said the potential of March Madness to benefit the city extends beyond increased revenue. He sees growth, the opportunity for new businesses, improved infrastructure and a host of future possibilities.
"It's really a great way to capture a candid audience without going out of your way to do a massive marketing campaign," he said. "Once people get here, it's kind of the unexpected gem."
The main act may be basketball, but the remainder of the weekend serves as an audition for Boise to showcase itself on the national stage. While thousands of fans will get to experience the City of Trees firsthand, millions of others will be glued to their television sets, giving the city a unique opportunity to impress those near and far.
Joe Nickell, the Boise State University Sports Information Director, echoed Williamson. While Williamson has been planning for the tournament on a city level, Nickell has been leading the effort at the university level. Passed over for newer state-of-the-art facilities in recent years, much of bringing March Madness back to Boise rested upon making upgrades to Taco Bell Arena. With many of those upgrades completed, Nickell's focus has shifted to preparing campus for the incoming media onslaught.
"Our typical media setup just inside Taco Bell Arena is going to increase tenfold," he said. "Plus, we'll be turning the auxiliary gym into a TV compound."
With nearly $1 billion in annual television revenue coming in from March Madness alone, meticulous planning is the name of the game, and Nickell is doing everything he can to stay ahead of it. Nobody knows which teams will tip off March Madness in Boise come March 15 and 17, but Nickell said he has already received media credential requests and will get to them following the official release of the bracket on so-called Selection Sunday (March 11). The newly-constructed downtown Boise Courtyard Marriott has already been set aside as the official media hotel.
For all the stress that comes along with planning a multimillion-dollar event, both Nickell and Williamson wouldn't have it any other way.
"Make no mistake, this is a ton of work," Nickell said, "But it's a blast."
Williamson said March Madness conjures a palpable energy in the air. The games may not begin until mid-March, but he's felt the energy for months.
"We've already had people calling in to try to figure out what the best places to stay are for the week of," he said. "It's just kind of that buzz, that city-wide excitement. That's what gets me excited."
Though the tournament is almost here, the work is far from over. Boise has already been selected as a host city for 2021, joining Dallas, Detroit, Omaha and Wichita as one of the only cities that will host the games twice in the next four years. Williamson said building a healthy working relationship with the NCAA has been a priority to ensure everything goes smoothly and, hopefully, secure future bids.
"If we can knock it out of the park this year, we'd then have it a little easier on the planning end in 2021," he said. "We want to get in that recurring cycle of hosting every few years."