March 23, 2008

Money Rolls Into Raleigh During NCAA Tournament

By Beau Minnick, WRAL

Raleigh, N.C. - The NCAA men's basketball tournament brings teams, fans and money to Raleigh.

Businesses are especially seeing a lot of activity Saturday as there is a break between games at the RBC Center.

"March madness is going to be like Christmas for us," Raleigh Hi-5 sports bar owner Greg Hughes said.

Fans in town for the NCAA are looking for places to kick back. Visitors are expected to spend an estimated $4 million in Raleigh over the weekend.

Even teams not playing in Raleigh have fans making the trip to the Triangle.

Hi-5 sports bar estimates it will make an extra $20,000 this weekend.

"As far as us, our sales have been through the roof. I mean we love it," Hughes said.

"I called home today, it was like 30 degrees, freezing, windy. It's 70 (in Raleigh). I'm wearing shorts right now. Nothing is better than this," Connecticut fan John Benvenuti said.

Raleigh business leaders said it is a win-win for them too. The Sheraton Raleigh Hotel has been booked for months.

Even some unlikely businesses are ringing in the cash.

"I just got back from a massage. A lot of tense muscles in my neck after watching four games of basketball yesterday," UNC fan David Hogge said.

The city has hosted the first-round NCAA twice before, the last time in 2004 at the RBC Center. But the lack of nearby entertainment and hotels may hurt the city's chances for another replay.

"The fact that it isn't there right now benefits properties in the downtown area, in the Crabtree area and other parts of Wake County for this particular tournament," said Jim Hobbs, the director of the Hospitality Alliance of North Carolina.

Raleigh leaders plan to bid later this year to host the tournament again sometime around the 2011 or 2012 season.

"It's very important that we do a bang up job, host it better than ever, roll out the red carpet and that everything goes really well," said Scott Dupree, sports marketing director for the Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau.

North Carolina, which made short work of the 16 seed, Mount St. Mary's, 113-74, faces No. 9 Arkansas at the RBC Center at 5:20 p.m. Sunday.

Carolina is 21-1 in NCAA Tournament games played in the state of North Carolina. That includes a 7-0 record in Charlotte, 3-0 in Greensboro, 5-1 in Raleigh and 6-0 in Winston-Salem. The Tar Heels' only loss in the state came in 1979, when Carolina lost to Penn at Reynolds Coliseum.