Collegiate Sports Mean Good Business

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The teams aren’t the only ones scoring this month. The city is piling up some impressive economic and promotional points, as well.

March Madness, as defined by the major collegiate athletic events playing here this month, is turning into March Add-ness for the outside revenue and national exposure the city is getting from the games.

The Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament, held earlier this month at Van Andel Arena, added millions to local economic coffers, and the add-ness continues this weekend with the NCAA Men’s Hockey Quarterfinals at the arena.

The two-day hockey event is being hosted by Western Michigan University and is expected to inject a similar amount of outside dollars into the local economy as the four-day women’s basketball tourney did.

“There is an economic impact to this. We estimated that the Big Ten event, for instance, had an economic impact of about $3.5 million, and that is pretty significant,” said Steve Wilson, president of the local Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We’re doing a follow-up right now to determine how many hotel rooms were used. But that event certainly had a significant economic impact,” he added.

How much actual revenue the women’s tourney generated for the arena isn’t known yet, either. But in the arena’s case, these events do create a revenue flow that isn’t normally available to the building as the games aren’t played here on a regular basis. So some may view this income as icing on the normal March figures, and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong to assume that.

At the same time, however, to make that determination, arena general manager Rich MacKeigan also has to look at what other types of events could have been booked on those dates. And it’s no secret that sold-out concerts bring the arena more revenue than any other booking, including big-time collegiate sports.

“To a certain extent, it’s unknown. Is it possible that during the NCAA hockey tournament weekend we could have secured a concert? It’s possible. However, we’re in a position where we’re trying to fill dates. There is obviously some yield management involved where we’re trying to make the best revenue for the dates, but there is a lot to be said for having a date booked in advance. It assures that those dates will be used and we won’t sit dark. Nothing is as ugly to a building manager as a dark day,” said MacKeigan.

“So with all that being said, these two events will be very good things for our bottom line. No doubt about that,” he added.

There’s also little doubt that the benefit the city gets from hosting these two newsworthy events will add up to more than the final revenue figures.

“In addition to that is the exposure and the positive goodwill for our community that events like these create. There is national exposure,” said Wilson. “The people that come here for these events get a taste of our city, and then, perhaps, will come back again on their own.”

Then there are the people who don’t make the trip, but do follow the events through media reports and broadcasts. This group is virtually exposed to the city and can come away with some positive impressions, which elevate the city’s status.

“Grand Rapids is now a player among larger cities as hosts of these national collegiate events,” said Wilson.

The women’s event has been held in Indianapolis, and the tourney’s trip here was its first. But it’s the second time around for the men’s western hockey quarterfinals at the arena, as the first two-day event here took place in 1997.

Starting times for the games on Saturday and Sunday are 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Cost is $25 for a single-day session, $50 for both days. Tickets are available at the Van Andel Arena box office, at all TicketMaster locations, at 456-3333 and at www.vanandelarena.com. 

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