March Madness is coming to Pittsburgh again.
Here’s a slam dunk: The event will generate millions of dollars for the region’s economy and boost Pittsburgh International Airport traffic for several days.
The first and second round games of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament will be played at PPG Paints Arena on Friday and Sunday. This weekend marks the fourth time that Pittsburgh has hosted the men’s tournament since the arena opened in 2010.
“I think the experience the NCAA has had in Pittsburgh over the years has let them develop a trust when it comes to us hosting these events,” said Jennifer Hawkins, executive director of SportsPittsburgh. A subsidiary of VisitPittsburgh, Allegheny County’s tourism agency, SportsPittsburgh concentrates on attracting and promoting sports-related meetings and events.
Pittsburgh welcomed the tournament to PPG Paints Arena in 2012, 2015 and 2018. Duquesne University has been the host school each time, although university athletic director Dave Harper emphasized that the logistics of such an event require a team effort.
“This would not be possible without our strong partnership with SportsPittsburgh and PPG Paints Arena, all of which have an unwavering sense of excellence and commitment to delivering the best championship experience possible for the student-athletes, coaches, and fans that will come to Pittsburgh for March Madness,” he said. “We are looking forward to a great week of basketball.”
The tournament has generated significant money for the region. In 2018, the event brought in $8.4 million in direct spending on hotel rooms, restaurant meals and other items, according to Hawkins.
That amount ranked third that year behind only the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix ($16.7 million) and the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon ($13 million) in direct spending on sporting events in which SportsPittsburgh was involved.
VisitPittsburgh is expected to provide a direct spending estimate for this weekend’s activities at a news conference on Tuesday.
Expected to bring in additional money this week are the initial rounds of the Division III women’s tournament, occurring Thursday and Saturday at Duquesne’s new UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse. SportsPittsburgh and the Presidents’ Athletic Conference are co-hosts for the event.
Hawkins said this is the first time the city has hosted two NCAA basketball tournament rounds simultaneously. She doesn’t believe the pandemic’s lingering effects will hurt attendance at either venue or limit visitor spending in the city this weekend.
“What we’ve seen over the past few months is people getting back to going to events,” she said. “I don’t believe (the pandemic) will hold them back. This is a bucket list event for many people.”
The men’s tournament will take a year’s hiatus from Pittsburgh before returning in 2024. Efforts already are under way to have the city host the event beyond that.
“We’ve been working on building this portfolio of NCAA events for years,” Hawkins said. “We’ll continue to do that in the future.”