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Dayton is guaranteed to host the NCAA tournament's First Four this year and next, an event organizers say pumps millions into the region's economy.
Beyond next year's First Four, nothing is guaranteed, making tonight and Wednesday's games possibly among the most important postseason basketball dates ever at UD Arena.
The NCAA will accept bids this summer for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 First Fours and announce the winning venue by year's end.
"This is our last statement; it's the last moment heading into a formal bidding process and it's extremely important for this community to step up again," said Matt Farrell, spokesman for the First Four local organizing committee.
As of late Monday afternoon, only 1,000 tickets remained for tonight's doubleheader, which features Xavier and North Carolina State in the late game (9:10 p.m. tipoff ).
About 1,600 tickets were available for Wednesday's session, which includes big-name schools Tennessee and Iowa in the late game. The arena's tournament capacity is 12,609.
UD has been the site for the tourney's fi rst game for the past 13 seasons, starting with the initial "play-in" game in 2001. That game was attended by 6,813 fans. Last year, more than 12,000 attended games on each night of the First Four.
"Dayton is in the pole position," NCAA tournament vice president Dan Gavitt told this newspaper earlier this month. "They've done this and done it well for so long... There is interest from other communities to be sure, so it'll be a competitive process."
The First Four, a concept that debuted in 2011, gives Dayton national exposure and pumps money into the economy. The Dayton/Montgomery County Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates the impact at $4.6 million this year.
"It takes into account the folks that will be coming to town spending money at hotels, eating at our restaurants, nightlife, ticket sales ... some folks will fl y in and rent cars, those types of things
- and the trickle down as well," said Jacquelyn Powell, the bureau's CEO and president. "It's based on multipliers, but it's not science, per se."
Most of the fans who purchase tickets from the NCAA for the tournament's fi rst two nights will be local, although tonight's game featuring Xavier likely will see a larger-than-normal out-of-town crowd thanks to the short drive from Cincinnati.
Many hotels fi ll up for the event, including the 101-room Courtyard by Marriott across the street from UD Arena. It is completely booked tonight and Wednesday.
"We typically run a very high occupancy on Tuesday and Wednesday just because of our location. Would we be sold out solid straight through Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday night with a wait list running? No," Courtyard director of sales Karen Younce said. "That's defi nitely tournament demand."
Younce said the hotel, which partly is owned by the University of Dayton, will expand its food and beverage operations to accommodate late crowds.
"All hands on deck; there's no granted time off during these days," she said. "Everyone's working and we do have some people doubled up on shifts."
Younce said many other hotels are sold out because of the tournament.
"(Monday) morning we were on the phone with the Spring Hill Suites by the Dayton Mall, and they had only one room left for (tonight) and had less than a dozen for Wednesday night," Younce said.
Restaurants also are bracing for big crowds. Milano's co-owner John Slaughenhaupt said traffi c increases noticeably on Brown Street during the First Four. The popular eating and drinking establishment reaches out to visiting schools that are looking for a home base for their fans.
"The environment does become quite electric and we look forward to it every year," Slaughenhaupt said.
He said that Milano's even would off er up its hospitality to fans of Xavier, UD's former archrival.
"It would be OK," he said. "They're not playing Dayton so we will welcome them with open arms."
Farrell says the local organizing committee includes about 50 volunteers who work to make sure the city looks good for visitors and a national television audience. That starts with banners at the airport and committees welcoming the teams to town.
"The other piece that is not calculated is seven-fi gure free earned media," Farrell said. "The local in-fl ux of dollars doesn't include 10 million viewers, billions of online and print media impressions each year.
"That has a value in the millions. They're talking about Dayton, Ohio. They're talking about the most passionate college basketball fans in the country."
Farrell said a good indication of the event's momentum is that 70 local organizations supported a program that purchases tickets that are distributed to students and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base airmen. Twenty businesses pitched in two years ago.
Festivities kicked off Sunday with a four-mile run and the Hoopla Challenge for kids at Chaminade Julienne High School.
College basketball is one in a long line of sports events that have proven to be a draw for the Dayton area.
"Youth and amateur sports are one of the top
- if not the top market
- in terms of event business that our organization works with and tries to bring in to the community," Powell said. "About 45 percent of the business we book is youth and amateur sports-related."
Contact this reporter at 937-225-2163 or email Brian. Kollars@coxinc.com