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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)
The Peabody will serve North Carolina-themed cupcakes, cookies and cocktails and is angling for head coach Roy Williams to reprise his 2009 appearance as honorary duckmaster.
Downtown's Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza are the official media hotels, although on-air talent will enjoy posher digs at The Peabody.
Fans, teams and big-time sport's entourage have booked Downtown's 4,000-plus hotel rooms solid for Sweet 16 men's basketball games at FedExForum Friday and Sunday. The event is expected to pump more than $5 million into the Memphis economy on what would otherwise be an off-season weekend.
"It has the potential of being the most demanded room night event that we've seen in years, including the Beale Street Music Festival," said Wayne Tabor, general manager of the Holiday Inn and president of the Memphis hotel association.
With basketball bluebloods North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA coming to town for the South Regional, plus two-time Final Four runner-up Butler, "You've got four teams with basketball history, and it's a Final Four feel," said Tabor.
"This is probably as big as it will ever get for us with the NCAA," Tabor added, since FedExForum isn't big enough for a Final Four.
Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau president Kevin Kane estimated at least 11,000 out-of-town visitors will saturate Downtown. Latecomers will settle for hotels in East Memphis and other outlying areas. The Memphis region has more than 23,000 hotel rooms, and about two-thirds are filled on a typical night.
"It's going to be huge for us," Kane said. "We're very excited. We're the only region that has all four top seeds intact. It's going to be one of the strongest basketball weekends we've ever had in the history of our city."
Kane has been working with the NCAA since last year to organize accommodations for fans, teams and media.
There's a pecking order for teams and hotels, Kane said. The University of North Carolina Tar Heels are at The Peabody; Kentucky Wildcats, The Westin Memphis Beale Street; UCLA Bruins, DoubleTree by Hilton Memphis Downtown; and Butler Bulldogs, Sheraton Memphis Downtown, Kane said.
"The No. 1 seed always gets The Peabody," said Doug Browne, president of Peabody Hotels & Resorts. The Peabody is known as the South's Grand Hotel and was recently tabbed No. 2 on Southern Living's "The South's Top 10 Hotels 2017."
"Our lobby is always the place to see and be seen," said Browne. "We're expecting it to be very, very busy, from Thursday to Sunday."
North Carolina stayed at the 450-room hotel during its last appearance in a Memphis regional, on its way to a national championship. "In 2009, when North Carolina was in the Sweet 16, Roy Williams was honorary duckmaster," presiding over the hotel's iconic marching ducks, Browne said. "He actually had fun doing it."
The hotel reached out to North Carolina to see about an encore after the Tarheels punched their ticket to Memphis, Browne said.
Hotels and restaurants throughout Downtown were gearing up early this week for the onslaught of fans.
NCAA Regional Final posters graced the lobby of the DoubleTree Wednesday morning. "The economic impact from an event like the Sweet 16 is a very big driver for us," said Matt Sutherland, general manager of the 280-room hotel. "We're thrilled to have the event in our city and to be a host."
Tabor at the Holiday Inn said the hotel would be adding staff, front desk, bellmen, food and beverage and housekeeping, to care for guests. "I could sell 200 more rooms easy," Tabor said. "I've got 192 rooms."
Patrick Reilly, co-owner with his wife Deni of The Majestic Grille, said, "We're expecting a huge impact, especially with Kentucky and UNC. We'll be Kentucky fans just for this week. The phone has absolutely been ringing. There's a lot going on anyway, like 'Riverdance' at The Orpheum. It's just going to bring a boatload more people Downtown."
There's also the national exposure from sports news coverage and when CBS shows iconic Memphis scenes during cutaways from the action.
"The going ad rate for the NCAA tournament is about $1.2 million per 30 seconds, which with all of the hometown or skyline shots and mentions during each game, Memphis is easily getting tens of millions of dollars in exposure," said Lori Turner-Wilson, co-founder and chief executive of RedRover, a Memphis sales and marketing strategy firm.
"Plus, exposure of this magnitude inevitably influences more tourists, employees, even businesses to consider Memphis in the long run," Turner-Wilson continued.
"They get to see our skyline, the amazing view of Downtown from the Mississippi River, and a bustling Beale Street - ideally enough to pique their interest to explore further into the authenticity and soul that makes Memphis one of a kind. It's hard to put a price tag on just how valuable it can be for a city," she said.
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