March 23, 2009
From The News & Observer

By Edward G. Robinson III - Staff Writer

Hoops and hype return to Raleigh

NCAA women's regional to bring fans and dollars

RALEIGH -- There will be plenty of hoopla, but no local teams, when N.C. State hosts the third and fourth rounds of the NCAA women's basketball tournament starting Saturday in the RBC Center.

Triangle fans will not have UNC or Duke to cheer at either the regional semifinals or the final here. The relative success of their seasons put No. 1 seed Duke in the Berkeley (California) Regional and No. 3 seed North Carolina in the Oklahoma City Regional. N.C. State did not make the tournament.

Even without a Triangle team, organizers anticipate lively crowds, especially if No. 1 seed Maryland, No. 2 seed Baylor and No. 3 seed Louisville all advance to the Raleigh Regional round of 16.

This season's tournament returns to Raleigh after N.C. State hosted the women's opening rounds in 2006. The Wolfpack also hosted a regional in 2002, when Duke and South Carolina brought their local fan bases.

Without the Blue Devils or the Tar Heels this season, it would seem the NCAA selection committee missed a chance to drive up attendance in Raleigh. But Duke associate director of athletics Jacki Silar, a member of the 10-member selection committee, said the seeding process prevented sending Duke or Carolina to the RBC Center. Silar also said NCAA rules state that no teams from the same conference can meet until a regional final. The committee this season also sought to keep conference teams with top-four seeds out of the same regional.

N.C. State associate athletic director Dick Christy said a regional without local teams will still be an energetic event. By the time teams reach the regional, he said, the drama of the tournament provides its own draw.

"The teams are excited; they get larger travel parties, and more fans that travel," he said. "So it probably impacts you less at the regional than the first and second rounds."

Scott Dupree works in the sports marketing division of the Greater Raleigh Visitor and Convention Bureau and is the local chair of the organizing committee for the regional.

He said last year the city took in $5 million from the tourism impact of the men's NCAA Tournament hosted by N.C. State at the RBC Center.

Dupree, providing a rough estimate, said the city could net between $300,000 to $500,000 this year, though without specific teams it's hard to calculate beforehand.

"There's no doubt in my mind that this is going to be a great event for the community and it's going to be a significant boost for the local economy," Dupree said.

Christy said State has not sold as many pre-sale tickets as they did with the men's event and that they were behind in sales when compared with the women's event in 2006.

Sue Donohoe, the NCAA vice president for Division I women's basketball, said attendance was up during the regular season, and she expects the tournament also will see more fans in the seats.

Last year, tournament attendance was reported at 236,464, an increase over the previous two seasons though down from 2002-03, when a record-high 334,587 fans attended tournament games.

"It needs to be more," said Donohoe, who noted that the Final Four, in St. Louis, is sold out for the second consecutive season.

In 2008, a record-high 763,607 fans attended men's NCAA Tournament games, an increase of 66,615 over 2007, according to the NCAA Web site.

Meanwhile, women's basketball fans are tuning in to ESPN's televised coverage, as the cable network reported an average of 1,367,000 homes watching games on ESPN during last season's tournament. That was a 42 percent increase over the previous year, when 965,000 watched.